An evaluation and analysis of teaching

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English Teaching And The Inclusion Of Assessment For Learning

1. Introduction

A development within my chosen teaching area of English has been Assessment for Learning. This involves the development of the assessment process and how student's academic progress can be monitored. This development was supported and strengthened by the research and findings of the Assessment Reform Group and their work with Paul Black et al. Their conclusions and ongoing investigations have made Assessment for Learning a vital area of development and inclusion within teaching practice. This has been recognised by the production of the Assessment for Learning Strategy by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and its inclusion within the National Strategy.

I have chosen this as my studied topic within this assignment as it is an area of interest within the department I am currently working, and also a personal interest. I believe that the assessment methods in place when I was in education no longer give a comprehensive reflection of the attainment of students. The English department at my parent placement, a high achieving comprehensive school, are seen as a leading school within the county for Assessment for Learning. They view Assessment for Learning not as an addition to the teaching process but as an integral part of their pedagogy and therefore my study here has given me a great opportunity to research this topic.

2. Context

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The concept of Assessment for Learning (AFL) is a relatively recent development within education. The first developments into research of AFL began in 1989, which is commonly regarded as the starting date for research in into assessment. In the years before this a unit of study was designed by staff to include learning objectives, teaching strategies and there component resources. This was followed by a formal examination. The result of this exam would have been taken as an accurate evaluation of the students understanding of the topic and would have been an uncontested outcome. In a Review of Secondary Education in England carried out by OFSTED in 1993 they stated “the purpose of assessment is to improve standards, not merely to measure them”(OFSTED : 1997 : 298), this giving sight in the need of assessment to be a continual and ongoing process as opposed to a ‘end result'. With this in mind the Policy Task Group on Assessment was set up in 1989 by the British Educational Research Association to evaluate the policy on assessment and to give advice to any changes that could be made. This was the beginning of the National Assessment Programme who commissioned Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam to provide up to date research and review of the assessment system and this resulted in the production of the acclaimed pamphlet Inside the Black Box.

This new task group would centre their research within the classroom environment believing “classroom assessment is absolutely central to the teaching and learning process” (The Assessment Reform Group : 1999) This research focused on how assessment could be used to form meaningful, effective teaching that improved the attainment outcome of students. It is this internal investigation of assessment lead the way to a formal strategy for assessment to be written in 2006. This document was commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the National Strategies and QCA, together with the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors. It works to outline their “strategy for assessment for learning, which forms a significant part of the Government's commitment to developing personalised learning and to improving rates of progression” (DCFS Publications : 2006)

The AFL Strategy was focused on the assessment within English and Mathematics initially offering specific subject support however, it is important to note, that the techniques used for AFL could be applied across the academic curriculum. The focus of the strategy was focused principally on English and Mathematics with the proposal to extend into Science, ICT and across the foundation subjects.

What Is AFL?

“Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there”

(Black, P. Et al : 2002)

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Assessment for Learning works with the notion that effective use of assessment within the classroom will improve learning of students and raise achievement. AFL is constructed on the basis that students work better, and subsequently achieve higher, when they fully understand the intention of their learning - where it is heading and the importance of its inclusion. The students then can assess their own knowledge in relation to the intended learning aim and the steps required to meet this goal. This therefore means that AFL allows the student to share the responsibility for their learning, take control of it and understand the means of success. This has been shown to increase attainment levels with research telling us “successful learning occurs when pupils have ownership of their learning; they understand the goals they are aiming for” (The Assessment Reform Group : 1999) this drive to allow students to stake ownership within their learning provides the opportunity to motive and encourage skills for lifelong learners.

During their study and research into AFL Professors Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam analysed over 250 studies linking assessment and learning (Black, PJ. and Wiliam, D : 1998) to try and define effective practice of AFL. From their work they highlighted 5 key factors that would improve learning through assessment. The inclusion of effective feedback; the active involvement of pupils in their learning; adjusting teaching to take account of results of assessment; a recognition of the influence assessment has on motivation and self esteem of pupils; the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve (The Assessment Reform Group : 1999). All of these factors are key features of the AFL process with many ways of implementing them through good pedagogical techniques.

