In my daily work as a trainer and consultant, I am privileged and humbled by the work of school leaders and school teachers around the world who seek to improve children’s learning day in and day out, week in and week out, term in and term out, year in and year out. Each taking an opportunity to seek out a child’s level of learning and improve upon it to the next level of learning.
It is that I would like to share my love affair with assessment!
This love affair began very slowly and one I realised with time. It always surprises me when I look back to when I began my teaching career why this love affair did not start sooner, as it is at the core of what good teachers, leaders and schools are doing daily – teaching and assessing learning, seeking to improve children’s learning through formative and summative assessment. I now recognise that I failed to make the connection between learning and assessment when I began my teaching career in North Birkenhead.
At the start of my career I was busy creating fun, engaging and stimulating activities for the children. I did not inquire what they knew already, I did not think reflectively about what provision could be changed or enhanced to improve the learning for the children. I felt my task was to present dynamic “teaching” engagements for the children where their lives would be enriched, and learning would take place. In essence, it was all about the teaching and very little about the learning.
It is only now with the benefit of hindsight, a greater understanding of learning and how learning can be improved, that I reflect I was a teacher of learning and not for learning – a small nuance of language but a changed disposition that allows children into the journey that is their own. This allows them the route to take ownership of their learning and a self-awareness of how to improve their learning by creating next steps and providing learning engagements that are appropriately rigorous, by that I mean sufficiently challenging and aimed appropriately from the child’s starting point.
For me, this realisation that children, and indeed any learner, can make in ownership of learning rests on three very simple facts:
Research, from John Hattie (2009) and Shirley Clarke (2014) tells us very clearly, that children being actively involved in self and peer assessment, continual modelling, identification of success criteria and on the spot improvements made during class has the most impact on improved learning.
So how do we make it part of our everyday school life and how do we make sharing feedback as habitual as taking the register on a daily basis. Teachers need to recognise the value of feedback in FIT (feedback improvement time), from learner to learner and from teacher to learner. We must not give feedback without giving time for improvements to be made!
It is about creating learning intentions that are appropriately and sufficiently challenging for a child. The “Goldilocks” learning as I like to call it, the just right learning, not too easy and not too hard! The learning engagement at a level that continues to motivate and to challenge the learner rather than “drowning” in an activity because it is too hard or standing in the same spot as they already know what is being taught. The objective should be to provide learning that is new or consolidated learning, where the child can strengthen their understanding with greater fluency and speed.
From the learning intention comes the success criteria i.e. what evidence is needed for this intention to be achieved, and then it is through the feedback and feed forward that the learning journey begins towards improvement. Feedback that is based on the learning objective and the success criteria, that aims to close the gap, that gives specific improvement suggestions and finally and most importantly that there is time during the lesson so children can make improvement.
Knowing this to be proven from research and also from one’s own experience as learners whether it was when we learnt to drive, to swim or speak Italian, we all benefit from quality of feedback based on improvement.
Giving our children this opportunity to receive feedback from one another and freeing our children from the culture of “teacher pleasers”, opens the door to genuine self-improvement and continued learning.
Creating that culture in our classrooms that learning is about making mistakes and having a go, finding a solution to something we don’t know yet, can only lead to the hope of supporting an individual towards a “growth mindset”, willing to take informed risks throughout childhood into adulthood and one who will celebrate the struggle and display true resilience and perseverance.
When one sees assessment of the learning, assessment for the learning and especially assessment as learning as a triangle towards improvement, it is hard not to fall in love with assessment.
It moves the picture away from the teacher and instruction or engaging activities to the learner and the construction of the learning by the learner towards self-improvement and self-worth.
What’s not to love!