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Many people including Black and Wiliam (1998) believe moving away from testing (summative assessment) and using formative assessment in the classroom will be more effective in raising achievement. They claim using Assessment for Learning (AfL) would boost learning more than any other form of assessment.
AfL is used by a teacher to monitor and adjust their teaching in response to how well pupils have understood the lesson. It can be thought of as simply as "Did the children learn what I have just taught them; if they didn't, why not?"
AfL opportunities can take place within any contact with pupils; it can be as simple as a dialogue with a child gauging what the child's does and doesn't understand.
The most important factor for a teacher is how they use this information to ensure effective learning; by addressing misconceptions, refocusing and reshaping lessons this can improve the focus and pace of teaching and enhance pupils learning significantly (Assessment Reform Group 1999).
There is no point in carrying out assessments unless you are going to use them to inform the next steps in children's learning. Assessment should be used to personalise learning to ensure pupil's progression by using your assessment to inform lesson planning whilst always teaching to the National Curriculum.
The Assessment Reform Group say the key to AfL is for pupils for understand exactly what they are learning and for teachers to use effective questioning and formative assessment techniques to help learners progress.
Black and Wiliam (1998) identified effective questioning as one of the elements vital in raising pupil's attainment. "The dialogue between pupils and a teacher should be thoughtful, reflective, focused to evoke and explore understanding, and conducted so that all pupils have an opportunity to think and to express their ideas." (Ibid p12)
Questions are both used to assess how effectively children are learning and to provide pupils with a chance to articulate their ideas and understanding. Therefore it is important to give thinking time for the child to process the question and answer and to not answer the question yourself. Some teachers I have observed ask questions and expect a quick response and end up and seeing their own questions; this provides no basis for assessing pupils learning. Another danger is that the same children always answer the questions, this could either be because the unresponsive children are scared of getting the answer wrong or because the question is too difficult for them. Lowering the level of questioning can move a lesson forward but will not provide effective assessment nor challenge the higher ability children. Therefore it is vitally important to use a wide range of effective questioning both lower and higher order, open and closed whilst providing appropriate thinking time.
This can practically be achieved by applying Bloom's Taxonomy and asking questions from all six categories; knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation Bloom (1971); this will provide effective formative assessment along with developing children's higher order thinking.
Although assessment can be made through observation, if observations are used exclusively some children may 'slip through the net'; as highlighted by James Pye (1989) children can be highly skilled at concealing difficulties.
Therefore I believe it is necessary for a teacher to probe deep with their questioning, to not just ask closed questions and take a yes or no answer, to use effective questioning to reveal whether children have truly learnt.
This demonstrates my development of an understanding of the importance of formative assessment Q12.
It is vital for a teacher "to be active, and to probe, question, check whether the progress and attainment intended are occurring" (Kyriacou, 1991 p25)
Black and Wiliam (1998) suggest children should be given feedback through comments rather than scores or grades:
"Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils." (Ibid p9)
Q12 looks at the impact of Teacher's feedback, on learning engagement, enthusiasm and confidence. TDA (2009)
I have observed in lessons is that when pupils are given a score or level they are much more interested in this than the teacher's comments. Therefore it is important that teachers encourage children to consider the comments, they need to understand that the comments are the actions they need to take to move their learning on; this will ultimately raise their scores.
Teachers giving feedback should not focus on the negatives; what was missing or incorrect but concentrate on what they need to do to make the next piece of work better.
I feel this is important as you are not "writing off" a pupil's piece of work, you are showing them the direction it needs to take to improve it. By providing effective feedback to pupils, you are raising their self-esteem and encouraging children to take responsibility for their own learning.
Marking, as well as providing feedback to pupils and allowing you to assess where the child's learning needs to go next also sends a positive message to the child about the importance of what they are doing is and that you value their work.
Feedback can be given orally or through marking and as outlined in the school's marking policy should always relate to the learning intentions; when possible feedback should be given immediately. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (2009) within standard Q12 ask trainees to consider "the ways immediate feedback can reinforce learning, challenge understanding, construct ways forward, and help learners improve."
Feedback whether it be praise, encouragement or guidance is much more effective and meaningful when given immediately. It gives pupils an instant validation and relates directly to the piece of work they are doing giving them time to assimilate and act upon the feedback. As I have observed, children need time to both process feedback and to practice or adapt their work, it is rarely an instant adjustment.
Hattie and Temperley's (2007) research showed that and that feedback is most effective and more likely to be acted upon when a pupil's confidence in their work is high, even if it is wrong. Feedback may be ignored when a child's confidence is low and giving by unconstructive negative feedback where a child is low in confidence will lead to poor performance.
Effective feedback will help children understand how to move forward with their learning, the most effective feedback will not be an instruction but a comment that sparks a child's own thoughts on how to progress.
Oral feedback whether it is teachers to child, child to teacher or child to child,
positive - recognising children's efforts and achievements to date
developmental - offering specific, detailed advice to help children progress.
