Megan Price, Assessment Lead, Broad Square Primary School, UK
As at any point in time, teaching and learning are community activities, so now more than ever it is important to remember that responding to the challenges before us is a team effort. Schools are a community of practitioners working together to enable children to flourish; we all have different roles to play and all are essential. The very real fear that the educational gaps will widen further needs to be addressed in practical ways (EEF, 2020). How can teachers, working together, reshape and reimagine their practice to pay close attention to those children at risk of falling behind? This article reflects on how one school approached teaching and learning on return to school, through embedding formative assessment strategies across the curriculum.
With the undeniable impact of school closures, accurately diagnosing gaps in children’s learning and identifying pupils’ lingering misconceptions is more crucial than ever. How effectively teachers embed formative assessment as a strategy to ascertain how secure learning is and identify next steps, both within the classroom and online, will govern our chances of minimising a lasting disadvantage gap. Being responsive to the pupils in front of us is critical; we need to unburden ourselves from the weight of curriculum ‘catch-up’ and the constant comparison to the counterfactual – how things could have been.
To prepare children effectively for their subsequent learning, subject leaders have identified the subject-specific knowledge and ideas that transform children’s understanding. Breaking down these ‘threshold concepts’ (Meyer and Land, 2003) into small steps through carefully sequenced planning enables subject mastery. Underpinning all these ideas is the need for teachers to be responsive, working to react to the minute-by-minute assessment information gathered, and working to consolidate and expand children’s knowledge systematically. In the meta-analysis summary by the Education Endowment Foundation (2018), teachers giving high-quality, in-the-moment feedback on learning to enable learners to improve was found to help children make up to eight months’ additional progress. Thus, as a school we have sought to hone the use of formative assessment within lessons to accelerate progress, with a particular focus on feedback and the use of ‘live marking’ (Elliot et al., 2016).
Teachers need to have an in-depth knowledge of how to analyse current performance and the steps to improve subsequent performance (Wiliam, 2017). Identifying the key concept within a lesson enables teachers to plan questions that assess the extent of children’s understanding effectively before moving on to the next step. These ‘hinge’ points, where a teacher decides whether to progress or recap, enable responses to learners’ needs in the moment and inform subsequent planning. As we readjust to an environment shaped by COVID, these assessment skills have been vital to revisit for both early career teachers and experienced practitioners. Teacher knowledge of children’s likely misconceptions and how to gain insight into children’s conceptualisation of key ideas is vital to understanding learners’ next steps; working as a team to dive deeper into key concepts within the curriculum has never been more important.
Removing the burden of writing a lengthy comment after a lesson, in line with workload recommendations (DfE, 2018), has meant that post-lesson marking time can be redeployed to adapt the planning or resources for subsequent lessons. This strategy uses the outcomes of in-lesson diagnostic and formative assessment to inform teacher reflection; staff are empowered to plan for whole-class development priorities, raising the standard of work within the class as a whole and catering for individual needs.
Completing task-based analysis to consider the overall patterns for the class and identifying areas of strength and development needs for the class and/or individuals help to prioritise aspects for remodelling or focused interventions. The process enables individual outcomes to be seen in the context of the cohort, allowing staff to see the progress in the approach to a given task and reflect on how to improve learners’ personal bests in a different context (Wiliam, 2017). The notion of focusing on developing learners’ individual personal bests, in a similar way to sports coaching, is known as ipsative assessment (Hughes, 2011). Whilst the context explored by Hughes is further education, all learners benefit from a carefully honed learning process and in-depth consideration of how to generate long-term progress.
Another form of assessment that we have implemented is an approach to comparative judgement (Christodoulou, 2018), where multiple teachers compare anonymised pieces of work to identify the best of two. With teachers from across the school assessing beyond their own year group, we are gaining broader insights into the areas of strength and development for our school. Teachers’ growing skill and confidence in this area has enabled a fairer moderation process across the curriculum, which serves to minimise teacher bias (Campbell, 2015).
With gaps in coverage from school closures last year, the time spent on summative assessments needs to be justified by an effective use of the information gathered. All children receive high-quality feedback about their current learning and next steps, and teachers’ planning is responsive for subsequent lessons, enabling focused inputs on aspects that the children had found trickier. Ultimately, for any assessment to be successful, it needs to be viewed as an inherent part of the teaching and learning process.
Teachers are not islands – the work of a school is essentially teamwork, and each teacher is building on the learning legacy of that which has come before. If, as many are, you are feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty, workload and anxiety for your pupils, there is a teaching community to draw upon, in your own school and beyond. Within the schools in which we work, each one of us can help to embed a culture of professionalism, positivity and collaboration.
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Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2020) Impact of school closures on the attainment gap: Rapid evidence assessment. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/EEF_(2020)_-_Impact_of_School_Closures_on_the_Attainment_Gap.pdf (accessed 28 October 2020).
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