Questioning

One of the key features within AFL is the use of questioning to explore the students understanding and also the progression of that understanding. For the students to benefit from questioning there needs to be some attention placed on the sorts of questions being asked, and crucially, allowing enough time for the students to respond. It is then that their true understanding and knowledge can be assessed and not simply the reactions of a student under pressure.

Assessed Pupil Progress

Assessed Pupil Progress (APP) links directly with the national standards and is a fundamental element of AFL. While AFL encompasses all types of formative assessment APP is a government driven necessity in education. APP is a “system which provides teachers with very clear diagnostic information about pupils' strengths and weaknesses. It embraces both formative and summative assessment” (Gloucester County Council : 2007) With APP students are Assessment Focuses (AF's) that support the National Curriculum. Students are graded against these AF's and are given a level to indicate their stage of achievement.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment, is often referred to as educative assessment or classroom assessment, is aimed at promoting students attainment through the self reflection of their work. Work can be monitored (self, peer or teacher reflection) and comments are relayed back and students respond to this feedback. Teachers can then use the feedback and students own observations about their learning to inform teaching. Assessment is considered formative when the response from the learning activity is considered and used to adapt the planning of future activities to meet the highlighted needs of the students. Formative Assessment gives students the opportunity to refine their thinking through the feedback process, therefore improving attainment.

Formative Assessment is a key aspect in personalised learning and recommended that “the assessment of learners be refocused to be more teacher led and less reliant on external assessment, putting learners at the heart of the learning process” (Jones, Dr C. et al : 2006:34). This is at the heart of Government Personalised Learning targets.

While Formative Assessment is a constant form of assessment throughout student's education summative forms of assessment still remain. However there is criticism of this summative form of assessment. Summative assessment can be seen to give an unfair reflection of the learning and understanding of students. In his 1997 article Colnerud writes about the ethical dilemmas faced by teachers regarding assessment. In research undertaken by Haladyna, Nolen and Haas (1991) they questioned the effectiveness of summative assessment writing that “the score (result) does not represent actual academic achievement because it is ‘polluted' by unrelated factors” (Haladyna, Nolen and Haas : 1991 ). This article looks at revision and believes it is one of the polluting factors of summative assessment. Which then only awards what can be remember as opposed to what they have learnt and understood. For this argument Formative Assessment offers a better reflection of pupil understanding.

Developments In The Teaching Of English Within My Parent School

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Within my parent school there is a continued focus on the use of AFL, with the firm belief that AFL should be included in day to day teaching. They have worked with the Gloucestershire County council as a Network School implementing and advising on the use of AFL and APP within the classroom. AFL strategies are used in all English lessons and AF's appear alongside lesson objectives so that the students are made aware of their learning targets and assessment criteria. AFL is used within my parent school to have a positive effect on every student's learning experience. They have found that since its introduction within their planning and teaching they have been able to raise attainment of all students.

My parent school offers initiatives such as ‘Think time' - planned time allowing students time to think when questioned; The use of a ‘Critical Friend' - creating a supporting working environment where pupils are encourages to work with their peers and offer monitored support; The use of a ‘No Hands' up rule - to encourage thinking time and enabling teachers to challenge all students with monitored questioning; and the use of ‘Thumbs'- as a physical way of students showing their understanding of a topic or instruction.

Responding

This is the formative assessment of writing within English. Feedback is given to written work, by the teacher or peers, and a response is given using yellow or green highlighters. Yellow is used to highlight areas that have met the assessment focus and green shows an area that needs focused improvement. This can be accompanied with written feedback to suggest areas of improvement.

Peer And Self-Assessment

This encourages students to assess their own work and the work of their peers. This helps to create a supportive environment when there is no failure but areas of improvement and students are able to effectively respond to written work. Peer assessment takes place in the form of ‘Critical Partnering' designed for students to support and question each other's understanding. Students are asked to “choose a partner with care and note that this partner can be changed at any time and in any lesson. They then sign a contract to agree to be a critical friend, and this raises the profile of what they are trying to achieve.” (Gloucester County Council : 2007 : 35) this critical friend then works alongside a pupil to comment on their work.

