Selecting different assessment methods

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Differentiation may mean selecting different assessment methods for different groups. (Armitage et al, 2002 p139).  I feel this has to be broken further to suit individual needs.  A learner who has difficulty with the written word would be better suited to oral assessment or practical assessment.  I believe that if a good rapport, support, positive feedback and encouragement has been established between learner and guide, both will embark on an assessment journey to please each other.

Throughout the lessons I deliver I assess learners using informal questions and answers, as a group or individually. During the recap at the end of the sessions, students are encouraged to recall certain aspects of the learning by using questions and answers.  It is particularly rewarding when learners respond and then go on to further questions of the group unprompted.  Usually it is the learners who attend regularly that lead the conclusion / evaluation questions, they do this in a way that portrays a sense of pride in their knowledge as apposed to competitiveness.  This often happens with a particular learner who has poor writing skills but whose memory is good.  Armitage et al (2002)states "Individuals find that particular assessment strategies allow them to perform to their maximum potential and differentiation in assessment, even when the same learning, the same knowledge or skills acquisition is being tested. (Armitage et al 2002, p139)  It also provides an opportunity for positive feedback at the end of a session as to how well each individual has done which leaves the learner feeling good about them selves and encourages motivation, which with these learners is extremely important.

I find the multi choice paper a good assessment tool, it can either be completed by the learner or if they have a problem with reading it can be read out to them and they can answer verbally, the word search is a fun exercise and learners enjoy this, it can make them quite competitive in who can find the answers first.  "Equal Opportunities for success means that all students, regardless of ability or background, can expect to be recognised for their efforts" (Eggen and Kauchak, 1996, p280).

'Assessment in education is the process of gathering, interpreting, recording and using information about pupils' responses to an educational task.' (British Educational Research Association 1992: 2)

 

Students are continually assessed through their school careers by a wide range of strategies. Assessment has many different guises and purposes and the emphasis on these has changed through the course of educational history.  Recent approaches have begun to attempt to focus on more formative assessment approaches, assessment that is utilised in learning (Sorenson 2000: 123).

 

The growth of public testing has its origins in the 19th century, 'As John Roach has observed, 'Public examinations were one of the great discoveries of the nineteenth century Englishmen'. This discovery rested in large on the belief that, competitive, open and increasingly written examinations would eventually remove the undesirable consequences of unregulated favouritism, and would, if universally extended, have a salutary influence on society generally.' (MacLeod, 1982: 1).  Underpinning the increase in public testing was the growing desire for social justice and the ever increasing need for trained professionals in a developing society (Black 2003:69).

 

Following on from its initiation in the 19th century the latter part of the 20th century saw rapid and successive developments in the testing procedure.  The 1988 Education Act and the development of the National Curriculum were the major influence on modern methods and procedures.  The dual examination system that had been in place since the 1950's with GCE and CSE examinations was turned into a single system in 1988 with the GCSE examination.  In addition to the GCSE examination at 16 the National Curriculum brought in force external summative assessments at 7, 11 and 14 also.  Research into assessment by Black and William (1998b) found that, 'emphasis given to summative assessments in schools may have been unintentionally counter-productive for pupils, and made it harder for teachers to raise standards.'  Their judgement on extensive testing was that it 'takes teachers away from formative work' and 'encourages rote and superficial learning'.  They concluded that greater learning was achieved by quality formative assessment in the classroom allowing adaptation to pupil's needs and a good standard of feedback to the pupils. 

 

In order to fully support learning assessment needs to be a continuous process in the classroom this is generally informal and formative in nature.  'Much of the work that teachers set in their classes can be seen as providing formative assessment opportunities.' (Taber 2003: 36)

 

Short-term assessment is informal and takes place on a regular basis within lessons this type of assessment is not one which requires recording.  Medium term assessment involves the use of tasks and activities to be marked and to gather new information regarding pupil progress and allowing for new target setting.  Long-term assessment is of a summative nature and involves reviewing overall progress and attainment. This type of assessment occurs at the end of each Key Stage where pupil's attainment is checked against level descriptions.

 

 

Another means of formative assessment utilised in the classroom is that of effective questioning. Advantages of using questioning as a classroom assessment method are:

Encouraging understanding rather than rote learning

Providing instant feedback

Revealing flawed learning

Motivating pupils by allowing them to demonstrate their learning and reinforce it through teacher response

Allowing the teacher in one-to-one questioning to diagnose the difficulties of a pupil

Encouraging the development of high level thinking skills

                                                                                                            (Petty 1993)

 

Questioning reviewing learning is commonly a major feature of a plenary session and was a strategy put into practice while on placement at school X. All questions were 'closed' questions in nature all seeking out a specific answer (Brown and Edmondson 1984).  A strategy of asking the questions to chosen tables was used to encourage more of the class to participate and avoid the common error of, 'targeting questions predominantly to a particular group' (Bourdillon and Storey 2002).  As pointed out by Ofsted (1994), 'questioning is the most important factor in pupils' learning achievements in cases where questions are used to elicit and assess their knowledge and to challenge their thinking'.  In this instance questioning was utilised to check if learning had taken place during the lesson and to reinforce subject matter covered.  

 

The questions used in the example above were generally closed questions with a specific answer it may have been better to use a mixture of question types bringing in some open questions which tend to 'enable a range of responses to be made' (Bourdillon and Storey 2002: 129). Research has also shown that, 'Frequent, specific questions tend to generate relatively silent children and to inhibit any discussion between them' (Wood 1998: 175).  So therefore an overall balance in questioning should be strived for.

