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There are many aspects of teaching which need to be considered in order to achieve a successful learning and teaching environment. Throughout my teaching practice, I have been able to improve on lesson planning, as well as developing my confidence to teach in a classroom. To develop my teaching skills, I realised that monitoring students' learning is a crucial point and this was consistently brought up at meetings with my mentor. In this essay, I will closely examine how formative assessment can be applied to teaching and how it can be beneficial for the learning of pupils. I will look at a topic I taught on fit and healthy with a year 9 class and I will take you through a cycle of planning, teaching, and a final assessment.
The term 'Formative assessment' is a general term and is defined as "the process used by teachers and students to recognise and respond to students learning in order to enhance that learning, during the learning" (Bell & Cowie 1996, cited in Bell & Cowie, 2000: 19). This implies that any assessment needs to be carried out with the intention of enhancing pupils' learning and performance, that both pupils and teachers are involved and that any information on the action of pupils is provided back as means of feedback (Bell & Cowie, 2000). Hence, any assessment which is carried out to develop teaching and learning is considered a formative assessment (Bell & Cowie, 2000). Black and Harrison (2004) believe that the main principles of formative assessment are; effective questioning and dialogue (Hodgen & Webb, 2008), feedback through marking, self and peer-assessment and formative use of summative test (Black & Harrison, 2004).
To plan lessons formatively, information on how and what pupils are learning needs to be assembled. This requires the close examination of pupils' outcomes in learning. It is inherently obvious that different pupils learn differently, which means that different methods need to be used to assess their learning. This could be achieved through questioning the class as a whole, in groups, or individually (Hodgen & Webb, 2008). Black and Harrison (2004) believe that through effective questioning and dialogue teachers are able to form better judgements about the next step in learning. This can be achieved by setting challenging activities that encourage thinking and discussion, thought provoking questions, peer discussion, group or whole class discussion (Black & Harrison, 2004). Another great advantage of questioning is that oral feedback is given to the pupil immediately- an essential part to assess pupils' learning (Black & Harrison, 2004).
Self-assessment is another powerful tool used to measure learning. Self-assessment promotes students thinking and metacognition (Earl & Katz, 2008). Metacognition is the process by which the pupils reflect on their own learning, which is not something that any pupil can readily do but which is an acquired skill necessitating practice, concentration and training (Earl & Katz 2008). With self-assessment, students are given more responsibility to evaluate their own learning in collaboration with the teacher, they are able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and to set their own targets. This method has been shown to increase pupils' commitment to learning (Bell & Cowie, 2000).
"Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative." (Hattie & Timperley, 2007: 81). From my teaching practice, I noticed that feedback is of paramount importance. I found that it was beneficial for my learning as a teacher and as a result it was beneficial for pupils in the classroom too. The aforementioned statement indicates that feedback is crucial in education however it can also have negative effects if it is not considered carefully and delivered in the right manner (Swaffield, 2008). Black & Harrison (2004) noticed that most teachers used marks to sum up pupils performance. However, this raises various issues. For example, learners are unable to acquire effective feedback as how to improve. Additionally, a marking system can be more conductive for competition rather than for personal learning (Black & Harrison, 2004). Black and Harrison (2004) found that written comments are the most effective way of communicating with everyone in the class despite being time consuming. It is important for the teacher to find a balance when giving comments as some work cannot be given an effective comment, for example copying a diagram. Rather, it may only require self- checking or peer-assessment (Black & Harrison, 2004). With the implementation of effective written comments, the opportunity for the learner to recognise their weakness is given and time to improve before the next feedback is provided (Black and Harrison, 2004).
Summative assessment is a common method used in education. The term 'summative assessment' is used as a means to summarise the learning of pupils at the end of any assessment (Swain, 2000). Summative assessment has been frequently used to assess pupils' performance at the end of a test in a class room. Recently, summative assessment has been globalised so that national and international tests can be carried out enabling schools to compare with other schools or to compare the overall performance of a country to another (Swain, 2000).
'Each student represents part of a nation's investment in the future and, both collectively and individually they give an indication of the quality of intellectual wealth' (Swain, 2000: 139). This statement indicates that summative assessment data can be useful and used for different purposes. For example, it can show the effectiveness of the curriculum, the learning of pupils, and the evaluation of the progress of each pupil (Swain, 2000).