3. Analysis

In this section I will analyse three consecutive lessons I have planned and taught, assessing the impact of Assessment for Learning on the teaching and learning process. I planned the lessons with Assessment for Learning in mind, with the aim of encouraging and monitoring the use of AFL in the classroom. I will base my analysis on the elements of AFL discussed above.

I was delivering my lesson to a very low ability year 8 group. The class was made up of 27 pupils broken down into 14 boys and 13 girls. A large number of the class were on the Special Educational Needs Register (SEN) and 2 of the group had a SEN statement which meant they had Teaching Assistants assigned to them. The main objective across the planned lessons were to continue the student's development of writing skills. The students were writing in the ‘Beyond Human' genre and this allowed them to focus on and refine their use of descriptive writing. The three lessons that I taught were the drafting and planning stage of a teacher assessed piece of writing.

The first of my sequence of lessons was concentrated on the students' development of understanding of the importance of differing vocabulary within their writing (see appendix 1). Also within this lesson there was a focus of AFL with the students responding and assessing their own work.

At the beginning of the lesson I displayed and made reference to the ‘Learning Objectives' explaining and reinforcing what the expectations of the lesson were. I believe that this is simple way of sharing the learning goals and making the learning process a collaborative experience. Also I went through with the students the Assessment Focuses (AF's) that we would use to assess their work. My research has shown that “it is difficult for students to achieve a learning goal unless they understand that goal and can assess what they need to do to reach it” (Black, Harrison et al : 2003). This was very evident from the lesson I taught. When the objectives and outcomes (WALT and WILF's) were displayed and explained the students became settled and were able to acknowledge what was needed to achieve them. They were also aware that in order to obtain the information needed to accomplish their goals a focus was needed within the lesson and what was being taught. The WALT's and the WILF's along with the AF's were on display - via a tickertape function on the whiteboard - throughout the lesson in order to focus students and to remind them of intended targets.

Also this lesson I planned to do a self assessment exercise in which the students respond to their own work using given assessment focus. I was aware, from my research that it was importance to offer guidance to students before asking them to respond to their own work and I had planned to narrow the responding criteria and really allow them to focus on one particular area of their work. I asked them to look at their use of descriptive words within their writing, highlighting words that added to the atmosphere of their writing. Even with this planned guidance I was discouraged by the lack of functional responding carried out by the students. A large proportion of the class found it very difficult to highlight areas of their work that could be improved, similarly found it difficult to find areas in which they did well. This brings forward the issue of guidance within AFL.

I have found, within my lessons, that clear instructions and extremely concise assessment focuses needed in order to refine what the students are assessing. Perhaps the most important component to master when working with AFL is the atmosphere of the classroom. You need to create a learning environment where it is acceptable to find areas of improvement and students feel secure enough to admit that there are areas of weakness within their work. This is key when looking at both self and peer assessment. This is an area I felt I needed to focus on within my planning in order to make the most effective use of self responding.

For my second lesson in the sequence of consecutive lessons I had planned once again to incorporate AFL. The lesson objective was to develop an understanding of different types of sentences and how the use of differing sentences could help create atmosphere within our work. (See Appendix 2)

Within this lesson I planned for the students to use the mini white boards to display their thoughts and their examples of sentences. After modelling and demonstrating the required elements of the lesson I asked students to display both simple and complex sentences on their boards. In doing this I was able to monitor their understanding and detect any problematic areas within that understanding. This was a good way of assessing learning, in a fun and supportive environment, in which the students felt no element of pressure or inequity. I had planned this activity as a direct response to the previous lesson. I felt that in order for the students to improve their confidence, with responding to work, I needed to create a supportive, enjoyable and well managed learning environment.

Also, after reading theory and research on AFL, I wanted to include differing forms of assessment within the classroom. When explaining a task and giving instructions I was keen to check that the students had understood, and also felt they could achieve the task set. For this I used the concept of ‘thumbs'. Students show their understanding by putting thumbs up to show understanding of task, down to show lack of understanding and half way to show some but not full understanding of instructions. This again is a physical way of presenting the students understanding and response to a given task. I was easily able to see who needed extra support and attend to the needs of students who were struggling. It was important when asking students to give responses regarding their understanding of a task to give them time to think. Research, carried out by Mary Rowe in 1974 investigated the thinking time needed for students. In her research she found that on average teachers only wait 0.9 seconds for a response to a question, before asking another question (Rowe : 1974) Questioning is a good way of assessing pupils knowledge, and key to AFL, however questions must be formed and structured in a way to enhance learning.

