However, summative data gained from statutory and optional tests isoften used within schools as a means of tracking the progress of children,teaching standards and school performance. Critics have highlighted the dangersof over-reliance on test-based summative assessment. Lambert & Lines (2000)suggest that summative assessment in theform of exams or tests is only an abstraction of what the pupilknows, understands or can do. In response to concerns regarding theover-reliance on summative assessment data, there has been much research intothe benefits of using formative assessment in the classroom.
Formative assessment is often referred to as ‘assessment for learning’ and is linked to theconcept of divergence (Torrance & Pryor, 1998), whereby the purpose ofassessment is to determine what achild knows, understands or can do. It is conducted on an ongoing basis throughstrategies such as questioning, observation, self and peer assessment andmarking. McCallum (2000), states that in formative assessment, both the teacherand the pupil make judgements about a pupils work against specified learningobjectives. The purpose of this is to discover what a child knows (includingany errors and misconceptions) and use this information to make decisionsregarding the strategies required to move a child’s learning forward, i.e. toinfluence planning on an ongoing basis. There is a wealth of research into the benefits of using formativeassessment to inform teaching and improve learning.
Black & Wiliam (1998)suggest that there has been a significant shift from assessment as restrictedforms of tests that are only weakly linked to the learning experience, toward agreater interaction between assessment and classroom learning. They go on tosuggest that formative assessment, with the embedded concept of feedback, isthe key factor in the promotion of learning. However, in response to this,Sebatane (1998) iskeen to point out that assessment per se is not the only factor inthe promotion of learning and that effectiveuse of assessment procedures is essential. The GTC (2009) agrees that thereis clear evidence that formative assessment is effective for improving pupillearning, however, a teacher’s ability to transform the assessment into new andeffective practice and to positively affect students’ learning and attainmentis vital. The implication for the classroom teacher is that with assessmentstrategies being used for such a wide range of purposes, to be effective it isessential that the purpose of assessment is clearly defined. Mitchell & Koshy (1993) believe that it is important to seeassessment as cyclical in nature; although summative assessment is oftenconducted at the end of a learning phase, this information will be used toinfluence the planning at the start of a subsequent phase of learning.Likewise, formative assessments made in a particular lesson should influencesubsequent planning of related lessons.
The research has many implications for the classroom practitionerand in the following section of this discussion I will relate my experiences ofconducting and using assessment in Science and Numeracy during my SE2 placementat X Primary. As the balance of my practice was formative assessment, mydiscussion will concentrate mainly on this area. X Primary is an average-sized, one form entry primary school with253 pupils. The pupils come from diverse social and economic backgrounds andtheproportion of pupils with SEN is broadly in line with the nationalpicture.
The majority of pupils are from White British backgrounds andtherefore very few pupils speak English as an additional language (Ofsted2006). My SE2 practice was based in Year 6 during the build-up to the SATSexaminations. As Black & Wiliam (1998) point out, in normal classroom work theeffectiveness of formative feedback will depend upon several detailed featuresof its quality, and not on its mere existence or absence. As a student teacher,this has a number of implications for my block practice. It is not satisfactoryto simply conduct assessment: this assessment has to be effectively defined,planned, conducted and used if it is to be of any benefit to the learningprocess.
Research indicates that there is no one formative assessmentstrategy that can be recommended for use in any situation. Pollard & Bourne(1994) suggest that the assessment procedure implemented should be based on thepurpose for which it is being undertaken and this will mean employing differentassessment techniques for different purposes. For example, different assessmentstrategies will be more effective with certain subjects and certain age groups.As my SE2 placement was in Year 6 during the build-up to the SATS tests, muchof the teaching was geared to revision for these tests.
Often, as a result, thelesson objectives were not to develop children’s understanding further but togive them practice of answering SATS questions. Much of the teaching was inone-off revision lessons on a variety of topics. This did not lend itself tousing formativeassessment to plan for progression. However, where possible I didimplement assessment for learning strategies and use these to influenceplanning of subsequent lessons.
Whichstrategies provided the most valuable evidence in Science and Numeracy? Ofsted (2003) indicate that assessment in Science is most effectivewhen used to stimulate pupils to think through scientific ideas and not justcheck recall of factual information. During SE2, I aimed to use a broad rangeof questioning techniques to ascertain the level of pupils understanding ofscientific ideas and found questioning to be an extremely useful tool forassessing the depth of understanding of a topic. For example, when teaching alesson on adaptation (appendix 1.
1), I used progressive open questioning toascertain not only if a child could identify the adaptation, but also if theyunderstood how the animal used the adaptation and why it had developed (e.g.environmental survival, to catch prey, to avoid predators).
I found that thechildren’s verbal responses went into far more detail than their limitedwritten responses and allowed me to assess more accurately a child’sunderstanding (appendix 1.2). Often, I would pose a question to a group thenallow them to discuss their theories. This was beneficial as observation ofthis discussion helped me to highlight and address misconceptions. I used thisopportunity to make a note of the responses of my focus group as evidence forsummative assessment when required (seeappendix 1.3). Another reason why questioning and observationalstrategies were beneficial in Science was the fact that most of the writtenwork was conducted in groups.
