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Teaching Issues

Old fashioned thinking about assessment

It is official: schools are assessment crazy! I recently spoke two teachers who told me that where they teach they have to get their students to produce a levelled piece of work every two weeks!! How mad / crazy / ill informed / laughable / depressing * is that!  Where is there any time to actually teach them anything?

(*Delete as appropriate).

Well lets muddy the  water a little more by chucking into the assessment pond the idea of the unsupported assessment.  Excuse me for stating the bleedin’ obvious but by unsupported assessment we mean setting up a question or a task which the kids have under take without any writing frames, or success criteria shared by the teacher. So no, ‘this is what you need to do get a level 8’ nonsense. Instead the kids have to answer the question or complete the task using the skills you have taught them in a set time period (20 minutes or so).

Those AfL junkies amongst you will be berating us for being so out of fashion and unfair I’m guessing. ‘Wot no success criteria?’ In this instance it is a resounding ‘NO!’

Why do we advocate this approach? Simple.  Such assessment pieces help pin point where our pupils are at in their historical thinking at a particular point in time. But this type of assessment  does come with a health warning: It is vital that pupils are actually taught the skills and knowledge that we want them to grasp before we actually assess them.

Only when we are sure they are ready to show us what they have learnt and understood, do  we throw in a well measured  unseen question or task. Then we can use carefully crafted mark-scheme to pin point exactly where they are at.  Neil Thompson, ex Hampshire history adviser was in my mind the pioneer of such an approach – thanks Neil for showing me the light.

The first challenge for the teacher is in planning the lesson sequence to ensure that they have grasped what you want them to grasp: how you given them the opportunities to explore the concepts and types of understanding you want them to? If the answer is no, then you need to adapt your teaching and lesson planning to make sure that you do before setting up your kids for failure,

The second challenge is to decide what types of thinking you want to assess and what high or low responses might look like. This is hard but essential work.

We also think it is vital in this type of assessment not to show the kids the mark-scheme, nor to allow them access to cards, books or notes that have been made previously. Occasionally it is good to see what they can do unaided.

We would advocate that kids do not do this type of assessment all of the time. We should  often  model, come up with the criteria for what makes a great piece of work and show them exactly what good work looks like.

But just occasionally we want to see if they can do this thinking alone. The information you yield from these ‘unsupported’ assessments can then be triangulated with other more open style end products that kids produce and even oral answers they give in class discussions. All of this as a whole will help you work out where they are at. No one assessment type should dominate.

If you want to see examples of unseen assessment questions / task and mark-schemes check out an example which has been added to our Hastings enquiry, or the example that goes alongside our Opium War enquiry. Both are free downloads.  Also, coming very soon is a great little lesson with accompanying unsupported assessment on the significance of Wat Tyler.

For a more detailed account of our thinking on assessment go no further than here.

Happy history teaching… (if you get time in between uploading meaningless sub-levels to a data base to keep SLT happy and then being asked such inane questions as, ‘why hasn’t this child made 2 sub levels of progress this week?’ Simple answer: ‘they won’t because sub levels do not exist for history you idiot – check the back of the National Curriculum document!!’)


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