When we think of assessment, we think of tests and exams, however the most important assessment takes place every day in classrooms.
There are of course examinations that most students will sit, whether they are government standardised tests such as SATs or exam board GCSE or A-level examinations. It is worth having a read through the National Curriculum and an exam board specification to see what is covered and what questions are asked. These exams and tests are known as summative assessments, which summarise learning, usually in the form of a grade.
However, summative assessment can dominate schools and classrooms, where there is over-emphasis on grades, feedback is managerial rather than on learning and shallow rote-learning can lead to demotivation in students. Formative assessment on the other hand, is an interaction between the teacher and their students, which focusses on feedback and improvement through clear learning intentions, skilled questioning and a range of feedback and improvement opportunities. In England, these strategies are known as Assessment for Learning (AfL). To understand the origin of this important aspect of classroom teaching, it is worth reading the short seminal work by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam called Inside the Black Box, and if you want to take it further, Working Inside the Black Box.
Good formative assessment can be subtle. When you first start observing classrooms, look out for the following features of classroom assessment and ask yourself these questions:
- Questioning - How does the teacher pose questions? What does it achieve? What types of questions are used? Open (How? Why?) or closed questions (What is? Tell me the name of?)? Do they use alternative forms of questioning such as ‘Big Questions’, Traffic light cards, thumbs up or down?
- Learning objectives and outcomes - Does the teacher share what the lesson will cover? How? Do the children understand what to do? Do they know how well they need to do it? Do they know what success looks like? How does the teacher communicate this?
- Peer-assessment and self-assessment - Do the students have an opportunity to assess or check their own work? Do students have the opportunity to assess each other’s work? What learning opportunities come from this?
- Feedback - How do teachers feedback to students verbally and in writing? What is feedback about, the work or the behaviour?
- Making improvements - Do the students have targets? How are these decided? Are the student’s given time to improve? If so, how do they do this? What support do student’s get?
Note that not all teachers use formative assessment strategies routinely. Good formative assessment is more than a set of skills, it is a classroom culture. When I did my doctorate into how teachers used formative assessment activities, I identified some features of summative and formative cultures. A summative-focussed classroom usually values outcomes in the forms of grades, gives one chance opportunities at learning, assessment is an add-on such as a test at an end of a topic or unit of work. A formative-focussed classroom has assessment as a thread of each lesson, where teachers and students focus on the process of learning, feedback and improvements; assessment is a process rather than an end-point. Often you’ll find a combination of both.
When you observe lessons, decide what type of assessment culture dominates. Find out what summative tests take place and how often, what the purpose of the summative assessments are and how they are communicated to students, other teachers and parents.
Once you start teaching, you will start to develop assessment strategies that help you and your students understand what they know already, what they should be aiming for and how to get there. It takes time and professional skill and you’ll find there’s a lot more to assessment than just tests and examinations.
Dr Andy Chandler-Grevatt has an EdD in school assessment and a real passion for teaching and learning. Andy is Teaching Fellow in Science Education at the University of Sussex where he is a tutor on the PGCE, School Direct, and MA in Education courses. An author and assessment editor, his new book How to Assess Your Students is coming out next year. Follow him on Twitter @Grevster73
National Curriculum 2014 - read both primary (Key Stage 1 and 2) and secondary (Key Stage 3 and 4) so you can understand what the students should know when they come to you, or what they will learn when they leave you.
Summative assessment - have a look at National Curriculum tests and GCSE awarding body specifications and exemplar exam papers: STA, AQA, Edexcel and OCR
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It’s one of a series of blogs to help make your introduction to teacher training a little easier. Get up-to-speed with some of the topics you’re likely to encounter in your training:
Common myths about the brain and learning
Getting behaviour right from the start
How to support children with SEND in the mainstream classroom
Five ways to ensure a successful ITT year