Therefore, assessments based on written workwould have been difficult as it would be hard to judge which children hadinfluenced the responses. In Numeracy I found that marking written work was the most valuableassessment strategy. When detailed working out was shown, it enabled theassessment of many variables – for example, do children understand the keyvocabulary in the question? Have they correctly identified the operation touse? Can they perform the method correctly? Have they completed the second stepof a two-step problem? However, the effectiveness of assessing via markingwritten work was limited if there was a lack of working out displayed by thechild. For example, when marking work on word problems, a child may havewritten a correct answer but with no working out, therefore, from markingalone, I would have been unable to determine if the child had used anappropriate or efficient method to calculate the answer, or if they had justcopied another child’s work.Similarly, a child may have written an incorrect answer with noworking out, but from marking alone I would have been unable to determine atwhat stage in the process of solving the word problem the error occurred. As aresult, it was necessary to observe my focus group at work, examining theirwork at intervals during the lesson thus identifying and addressingmisconceptions and errors when they were being made rather than at the end ofthe lesson. How did you judge whetherchildren had demonstrated achievement? In order to measure achievement, you must be clear about what youare assessing.
Pollard et al (2005)comment that, when planning a lesson, it is essential that the desired outcomesare clearly stated so that, when interacting with pupils and marking their worka clear criteria for success (with respect to lesson objectives) is borne inmind. Alongside this, it is necessary to determine the most effective andpractical way to conduct this assessment. During both Science and Numeracy lessons, I planned clear andsuccinct objectives and success criteria which were displayed and referencedthroughout the lesson. It is essential that children are made aware of thelesson objectives (WALT – we are learning to…) and also the steps they need totake to demonstrate that they have achieved them (WILF – what I’m lookingfor…). As Leakey (2001) indicates, this sharing of objectives is essential asit gives the children an understanding of what is being assessed and ownershipof their own learning. During the lesson, I used a combination of techniquesincluding open questioning, observation, marking, group presentations offindings (in Science), and self and peer assessment (although less so inScience and Numeracy than other subjects) to determine whether children hadfulfilled the required criteria. I found that using focussed assessmentcriteria concentrated the children on the important aspects of the learning processand aided me in giving succinct andrelevant feedback. As Harrison etal (2001) suggest, referring back to the learning objective makes marking amore manageable task and intrinsically more worthwhile.
How did you record assessment data? Evans (2001) questions that however worthwhile assessment may be,the biggest challenge in a real class of children is how an assessment can bedone under the prevailing circumstances and time. He goes on to suggest thatthe key to this issue is good organisation. Taking this into account, I usedpre-prepared assessment record sheets for Science (appendix 2) and Numeracy(appendix 3) which clearly stated the objectives and pupils being assessed.This provided a useful reference during the lesson. Alongside this, I includedsome pre- determined prompt questions on my lesson plan. I recordedobservations and pupil responses during the lesson although this was sometimeschallenging when managing a class of 30 Year 6 children single-handedly. Whenappropriate, I added to the comments made during the lesson when markingchildren’s written work. When an LSA was available to support the childrenduring a lesson, I would ask them to give verbal feedback on particularchildren to compliment my own assessment.
My assessments were then available tobe used for planning subsequent lessons and to aid summative assessment at alater date, (e.g. to identify objectives met on the criterion scale for theSandwell Tracker). Evans (2001) highlights the importance of using technologyinassessment, for example, audio recording a group discussion. Ibelieve that this would have been particularly useful during grouped sciencework as it would provide a record that could be analysed, following the lessonto glean useful assessment data. How did you amend subsequent lesson plans in light of yourassessment? As suggested earlier, formative assessment is assessment for learning and therefore must be usedto inform both teacher and pupil. It helps to highlight any errors andmisconceptions children hold during and following lessons.
Where possible, itis useful to address these problems immediately, one to one, as a group or as amini plenary for the whole class. This information can also be used to inform subsequent planning. Forexample, during the initial lesson (appendix 4.1) of a six lesson block onsolving word problems in Numeracy, I conducted formative assessment throughobservation and marking written work (appendix 4.2). As a result, I identifiedfour key areas where children were making mistakes (misinterpreting thequestion, choosing the wrong operation, forgetting to convert units, notchecking final calculations).Using this information, I adapted my planning for the subsequentlesson to address these errors (appendix 3).
I continued this process throughthe entire six lesson block and as a result the misconceptions were addressedand errors decreased. In Science, during my observation of group work on adaptation Iidentified that children were confusing adaptations of animals with animalfeatures. To address this misconception, I showed a number of short video clipsduring the introduction of a subsequent lesson which helped to explainadaptation.