Each student sits terminal examinations such as GCSE's and national tests which provide data for local and national comparison (Swain, 2000). The problem with these types of data is that they generate a score for the performance of a pupil at a given time. It would not be of any use to the pupil after he/she has completed the exam unlike with formative assessment where feedback is provided to the student so that effective learning can take place (Swain, 2000).
Schools find national data useful as it can be a means of identifying their position in terms of students' performance. Schools can set expectations for pupils, staff and parents, and they can also set challenging targets to identify pupils achievement (Dudley & Swaffield, 2008). These data can show a pattern of pupils overall performance in exams and show an average grade that pupils attain in that particular year (Swain, 2000). There are testing agencies that produce yearly reports on national data, this information can be used formatively (Swain, 2000). For example, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) can give a detailed analysis of the performance of pupils on the different types of questions. They can also give useful information on weaker performing pupils on certain topics and recommend that pupils should be given more opportunity to improve their understanding on such topics (Swain, 2000). For good teaching, it would be beneficial for schools to look at these reports and incorporate it into their schemes of work.
Local data is useful for schools to analyse and compare their performance with neighbouring schools or similar local authorities. With this information schools can to identify differences in attainment which allows a fairer comparison (Department for education and skills Primary and Secondary National Strategies, no date:4).
I closely examined the performance of my year 9 class, who were of average ability. Interpreting pupil information is a crucial step for formative assessment. This requires judgment made by the teacher (Harlen, 2008). Initially, I looked at their CAT (cognitive ability tests) scores (see appendix page 1). The school I taught at, relied on purchased programmes such as CATs Indicators, SATs and Fischer Family trust for KS3. Students undertook the CAT tests at the start of year 7, (see appendix page 1). The CAT test gives a prediction of how well pupils can perform in their SATs and GCSEs, the grades that the year 9 pupils achieved was between A to C. This type of assessment could be considered a criterion-referenced formative assessment, where a set of predetermined criteria is compared to students' understanding (Bell & Cowie, 2000). This method describes all the possible levels a student can achieve (Bell & Cowie, 2000). This is a useful way to look at pupil performance and help teachers provide target grades. The limitation of this method is that it ignores the range of understanding pupils may have from learning experience (Bell & Cowie, 2000). I did not place much emphasis on these scores because they were taken in year 7, in addition these tests are based on the performance of pupils on that day, and the student may perform better or worse on other days.
On the other hand, student-referencing compares their current learning with their previous learning (Bell & Cowie, 2000). For the teacher to provide effective feedback, information on student-referencing is not sufficient but should be used alongside criterion-referencing to enable pupil learning (Bell & Cowie, 2000). I therefore looked at their English test KS2 as well as their Maths and science test KS2 (see appendix page 1). This was important because it helped me determine pupil weaknesses, it is important to highlight that in science some activities are based on literacy and numeracy, so having this information in mind helped me plan the type of activities I set for my class. Finally, I looked at their performance on the previous topic 'speed, forces and moments' (see appendix page 2). Page 2 of the appendix shows the scores achieved by the year 9 pupils for the most recent topic, different types of assessments were carried out such as Homework, a graph test and questions on the topic. This information gave me an insight on how the pupils performed on different areas and helped me set target levels (see appendix page 3).
Student number 11, 13 and 22 had the lowest level '4' (see appendix page 2). However their performance on some of the other assessments was better than the level they were given for the speed topic (see page 2). Student 13 and 22 had the lowest scores in their English test, maths test and science test at KS2 (level 4) (see appendix page 1). I decided to keep a close eye on these pupils and monitor their progress. I did not have any SEN, EAL or G & T pupils, however I decided to provide differentiated activities and assessment for pupils that would stimulate and engage all pupils. With these baseline data I was able to set target grades for the pupils (see appendix page 3) with a level 5 for student 11 and 13 and a level 4 for student 22.
To plan my lessons I started by referring to the schemes of work provided by the school (appendix page 4). I planned for the students to learn about fitness, a balanced diet, the anatomy of the lungs, the effects of smoking alcohol and drugs and how the skeletal system functions. Some of the activities for the unit were based on whole class discussions, designing a model of the lung, written work and watching documentaries about people who abuse drugs.
