Assessment, formative and summative is a critical part of every teachers practice. However, in order to be effective, the balance between knowledge recall, practice and perfection is imperative.
I’ve been in schools where practice has been weighted so heavily that students complete mock exam after mock exam without a breather for reflection and establishing where they are and thus have the sinking feeling of getting nowhere.
I’ve been in schools where the pursuit of perfection has meant the stakes are so high that some students feel paralysed.
As for Kknowledge organisers, I’ve seen them used poorly and well, used for recall of critical information and robotic memorisation. Recently I saw a post from @MathsMrH questioning their validity altogether and he has a point, depending on what you were expecting out of them in the first place.
None of these practices in themselves are good or bad, but the sweet spot is the balance between them, ensuring all involved are clear of their purpose and building in time for reflection. I don’t for a moment believe that teaching practitioners throw assessments at students without purpose. I can confess however, that after a while assessment models with tests at certain times of the year, with certain questions, being done because they’ve always been done, can lose their purpose. We do them because we do them, the discussion around why and what we do with them disappears or at least becomes less prominent.
So, it is with this in mind that I’ll be looking again at our assessment structure with the middle leaders in the forthcoming year.
Reading Making Kids Cleverer by David Didau has provided the narrative with which I hope to enter the discussions about assessment. In the book he emphasises the importance of how we practice being more important than an abstract number of hours we dedicate to the practice. He even questions deliberate practice (I know I found this a bitter pill to swallow too) but its less of a criticism of the technique more the conditions it needs. He also stresses the two hallmarks of expertise (a) automacity and (b) and the ability to see the deep structure of problems.
This year our middle leaders have spent a lot of time working to develop their curriculum, getting clear about the themes in their curriculum and the student journey. It is time to give the same attention to the assessment model. Of course, this was discussed during the curriculum design but we haven’t got it nailed. Much of what we will be discussing will be around:
Purpose of each assessment
Automacity – Knowledge recall
How have we provided the knowledge (we have knowledge organisers, but how have we explicitly told the students to use them and are they the best they can be?)
How often are we doing low stakes testing?
How are we picking/prioritisng the knowledge being testing
How are we correcting misconceptions in knowledge?
Are students aware of what powerful knowledge in their subject is?
Deep learning of the structure of problems – Problem solving using the knowledge and forming opinions
- How have we modelled this for the students?
- When did we model it?
- How often?
- Have they experienced success?
How are we timetabling for spaced practice?
Where have we built in time for reflection? Is there enough?
How often are we explicitly talking to students about hinge concepts and checking their understanding?
The above really focuses on Subject specific knowledge. Procedural knowledge, which focuses on how we use the subject specific knowledge is another area we are looking at, in particular modelling. I had the privilege of seeing a ResearchED Northants session with the wonderful @SaysMiss and this sparked my obsession with this area.
Across which subjects can we adopt a similar approach to modelling?
Many of our students use 4 or 5 acronyms in a day to use as a template for writing essays. Where can these be minimized or duplicated?
It’s important that both subject specific and procedural knowledge get time, but as highlighted by Didau, we must recognize that the latter can’t happen without the former in place. Therefore, when looking at our assessment model the weighting of the type of assessment during the year should change.
Essentially, I want the assessment structure to support students to answer the ‘Big questions’ in their subject. Not exam questions. But the big philosophical questions and fall in love with their subjects. For history in the Cold War unit that may mean thinking about whether it is inevitable that Russia and America will be at odds with each other due to their ideologies, for Geography it may mean considering whether Population patterns will always be cyclical. The aim of assessment is to support this development as much as possible through knowledge recall and then procedural knowledge. I’ve included a diagram below to demonstrate this.
There really is heaps I could talk about from the book, at one point I had to stop myself from quoting huge chunks. So you should really go ahead and just read it.
I hope the above sparks some discussions in your own schools about the assessment models being used. I’d love to hear about your own models and how you came about them.