 

The school had a policy of completing summative end of unit tests after each module of work.  Black and William (1998b: 10) state that 'for formative assessment to be productive, students should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve'.  It is not only a good opportunity for pupils to assess and reflect upon their own learning but a valuable opportunity for the teacher to evaluate whether or not their teaching has enabled learning of all areas of the topic to take place and gives a final opportunity to reiterate or explain in a different manner any concepts which have not been grasped.  The self-assessment quiz shown in appendix.Following completion of the quiz pupils were asked to mark eachothers papers and the answers were discussed as the questions were run through.  Pupils seemed to enjoy the active involvement of answering questions and explaining their answers giving them the opportunity to express their understanding.  It provided a good base for discussion and a chance to iron out any difficulties encountered by the group.  

  

Recording, Feedback and Target Setting Feedback to pupils regarding their work takes place in many forms; one of the most crucial is immediate feedback which gives specific guidance on improvement directly.  This type of feedback is probably the most commonly occurring accompanying formative assessment in the classroom.  Whatever the type of feedback it is important to be aware of its effects on motivation and self-esteem it can 'create a positive or negative culture' within the classroom (Bourdillon and Storey 2002).

 

Another important means of feedback is in marking class work or homework.  this type of feedback is important to the majority of pupils they are keen to see what comments and corrections have been made to their work and become disappointed and disillusioned if work is regularly left unmarked.  For marking of work to be effective it needs to take into account previous advice and set new targets, it should occur regularly and focus on current work (Bourdillon and Storey 2002).  Another important feature should be that any criticism should be constructive in nature baring in mind its possible effect on motivation and self-esteem, 'bad feedback is worse than no feedback' (James 1998). 

 

In practice marking seems to vary in nature with regard to approach although all books in classes observed have included the use of comments, some teachers choose to accompany this with grades for effort or achievement or both.  'Constructive written comments or questions are more helpful forms of marking than grades and ticks and crosses' (DFES 0136/2002).  Marking policy at school X included use of grades accompanied by a comment regarding the work and a target for future improvement. 

I adopted the policy of commenting and targeting every time I marked but only grading once per module thus giving an overall grade for a sequence of work. Which was in accordance with the schools policies.

 

For marking to prove useful in assessing progress adequate recording needs to take place.  In practice in school X all teachers possessed a mark book for personal usage and for department feedback a database on the computer network existed.  This not only provided a means by which achievement could be observed across the group but a valuable tool for assessing individuals and the progress they make.  The database information contained national test scores achieved by pupils upon reaching secondary school and current attainment at secondary school giving a full review of progress.  This degree of data allowed for a more value added evaluation of the individuals rather than a short-term judgement in relation to peers.  As asserted by Severs (2003: 43) success of a school is only realistically measurable as value-added performance, 'the true achievement of a cohort of students, and their teachers, cannot be judged without first recognising the baseline at which the students start.'  

 

 It is not only important to utilise data on students to pinpoint any problems but it must also be used to give overall feedback of progress to the students themselves and also their parents.  Reporting to parents generally occurs in the form of Parent's evenings or written student reports.  While on placement at school X I had the opportunity to participate in parents evenings. 

 

Assessment is often beneficial as a two way process and thus it is of value too not only give feedback to students but to receive feedback from them to inform future planning.  Appendix 3 shows a sample of evaluation sheets given to the aforementioned Year 8 group following a module on matter.  The responses received showed quite a spread in the areas pupils found interesting and how they thought they had achieved and progressed.  The majority seemed to find the work pitched at the right level for their ability.

 

Conclusion

Assessment and monitoring of pupils has changed considerably throughout the history of education and although we are striving towards a more ethical system with greater individual focus on students the system is still one of great public expense and therefore remains in a position where it is highly accountable to performance enhanced statistics.  Many studies have shown that over-emphasis on national summative tests is counterproductive to learning and evidenc suggests that if improvements occur they are inevitably 'short-lived and illusory' (Linn 2000).

 

A balance between both summative and formative assessment is required it should be ensured that formative assessment is adequate and that summative assessment does not take over creating a system where the only emphasis in teaching and learning is one which ensures passing the next test. 

In practice while on placement at school X a formative assessment approach was used in the form of a pre-test (Appendix 1) to begin a Year 9 module on food technology. as suggested by Wragg (2001) to, 'assess what pupils already know'.  This approach was a valuable tool in assessing pupil's level of knowledge, diagnosing any misconceptions and informing for future lesson planning to avoid repetitive work and allow for a means to build up new concepts.  The lesson began with the pre-test, pupils being asked to complete as much of the worksheet as possible, pupils were then brought around the front to discuss answers and ideas related to the questions. open questioning was used aswell to the questions on the worksheet to gain as much information about student's knowledge as possible and allow all pupils to be included in a discussion around the subject.  This questioning session also provided a good opportunity to deal with any misconceptions pupils had previously formulated on the topic.  Taber (2003) considered this type of diagnostic assessment as a means by which, 'teachers scaffold learning by highlighting relevant prior learning and helping learners reorganise it into the most suitable configuration for facilitating new learning'.   Thus it provides a means by which individual progression can be attenuated and organisation for learning and differentiation can be ascertained.

In terms of teaching strategies effective lessons were based upon careful consideration of what were to be learning outcomes and ensuring that the selection of activities would facilitate these outcomes. Furthermore lessons where I had addressed the issue of individual needs within the mixed range of abilities in the group, through the use of differentiation, were far more successful then lessons where I had not.

 In terms of learning strategies, when I had consistently applied rules and expectations, and used an array of monitoring techniques within the classroom I was able to create and maintain an environment that promoted learning. The greater the amount of time and thought that went into promoting different styles of learning in the classroom coupled with regular and positive forms of feedback and assessment all combined to result in a productive and fulfilling learning experience for both myself and my pupils.

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