In my lesson I tried to use the questioning techniques of Bloom's Taxonomy. The Taxonomy divides educational objectives into three areas: ‘Affective', ‘Psychomotor' and ‘Cognitive' learning. It is based on the theory that “learning at the higher levels [of the taxonomy] is dependant on having gained prerequisite knowledge and skills at the lower levels” (Orlich, et al. : 2004) Therefore in my planning, I had planned questions that progressed up the Bloom's taxonomy of learning skills, firstly asking what they could remember about the use of sentences and progressing up to applying this knowledge in practice and analysing its effectiveness.

In this lesson I also set work for the students to complete in their ‘Independent Learning Time' (ILT) I could then respond to this work and offer written feedback to the pupil. I feel that it is important to have this direct link between student and teacher. Students expect, and enjoy, getting direct feedback from a teacher and this gave me an opportunity to closely look at their work and offer praise alongside areas of improvement.

To finish my sequence of consecutively taught lessons I wanted to continue to examine and refine the skills worked on in the two previous lessons. The key focus of the lesson to put skills learnt into practice with the introduction of a focused writing task and to peer-respond to this project. However, at the start of the lesson it was important to let the students consider and ask question my response to their ILT work. This helps to clarify my expectations of them and also allows the students to raise any questions of these expectations.

In order for the peer responding task to be successful I thought it was necessary to give guidance on the techniques of responding. I did this in the form of a starter and stated early on in the lessons what they would be looking for within each other's work, as well as giving examples and modelling good responding practice. The focus of the response was also focused onto a particular, narrow assessment focus to aid the students.

After the planned writing task was complete, with writing frames offered for differentiation, I had planned to give the peer responding activity a large proportion of lesson time. (see appendix 3). My research has shown that “Peer-assessment is uniquely valuable for several reasons. One is that prospect of such assessment has been found to improve the motivation of students to work more carefully” (Black, P. Et al : 2003 : 50) and I wanted to include it within this lesson to improve the motivation of the lower ability members of the class. I found however that the activity had mixed success.

Some of the students worked well within their pairs and offered insightful and constructive responses, however, some of the students, even with a narrow and deliberate focus, were unable to connect with the task. The comments from the students implied as they viewed the activity as a competition - ‘to do better than my friend' - as apposed to a helpful strategy to personal improvement. All of the students enjoyed receiving praise for their work, however I would question this public praise in an older group, nonetheless some of the students became demotiveted after receiving feedback from their peers on possible improvements.

4. Commentary

Analysing these three lessons has helped me realise areas for improvement within my planning and teaching. When planning the lessons I believed that I was planning the lessons with AFL in mind, however after analysing my results I feel that to truly feel the benefit this strategy needs to be in practice and reinforced over a longer time scale. My parent school has a policy to introduce all year 7's to AFL techniques with a strong emphasis on ‘responding'. I believe that thorough training was forgotten in year 8 and more was needed to remind and reinforce the students of responding strategies. I feel that it is the revised use of this skill that will contribute to the overall learning of students.

I planned the lessons with a great deal of attention being placed on AFL however after analysing my practice I feel that not enough time was allocated to it. The Students did not always have sufficient time to practice the responding skill and therefore its use and productivity was often limited. This shows that the lessons needed to be planned better to give more time to the student's involvement with AFL and perhaps differentiating the lesson better to explain the process of responding to the students with lower ability, allowing the high ability student to move on. However, when pairing the students for the peer-response task I did observe the benefits of placing a lower ability student with a higher ability partner. Their attainment and ultimately the work produced was markedly improved. I would however question the progress of the high ability learner.

I will continue to use AFL within my approach to teaching, and when planning my lessons. I believe that it will not only benefit the pupils but it will also bring my teaching into line with the aims of the National Curriculum as well as the individual aims of the school. Using AFL within my teaching will encourage students to become independent learners as well as effective participants within my classroom teaching. As a teacher I will use elements of the theory researched to inform my teaching practice. I will plan my lessons to allow time for Assessment for Learning. I will think through all planned activities and try to make AFL an important component within that process.