(Assessment for Learning (AfL): Oral and written feedback 2010)
Pupils can be made to consider there own learning through self and peer assessment. The need for this to be modelled and practised before it becomes effective is something I have observed within the classroom, this is echoed by Black and Wiliam (1998):
"For formative assessment to be productive, pupils should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purpose of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve." (Ibid p10)
Through providing opportunities for children to discuss, talk about, explain, and challenge each other pupils can both learn from and support their peers.
By encouraging children to consider the quality of their own work and by helping them reflect upon how to improve it you are developing children into becoming self reflective learners.
I personally can appreciate the benefits of involving learners in the assessment of their own learning, this relates to the QTS standard Q12 as both peer and self assessment are an essential component of formative assessment as Sadler (1993) concurs.
"Self-assessment is essential for progress as a learner: for understanding of selves as learners, for an increasingly complex understanding of tasks and learning goals, and for strategic knowledge of how to go about improving." (p153)
Children need to know what they are learning (LO, the desired goal), where they are now (feedback, peer and self assessment), and what they need to do in order to close the gap (ways of improving their work, targets).
Throughout my observations in both my lead and second school I have observed a range of formative assessment; this relates directly to Q12 as trainees need to know and understand how to apply a range of assessment strategies in different contexts and for different purposes. TDA (2009).
Formative assessment begins in the Early years foundation stage, where the teacher assesses against thirteen areas of learning. The teacher will gather evidence through systematic observations, questioning, photographs and examples of work in order to assess each child's achievements, these are not solely academic developments but social and emotional. This will determine the child's scale point; this is all kept the child's evidence book (see appendix 1).
The 9 scale points relating to the 13 areas learning are recorded onto the Early years foundation stage profile (EYFS profile). This data is used by the teacher to group children for Maths and Literacy, to understand a child's interests and learning styles; to get to know the children individually in order to plan effective lessons tailored to those children's needs.
Because at my lead school the foundation stage take a "free flow" approach a child's interests may not relate to the area being assessed e.g. a child who always chooses to draw; in order to assess their writing they should be encouraged to write in words a description of their drawing. Care should be taken to subtly suggest activities for assessment rather than forcing a child, as this will undoubtedly affect the fairness and accuracy of the assessment.
In my observations I was surprised to see that even in Early years the learning objectives are shared and children are encouraged to be involved in their own assessment. I feel it is important to understand how assessment works and progresses throughout the whole school, by getting a clear picture of how AfL is embedded in EYFS, KS1 and KS2 it will enable me to refine my own strategies in KS2 to more effectively oversee my own pupil's progress.
In KS1 teachers begin to share the learning objectives using WALT; We Are Learning To. They also start to use WILF; What I am Looking For to inform the children of what they need to do to achieve the learning objectives, these key elements become the success criteria.
"â€¦ success criteria summarise the key steps or
ingredients the student needs in order to fulfil the
learning intention - the main things to do,
include or focus on."
Shirley Clarke (2001 p77)
Effective success criteria (SC) relate to the learning outcomes and will help pupils identify success; it should ideally be provided by and discussed with the children. It can be used to direct and clarify tasks by providing step-by-step instructions or ingredients for success. These instructions and ingredients in turn provide a focus for teacher feedback and facilitation for pupils' peer and self assessment.
After observing SC successfully used in this way by other teachers I started to use success criteria in my own lessons; this did not initially integrate as effectively as I had hoped. Although while my class were familiar with the learning objectives being shared, to begin with they could not when asked to think of success criteria, come up with the key steps or ingredients needed to achieve the objective. Therefore I had to teach and model how to define and use SC; I started by using a WAGOLL (What A Good One Looks Like) piece of work and model the process of defining the success criteria to achieve the LO. This was done through discussion and agreement with the children; over the next few lessons I gradually turned the responsibility over to the pupil's although still prompting them orally "What we need to remember to do in order to achieve our learning objective?" the SC are then written onto the interactive whiteboard so they are clearly laid out and visible in order to act as a reminder and to guide both learning and reflection. The use of success criteria is now successfully embedded within my classroom; children know that they can use SC to guide their learning by using the SC to check they have included the key steps or ingredients, they then use the SC as a starting point to reflect upon their own and their peer's achievements.
In my second school placement the class teacher during literacy lessons provided writing frames with the success criteria written clearly on it (see appendix 2). The children therefore had a constant reminder of the key steps to success, and marking was done immediately with the children using highlighters to highlight the SC element and where it was found within the pupil's writing. This provided immediate feedback and validation of children's work and although the SC was not defined and agreed upon by the children (as the class teacher believed the children were too young) it was discussed, demonstrated and clarified to them. I have began to use this method of providing instant feedback by highlighting the SC and marking a child's work with them, so far it is proving very effective, children are keen to get as much work highlighted as possible (therefore including more SC elements). As it is a quick process you can work with the children to mark and discuss their work together, this shows you value their work and as Bloom (1984) notes, children are more receptive to feedback when you are giving one-to-one instruction. I believe this has aided in their reflection of their own learning and I planned to develop this method to enable the class to appear and self assess in this way. This relates to Q12 and demonstrates my understanding of the importance of formative assessment by showing my development in refining my own assessment process in order to become more effective in raising pupils' achievement.