To plan formative lessons, it is important to choose tasks that are well structured. Black and Harrison (2000) suggest that formative assessment tasks should provide many opportunities for pupils to build on their existing knowledge and communicate their evolving understanding of the topic (Black & Harrison, 2000). I thought it was important at the beginning of the topic to assess pupils existing knowledge on the topic by asking questions, allowing pupils to discuss it with their peers and giving feedback to the teacher (see appendix page 5b for lesson plan 1). As I stated above, questioning pupils helped me to plan the next step in learning (Black and Harrison, 2004). I introduced the topic by showing pictures associated with fitness and health (see appendix page 6 for lesson 1) and I asked pupils to discuss with their peers ideas to brain storm the words 'fit' and 'healthy' (see page 5a,b for the lesson plan). I found that all pupils were engaged and came up with many ideas. It also allowed thinking time which is crucial because some pupils find it difficult to convey their ideas to the teacher immediately (Black & Harrison, 2000). The brainstorm activity was a great way to start the lesson because it allowed me to check the current understanding of pupils on this topic and to correct any misconceptions.
Another useful way to plan for formative assessment is to use a wide variety of sources (Black & Harrison, 2000). In my first lesson I included three different tasks (see appendix page 6a for lesson 1). Task 1 was to assess what they had already learnt in the first twenty minutes of the lesson, this was also beneficial because it was a way of consolidating what they had already learnt and it also gave me an opportunity to see if there were any pupils struggling with the topic at that stage of the lesson. Task 2, allowed pupils to draw on their own experience and apply what they had learnt in the lesson to their chosen sport (see appendix page 6a,b). The final task was to list factors that can affect fitness and relate it to the body systems, I provided a table to simplify the task and make it more structured. Task 3 was also another form of assessment to see if they understood the final part of the lesson. At the end of the lesson I set a game which I termed, 'I love science bingo' which covered all the new terms that we had covered in the lesson and I also provided an incentive for the winner.
It was important that all these tasks were relevant to the objectives of the lesson (see appendix page 5a). I ensured that the rest of my lessons for this task were well varied with practical work for pupils such as lung modelling, watching a video about drugs and fitness, whole class discussions and student self and peer-assessment activities.
Peer discussion is a great opportunity to accommodate formative assessment in the classroom (Black & Harrison, 2004). Peer discussion provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their current understanding resulting in feedback which can consolidate their understanding (Black & Harrison, 2004). Feedback can only occur if pupils discuss their ideas; doing this in smaller groups helped pupil confidence because they are able to check their answers and think about solid arguments before presenting it to the whole class (Black & Harrison, 2004).
I planned a group activity where pupils were asked to represent a character (see appendix page 7) Each group had to discuss whether they should increase or lower the price of alcohol and they were then asked to write a letter to the government with their ideas which they read to the whole class (see appendix page 8b for a detailed lesson plan).This was an opportunity to see pupils literature skills. Whilst observing the class, I realised that students were more relaxed about expressing their views. It was interesting to see how students discussed each other's ideas and the feedback they gave. The next step was to get pupils to discuss their ideas with the rest of the class and promote open discussion. In general I found this task difficult to maintain because most often pupils were reluctant to express their views to the rest of the class and found it very intimidating. It is therefore the role of the teacher to ask formative questions and encourage pupils to listen carefully to their peers' views, think about the answer and come up with their own (Black & Harrison, 2004). Giving an opportunity for pupils to discuss the question, 'Should we lower or increase the price of alcohol' made it easier to initiate and maintain an open discussion. More pupils were willing to add their views and ideas and many expressed their disagreement which was positive because it clearly made pupils think and it showed that they were listening to their peers. Black and Harrison (2004) suggest that open discussion requires a lot of patience from the teacher to get various ideas (which is not always the case) and then they can correct and lead the discussion (Black and Harrison, 2004). However with my task, I believe that I facilitated it for the students with the character cards and the time for small group discussion.
The effect of feedback depends on its nature and quality (Swaffield, 2008). When I was marking class books I was told that I need to write a brief comment on their performance at the end. At first I was giving honest direct comments with hardly any merits which were generally not taken well by the students. According to Swaffield, (2008) in order for the feedback to be effective it needs to highlight success rather than failure. It was also concluded that praise was ineffective (Swaffield, 2008). However my mentor pointed out that praise and rewards were a good motivation for pupils to put more effort into their work. A study carried out in Germany revealed that students who were informed that their work was going to be assessed with written feedback used better learning strategies as opposed to those who were unaware (Vollmeyer & Rheinberg 2005, cited in Swaffield, 2008:64). I therefore put in more praise which the pupils responded well to. Highlighting their strengths also seemed effective because it motivated pupils to perform better. I would address their weakness by setting them a target. This would show the pupil where they were at and how they can improve their learning. It is also important to highlight the fact that frequent grading is not beneficial for the learning of pupils. Another study carried out by (Butler 1998, cited in Swaffield, 2008:66) showed that grades alone or grades with comments do not assist pupils in knowing where they are or how they can progress. She found it most effective to comment only when it resulted in learning improvements. From the literature and my teaching practice, I concluded that it is best practice to inform pupils that their work will be thoroughly looked at and feedback would be given, to identify successes in work by making specific comments, to be selective in marking, to give particular attention to specific work, and to effectively comment on where pupils are by showing where they are at in terms of learning and how to improve, and finally to allow time for pupils to read their feedback and work on their targets.