As a result, the answers in the second lesson were of a much higherstandard. What practical challenges did the process of assessmentpresent? Lambert & Lines (2000), point out that implementation of suchassessment practices is demanding. During SE2, one of the major challenges Ifaced was balancing assessment with the other classroom practices required,such as behaviour management and addressing the needs of other pupils outsideof the assessment focus group. This was particularly challenging as in themajority of lessons I had no adult support in the classroom. I often foundmyself unable to dedicate the time I would have liked to my focus group due toother more pressing matters. The unpredictable nature of the school environmentalso created problems regarding the LSA. A number of times I had planned an LSAinto a lesson only to find that they were required elsewhere and unavailable tome.
I therefore had to adapt my lesson on the spot and, as a result, myassessment opportunities suffered.McCallum (2000) suggests that national tests and preparation forthese often diverts teachers from practising formative assessment. Myexperience in Year 6 in the build-up to the SATS correlates with this, as oftenthe sequence and focus of lessons made it difficult to use the formativeassessments I had made to plan for progression within a topic, e.
g. in Sciencewhere the 5 lessons I taught were taken from 3 separate and unrelated topics,but also in Numeracy where the main focus of the majority of lessons wasanswering practice SATS questions on the area being studied rather thandeveloping a broader understanding of the subject matter. As mentioned previously, the group orientated nature of many of myscience lessons meant I could not rely on written feedback which was presentedas a group. This encouraged me to be less reliant on written work and todevelop a wider range of assessment strategies – as Qualter (2001) points out,it is often appropriate to assess using observation and discussion in science.It is important that such formative assessments are recorded for futuresummative assessment purposes as it is difficult to infer whether a particularchild has met an objective from group written work. Time constraints presented challenges in formative assessment.Ofsted (2003) suggests that marking and feedback to pupils is most beneficialwhen it gives pupils prompt and detailed information which they act upon toimprove. However, the challenges of marking 30 children’s written work indetail prior to the followinglesson, whilst balancing all other requirements, was difficult.
Thisis of particular relevance in Year 6 where children’s written work can be ofsubstantial quantity. Ofsted (2003) acknowledge that teachers are aware of thebenefits of giving detailed formative feedback through marking but are oftenunable to find the time to do so. Time constraints were also an issue withregard to revising lesson plans for the subsequent morning on the basis offormative assessment gained during the day. A prescriptive curriculum created a further challenge in the use offormative assessment. Once a problem or misconception had been identified,addressing this misconception in a subsequent lesson meant that there would beless time to deliver future objectives. For example, when teaching a one-offlesson on converting measures it was apparent that many children found thischallenging.However, only one lesson had been designated to thistopic by the class teacher so it was difficult to address the misconceptions insufficient detail outside of that lesson.
Logistical challenges were also apparent; for example, by choosing afocus group with children from a spread of attainment ranges, the children areoften seated in different areas of the classroom (in attainment groups) whichmade it difficult to assess each child in detail. A further logisticalchallenge was that certain children within the focus group for Science wereabsent on a regularbasis making it very difficult to plan for, and assess, the impactof teaching on that child. Lindsay & Clarke (2001), comment on the importance of self andpeer assessment. They suggest that this form of assessment gives teachers avaluable oblique insight into a child’s own understanding of the skills andknowledge being assessed. It also encourages children to become more reflectiveregarding their own learning. During SE2, I implemented self and peerassessment but the children were unused to using such strategies. This reducedtheir effectiveness until the children became familiar with the procedure. What are the implications for yourfuture practice on SE3 and beyond? During SE2, I gained a valuable insight into the benefits andchallenges of using formative assessment.
As the course progresses, I ambecoming very much aware of the interaction between the different elements ofteaching. For example, using formative assessment will enable to me to planmore personalised learning. This in turn will actively engage children inlearning which will result in fewer lower-level behaviour problems thusallowing me to dedicate more time to conduct formative assessment during thelesson etc. SE2 has helped me identify areas I need to address for my ownprofessional development:Class management will become less demanding on my time as I gainexperience in this area and this will allow me to concentrate more on formativeassessment during lessons. On SE3 I expect to be able to plan for progression in much moredetail as the context of my teaching will not be the build-up to SATS (i.e. Iwill be teaching series of lessons rather than one-off revision lessons.) My use of assessment strategies such as higher order questioning andmy use of formative data to influence subsequent planning were highlighted asstrengths in my observations.
However, I am aware that I need to develop abroader range of assessment strategies including much more use of self and peerassessment.For example, I could introduce ‘steps to success’ for each series oflessons which children will glue into their book at the start of the sequenceand traffic light their progress. Marking work effectively and efficiently is a skill, and withexperience I expect to refine my practice in this area, for example, by usingthe plenary for peer-marking or marking the work of one group with them duringthe lesson. Managing the workload outside of teaching lessons was difficult onSE2 as I had to plan each individual lesson from scratch (the school did notprovide any planning). Working from weekly plans and being able to accessschool planningwill enable me to spend more time analysing learning and enable meto use my formative assessment to greater effect. On SE3, it will be more practical to assess a specific attainmentgroup each lesson. Although it is important to recognise the misconceptionsacross the attainment range in a class, it is not practical to assess eachattainment group in such detail every lesson.REFERENCES Black, P.
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