"The best teachers constantly monitor what is happening to students as they set about learning and investigate when things do not proceed as planned or expected. They also enquire their own practice so they might get better at ensuring their students learning successfully." Demos (2004)
Through lesson observations, research, reading, tutorials and discussions I have been able to successfully incorporate a wide range of AfL strategies in to my lessons including:
Modelling and Success Criteria - Before starting a task, show a WAGOLL, discuss it features and generate SC. Sharing examples of pupils' previous lessons work gives a chance for praise and shows the class what a good piece work looks like.
Peer Assessment - Taking Partners, marking against the success criteria, Two Stars and a Wish.
Self Assessment - Children have started to take ownership of their own learning and consider the direction it is taking or needs to take.
Join target setting - Involving the children in discussing, setting and clarify their targets for progress.
Sharing the LO - by making the LO really clear, all pupils are involved in the lesson; this is checked through questioning strategies.
Quick Assessments - To make sure pupils understand the task: briefly scanning work, children showing you their whiteboards, thumbs up-middle-down,
Assessment pre-topic/maths unit: a knowledge harvest before starting a new topic has enabled me to assess pupil's prior knowledge and understand; this has been used to inform my planning.
Passive learners - use of lolly sticks with children's names on to engage passive learners, incorporating a no hands up approach to include "Invisible Children"
Thinking time - giving children time to answer questions, as children need time to think, process and fully express their thoughts, some more than others. I can be temping to give the children the answer or too much help, this can leads to a child becoming just as frustrated as not understanding; plus allowing children time to answer will not taint your assessment.
Plenaries - I have incorporating AfL strategies into my plenaries including selecting children to tell me "What have I learned today?" or "Something I didn't know this morning but I know now!", using traffic light boxes for placing completed work (Green=fully understand, Amber= nearly there, Red= needs more help). This enables me to assess what the children learnt and identify misconceptions, these I used to inform the next lesson's planning by reshaping, redirecting or reinforcing learning.
Through my observation one barrier in developing a range of AfL strategies is that teachers do a variety of these thingsÂ instinctively; when questioned about them they where unable to articulated why they would do something a certain way. It was only through trialling these strategies and putting them into my practice I was able to see the benefits and intentions of the assessments.
Another barrier in understanding the different approaches was teachers' individual approaches to formative assessment, what works for them, e.g.
some teachers never share the learning objective, when questioned why they explained that if the LO is shared how can you tell if the children have learnt the thing you wanted them to? By not sharing the L.O and by asking the children what they think the L.O might be for that lesson they are encouraged to consider what they are learning and why.
A further issue that arose highlight by the Learning to Learn Committee is that 80% of teachers are having trouble putting AfL into practice this is due to AfL techniques requiring a great deal of precision to ensure deeper student learning.
In order to full embed AfL my lead school has recently started to focus on in-school training using teacher collaboration; Teacher Learning Communities (TLC).
TLC enables teachers to receive the support of the group to help them improve their AfL practice. I have been fully involved in these sessions which have taken part during staff meetings; teachers have identified areas in which they wish to improve and had been given ideas by colleagues on how to achieve this, lessons have been observed and feedback given and acted upon in order to improve a chosen aspect of AfL.
Not all AfL strategies are appropriate for each subject. Some which are highly effective in Literacy may be of no benefit in Numeracy. Through my own evaluation of these strategies, discussion with colleagues and through research I have been able to develop an understanding of when best to use each strategy effectively.
The government's AfL strategy Assessing Pupils Progress (APP) launched in May 2008 gives teachers improvement criteria linked to national standards. This is used to create detailed profiles of pupils' strengths and weaknesses; this assessment is then used to adjust learning in order to raise achievement, in short, medium and long-term planning. APP relates to a child's progress towards National Curriculum attainment levels these are linked to Assessment Focuses (AFs). APP currently focuses on reading, writing and mathematics with the AFs linking to National Strategies Frameworks' learning objectives. As my lead school was a late adopter of APP I used the opportunity of APP being well established in my second school to familiarise myself with the process.
Children are assessed every term firstly by collecting evidence, pupils work, teacher's notes, lesson plans; the relevant Attainment Target's borderline level is then identified. Next each piece of pupils work is highlighted against the applicable Assessment Focus criteria before the level is then decided upon. Finally an overall level is judged upon; the APP Handbook gives numerous activities linked to reading, writing and mathematics specifically designed to judge overall teacher assessment levels.
Summative assessment; testing and league tables