Monthly Archives: May 2013

How Best to Track Assessment?

Particularly with the imminent demise of the National Curriculum level, I’m becoming increasingly concerned with how best to manage the assessment of pupils. For me there are two key questions:

  1. When has a concept been ‘mastered’?
  2. What is the best way to represent progress so far, to pupils, teachers and parents?
What does mastery look like?
I’m comfortable assessing how well a pupil understands something at a point in time, and can gain a fairly accurate snapshot of their understanding. The problem is that I’m not content with recognising mastery when a concept is completely fresh in a pupil’s head, and that’s all they’ve been working on for the last week. Of course they’ll do well in that assessment.
There has to be an element of retention and remembering. Does that mean pupils should be tested a few weeks after they’ve studied a concept? Or maybe we should assess after completion and a few weeks later. The relationship between remembering and understand, as Kris Boulton pointed out, is one that needs a lot of thought. A proper assessment system needs to consider both – masters don’t forget their craft.
What is the best way to represent progress?

This year my primary tool has been the “I Can” sheet. Each term pupils get their new “I Can” sheet on coloured card, put it in their folder, and read through what they’re learning for the next couple of months. As the term progresses they rank their understanding and watch the sheet fill up. 
“I Can!”: Pupils and teachers rate understanding of different key outcomes.
It’s definitely proved effective as pupils use the sheet as their guide through Maths, and stop to reflect on how they’re doing. They know what they have to learn to improve, and how their progress relates to what they could potentially have learned.
The problem is that there are too many outcomes, and it’s not set up for a mastery approach. There are so many outcomes after an entire year that it’s hard to see where a pupil’s strengths and weaknesses lie, meaning it ceases to be the useful guide I’d planed. So what could the alternative be?
I’m intrigued by (and experimenting with) the way Bruno Reddy rewards mastery using badges. The binary awarded/not-awarded status fits well with a focus on mastery, and the checklist provides pupils with a very clear guide of what they need to do to demonstrate their understanding. But this version of mastery doesn’t appear to assess whether pupils remember a concept a few weeks down the line, and, like my I Can sheets, there’s too much information to be easily digested.
ClassBadges.com lets you award pixels to achieving pupils
Dan Meyer’s (redesigned) concept checklist takes the visual representation challenge head on. It is clear where pupils have done well and where they need to improve, which makes it much more useful for pupils, parents and teachers. It also does well to require pupils to score highly twice, so prioritising the need to remember. However it is entirely test-based, and doesn’t seem easily adapted for a wider breadth of assessment methods. I can see this working well with exam classes higher up the school, but it seems a bit dry for younger pupils.
Towards A Solution?

There’s a reason kids everywhere love sticker albums. They’re incredibly straightforward, visually appealing, and it’s easy to see where there’s a gap. The sense of satisfaction from filling up a page is immense, and there’s just a joy in lining that sticker up and letting the glue do its work.
Everyone loves sticker albums!
Could we do the same thing for Maths? I’m imagining giving every pupil a sticker album on their first day, that they’ll fill up over the year. In each blank space could be the checklist of what needs to be done to earn that sticker, and, once completed, the pupil can cover it up with a sticker to mark their achievement. That checklist could include a criterion for remembering, as well as whatever range of other assessment was best for each concept.
Please share any thoughts you have – I might get designing this summer!

Meaningful Marking

Marking is something I’ve struggled to master. I know what I want it to achieve, but have gone through many iterations trying to get the process right. My approach has often given too much irrelevant feedback, or gone over the heads of students.

Target tracker marking sheet
The old approach: Plenty of targets, not enough solutions.

In the last few months I’ve given it a lot of thought – trying to make sure I focus on giving the feedback only a teacher can give – and make students as active as possible in the process.

This post by Tom Sherrington was just the inspiration I needed. My marking wasn’t having much effect because students didn’t know what to do with it. They had time to read, to respond, to mark off progress on a checklist, and give off every impression of my time being well spent, but they didn’t really act on it.

This week was different. During Thursday’s lesson I planned to spend three minutes with each student to work out precisely how well they were doing. Using Wednesday’s exit cards as a starting point, I posed them each a question just slightly harder than the last one they got correct the day before. As I watched their thinking process I filled out a WWW and EBI grid, and posed other questions until I got a comfortable feel for their understanding. Then I set them each three questions to take them one step further than they could already go, and told them that they’d have the chance to move up a level at the start of our next lesson if they could solve their new, personalised questions.

The new approach: Built around making visible progress

The student response was excellent. Two of them, without prompting, told me they were really glad I was showing them how to act on feedback as they often wanted to but were confused. It’s also meant that, for the first time, I’ve seen everyone respond meaningfully to marking. Every student pushed themselves to achieve the goals I set, and every one of them learned something new. Setting targets with the explicit steps needed to achieve them – that’s meaningful marking.