Setting a task on self and peer-assessment was a great opportunity to allow the pupils to learn for themselves. However it was important for pupils to have a clear guide as how to assess their learning with targets and a way of improving their learning (Black & Harrison, 2004). I set them a task to prepare a song or flyer which argues the case that 'drugs are for losers' (see appendix page 8c for the lesson plan). In the sheet I included clear instructions on how to achieve level 5, 6, 7 (see appendix page 9). After they produced their work I asked them to go through the sheet and give themselves a level. This required concentration and of course self reflection. A few pupils struggled with this task and it was clear that they were uncomfortable or unfamiliar with assessing their own work. However with a bit of guidance they were able to give themselves a level. Looking around the class I saw some excellent work and it was clear that the sheet was very useful and required significant amounts of concentration. I also noticed that pupils were very critical when they assessed their own work. Again this was an excellent way for pupils to develop their metacognitive skills.
The next task for the following lesson was for pupils to peer assess each others work. This was an opportunity for the pupils to identify strengths and weaknesses in specific areas of the work. I ended the task by asking them to write a positive note about their peers work and how they could improve the work (see appendix page 9). According to Black & Harrison (2004) peer assessment and peer discussion provides an opportunity for each student to identify their strengths and weaknesses in an understandable manner. It also motivates pupils to improve their work as these small comments help improve learning behaviours and increase overall attainment (Black and Harrison, 2004).
I collected their work in and recorded the attainment levels on 'Drugs are for losers' (see appendix page 3). Student 11, 13 and 22 achieved a level 5 which I thought was a success and showed their progress in their work. There were also many pupils who achieved level 6 and a few achieved level 7.
It is clear from the literature that summative assessment may not always be as effective as formative assessment. This is because the feedback that pupils get as grades can be judgmental causing pupils to compare with their peers rather than reflecting on their weaknesses and success (Bell & Cowie, 2008; Harlen, 2008). Summative assessment can be used internally to assess what the pupils have learnt, but can also have external uses. The problem here is that teachers aim to achieve target numbers of pupils reaching a certain level which of course is in the interest of the reputation of the school. Therefore, schools use summative assessment more frequently which is not an enjoyable experience for the learners (Harlen, 2008).
Towards the end of the unit I asked the pupils to revise for the test on fit and healthy. This was an opportunity to assess what the pupils had learned over the past eight lessons. The results were impressive as all the pupils achieved a level 5 or above. I looked at students 11, 13 and 22 who were low achievers and noticed that they had significantly improved in their performance with levels 5, 6, and 5 respectively. This was a great success for the pupils when compared to their level in the previous topic (level 4). However it is important to take into account that several factors may have influenced their performance in the previous assessment.
The pupils also took the SATs exam, an assessment which has recently become non-statutory. However, the school find it a useful way to decide on their future work in their GCSEs. Student 11, 13 and 22, scored a level 5, 5, and 4 respectively (see appendix page 3). It is clear that they had progressed from the previous level that they were given at KS2, which was 4,4, and 4 respectively. Student 11, 13 and 22 had also reached their target level of 5,5,4 respectively.
I believe that summative assessments allow teachers and pupils to track the learners' progress. Nevertheless it can be argued that this type of assessment may classify pupil achievement which can be demoralising for the lower ability pupils. It is imperative to inform pupils that this assessment is an opportunity to recognise their weaknesses and to find different learning strategies (Harlen, 2008). I used the test formatively by giving feedback to help their future learning. By identifying their weaknesses I was able to decide what next steps they need to take to enhance their learning.
In conclusion teaching pupils formatively is an important way to enhance pupils learning. As I have discussed there are various ways to achieve this such as questioning, feedback, peer discussion and self-assessment. I found that using these various methods formatively helped pupils understand and built on their existing knowledge. Summative assessment can also help track pupils progress, however it is important to realise that summative assessment needs to be used formatively in order for it to be beneficial for the learning of pupils.
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