Developing the beautiful struggle–assessment and progress in education–workshop from #TLT13

Having just got through the door from #TLT13, there is a lot to think about.  Here is my presentation and notes from my session on assessment and progress.  As a bit of background, you may wish to read this post about the abolition of levels and this one about the beautiful struggle for knowledge.

Teachers are experts at tracking progress and assessment.  The government would have us wait for advice from expert panels, but Key Stage 3 should be informed by the formal exam systems or GCSE and A’Level.

The Year 7 students who have started this year will take their GCSE examinations, assuming that they still exist, in 2018.  That’s five years away.  Consider what has happened in the past five years.  This means that we must do more as teachers than say ‘these important exams in five years time.’ The images are from some History department homework and illustrates what our Year 7s find important.

I’ve used the Touching the Void quote as there is a parallel to using targets and assessment.  Joe Simpson lived by displaying pure grit and determination.  The thoughts shared by Simon Yates were not externally shared – he tried to get Joe safely down the mountain.  When we are talking to children, it’s important that we don’t give up.  Ever.  The purpose of communicating progress to young people is to help guide them through the forest of school.  To provide a clear path to success, whether that’s measured by university graduation or employment. 

I made the point that it is often by focusing on the everyday aspects of teaching that we get great results.  I drew a parallel to this recent post about who provides CPD.  Can potential really be measured? There was a groundswell of feeling at #TLT13 that assessment is broken and a few people were talking about a Growth Mindset approach: teaching everyone as if they can achieve an A*.

I also posed the question about what we should be measuring progress of.  Should it purely be understanding of content or character or both?

I’m starting to see progress in terms of the ‘Mind the Gap’ writing found along the edge of train platforms.  The job of communicating progress and education is to furnish young people with the skills, traits and knowledge to overcome the gap and get on board the attainment train.  The trouble is that often, young people don’t understand the warning signs.  They may as well be in a foreign language.  This represents feedback such as ‘This is great work’ or ‘You have to try harder.’  These comments are impossible to decode.  It’s the role of teachers to measure and communicate progress in a way that young people don’t miss the train.

But, we can’t have a quick solution.  The Victorian gung-ho approach.  We have to encourage young people to adventure into the pit (Lego graphic thanks to Priory School) then, develop the traits, skills and strategies to get out of the pit.  Pretending the Gap isn’t there just isn’t good enough.

I then went on to share some practical strategies linked to progress and assessment.  I aimed to avoid the issue that levels are going, instead concentrating upon ongoing assessment that occurs in classrooms every day.

1. Level and Grade mountains. – see this post and thanks to Sam Atkins.  My point here was that at Priory we used the GCSE criteria to shape our approach lower down the school.

2. This is further illustrated by the exciting approach being taken by Patcham High’s Art Department with the Skills Web.  This uses the skills needed to succeed at GCSE (we are an 11-16 school) and allows children to identify what they need to develop.  Priory Geography quickly worked up an example linked to geography, and I used the KIPP character traits to suggest that perhaps we could use a skills web to assess the development of character traits.

3. Using Twitter to provide live feedback.  I’ll blog about the Year 7 map activity in a week or so, but using social media to share great work and get feedback from others is a useful technique.

4. Feedback 5 – see this post.  What we need to remember here is that young people need to be taught how to respond to critical feedback.  If we are to develop a growth mindset, this is vital.  I suggested that writing frames are used to develop the quality of students’ targets. Crucially, time should be planning into Schemes of Work for this to happen.

5. Using Google Docs to share Schemes of Work I illustrated that assessment must be planned for.  For example, every GCSE lesson used to feature some form of exam based question. Banned Words develop literacy, along with VCOP sheets and other techniques.

6. Getting children involved in creating the curriculum is important.  Getting feedback on where assessment and progress can be planned for.  An example shows that children actually wanted to be challenged and not content with gaining their target.

7. Finally, I shared how tracking and marking monitoring feed into progress and assessment planning.

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