My greatest area for improvement is the implementing of AFL into all aspects of learning, through differing techniques and questioning. In order to improve this I need to become more confident with the teaching of AFL, allowing allocated time for its use, and also how it is explained to the students. Although this is a new initiative throughout schools nationwide and the concept should be understood by the students, I still feel, for it to be most influential within my teaching, I need to explore the delivery of my activities and how AFL is structured within my lessons. Therefore I need to dedicate more planning to the preparation of students to fully understand the skills needed to effectively put AFL into practice.

Over the course of my three consecutive lessons I was observed by colleague. They were formally observing my teaching as well as the effectively of my planning the overall success of my lesson. From their observations they reported that AFL was used throughout my lessons through planned activities dedicated to AFL as well as the types of questioning and interaction I included within my lesson. It was stated within the observation that I gave clear and explained instructions and also reinforced my initial expectations (WALT and WILF) throughout the lesson. Thus, allowing the students to feel involved, and an important part, of the learning environment. One area that was highlighted as an area for improvement was my use of questioning and the importance of different questions asked. I also need to consider which students I decide to ask questions to as it was noted that I consistently choose similar students. This will improve my concept of the whole class' learning. I will aim, in my future planning and teaching, to address these points.

I believe that with a firm understanding of AFL strategies, as well as implementing these strategies within my teaching, will improve my students learning and attainment levels. I feel that it is important to measure the quality as apposed to the amount of work produced. AFL allows teachers to view, and consider the needs, of students as individuals. This moves away from the notion of viewing students as a singular group whose abilities are compared and assessed publically. This promotes, when implemented correctly, a positive working and learning environment that can only add to the positive experience students should be have within their education. I believe that this experience will improve attainment levels and attitudes to learning.

5. Conclusion

While this teaching and learning practice within the teaching of English meets the standards issued by the National Curriculum, it is not the only method of assessment and should not, and I believe, cannot be used exclusively. Within a school system there will always be a need for both summative and formative assessment. I feel it is vital to be aware of the differing ways students learn and I must adapt my teaching and my methods of assessment accordingly. I believe that this research has proved successful in highlighting the need to plan lessons with a clear idea of what is to be achieved within it. Each lesson needs to be planned with the needs of the learners as a priority and a balance of activities to aid their educational progress. Assessment and learning must be purposeful and managed efficiently in order to empower the students to continue with the process of self assessment and learning throughout their academic lives and beyond.

Bibliography

Black P. Et al. (2002) Working inside the Black Box Assessment for Learning in the Classroom. Kings College : London

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) ‘Assessment and Classroom Learning' Assessment in Education, 5 (1) pg. 7 - 71

Black, P. Et al. (2003) Assessment for Learning Putting it into Practice. Open University Press : Berkshire

Colnerud, G. (1997) ‘Ethical conflicts in Teaching' Teaching and Teacher Education. Issue 13, pg. 627-635

DCFS Publications (2008) The Assessment for Learning Strategy. DCFS Publications : Nottingham

Gloucester County Council (2007) Key Stage 3 English Assessing Pupil Progress (APP)- Report on the first year of APP in Gloucestershire 2007-2007. Children and Young People's Directorate : Gloucester

Haladyna, T., Nolen, S. & Haas, N. (1991) ‘Raising standardised achievement test scores and the origins of test score pollution' Educational Researcher. Issue 20, pg. 2-7

Jones, Dr C. et al. (2006) Personalised Learning: Meeting Individual Learners Needs. The Learning and Skills Network : London

OFSTED. (1997) Review of Secondary Education in England 1993-1997. Section 5.6, OFSTED

Orlich, C. Et al. (2004). Teaching strategies: A guide to effective instruction. (7th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company : Boston

Rowe, M. (1974) ‘Wait time and rewards as instructional variables, their influence on language, logic and fate control' Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 11, pg. 81- 94

The Assessment Reform Group (1999) Assessment for Learning Beyond the Black Box The University of Cambridge School of Education : Cambridge