I used a departmental meeting to introduce the principles of APP to the whole department and as part of this meeting I set the task of completing a periodic recording grid for two students. This happened three weeks before a school closure day during which we used the morning to work on the moderation of this work and to plan out how the department would take APP forward.
We had to start with lengthy and open discussion about the principles of assessment before we could move on to any moderation or planning. There was a lot of concern about paperwork and workload which needed to be aired first. ‘Assessment which impacts on classroom practice’ came out as the key to informing action rather than focusing on grids. The second key agreement was that students should be included in the task of providing evidence of attainment and understanding (both because this is good practice and because it should cut down on workload). It was decided that the scheme of work would be altered to allow for a ‘review week’ at the end of each (short) term, to allow time for:
- students to reflect on the key aspects of learning;
- students to find evidence of attainment;
- teachers to provide key questions for students who find it difficult to find evidence.
It was felt important that this good assessment practice would be of limited use unless time was built in to allow for remediation. So after a ‘review lesson’ we decided to have one or two lessons during which classes can address weaknesses. Suggested ways of addressing weaknesses included: re-grouping students so that ‘greens’ could work with ‘reds’ (ie. if a traffic light system for getting pupil feedback is used, the confident pupils work with the ‘don’t understand’ pupils). It was felt that the recording grid was a secondary factor: if teachers could work with their classes on activities which provide rich evidence of understanding, then the making of periodic judgments without formal tests would become less of an issue.
Since the school closure day, our Key Stage 3 leader has produced a booklet for Year 7 classes which includes the assessment foci (altered language), against which pupils can record their own judgments. To help pupils in this, the teachers use level ladders and may additionally use the Focused Assessment Materials (Strategy), or Stick on the Maths activities from the Glosmaths website.
I am very pleased with the direction in which this is going. I have been keen to get good assessment for learning practice into all maths classrooms for a long time and I am pleased that our approach to adopting and adapting the APP approach has made this happen. I was particularly pleased by the support I received from the headteacher in pushing this agenda (I think he must have been on an APP course).
The discussion and construction of an agreed assessment policy amongst the department has been a significant element in improving our assessment practices.
We were particularly keen to give examples of how the policy might be put into practice and I feel that these practical elements have really helped us to change our practice.
The policy is available to download.
As a school we are looking at ways of increasing the responsibility of our pupils for their own learning. The maths department has successfully used its assessment procedures to do this. Several years ago we produced booklets for GCSE pupils which summarised the main learning points over a term. What made these documents different to many others was that there was space in which students were asked to produce their own evidence that they had met certain criteria and identify areas for improvement accordingly. More recently, we have been looking at how to use unit plenaries to help pupils both assess their own attainment and retain the key learning points. At the end of a unit, pupils are required to produce some kind of learning aid: this might be a poster; some revision notes; a mind map, etc. Here is an example of one of our pupil’s mind maps for an aspect of algebra.
Pupils are allowed to refer to these notes in subsequent formal assessments. This gives greater importance to these documents and provides good practice for developing revision strategies.
Some Key Stage 3 classes have been using Unit Review documents to record attainment.
Levelled exemplification and level ladders are used to help the pupils decide on their performance. We have found that using these unit reviews together with our own knowledge of the pupil has made the making of periodic judgments relatively easy. When formal assessments have been used, the outcomes match very strongly with the judgments resulting from the above.
(Excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score).
This report offers a range of external perspectives, examples of good practice and indications of national trends and standards which can be very helpful to a subject leader.
Here we have included elements which are relevant to this section on assessment.
Assessment for Understanding: The Teacher as Detective
Why is assessment in lessons important?
127. Teachers who assess well show a fundamentally different approach from those who do not. They focus on ensuring that all pupils move on from their differing starting points. This is immediately apparent in the way they actively seek assessment clues throughout the lesson, adapting their approach in response to the learning needs of individuals or groups.
128. In the best lessons during the survey, the teachers were perceptive listeners and observers, both in interpreting pupils’ responses to questions and when moving among pupils who were working on tasks and exercises. Their strong subject expertise enabled them to monitor and intervene in a timely way. They strove to understand how each pupil was thinking and were concentrated on using this as a basis for structuring learning rather than aiming to convey a particular mathematical method. It was their focus on trying to interpret what was in pupils’ minds, to help them make better sense of the mathematics for themselves, that singled out these lessons. They realised that, unless they knew how a pupil was thinking, they would not be in a position to help them learn effectively.
118. Circulating quickly around the class allowed teachers to check on all pupils and intervene where appropriate. For example, they checked what pupils were writing on their mini whiteboards; they saw where pupils were leaving gaps in quick mental tests or were finding them too easy; after giving a one-minute task, they listened to what each pair of pupils was discussing; having asked pupils to draw axes or a diagram, they confirmed rapidly that all had done so correctly and were ready for the next step. In these lessons, teachers did not allow themselves to spend too long responding to a few pupils who asked for help, thereby leaving others unnoticed. They soon assessed if some pupils were stuck or lacking in confidence and adapted the lesson to make sure everyone could attempt the work.
Improving the use of assessment in lessons
126. Many schools in the survey had ‘assessment for learning’ as a major part of their school improvement plans. This often included a focus on improving the quality of teachers’ questioning. Sometimes, this led to identifying useful ‘key questions’ in teachers’ planning which helped teachers and pupils to focus on and review the important learning points in a lesson. Teachers said they found it very beneficial to discuss with each other what, in fact, the key questions were.
127. The use of lesson objectives, often linked to particular GCSE grades or National Curriculum levels, was another focus in many schools. Various methods were used to match the intended learning to the needs of the different groups in a class but the tasks were not consistently well designed to enable the planned learning to take place or matched to pupils’ previous learning. In many lessons in secondary schools, all the pupils tackled the same work: in effect, teachers were expecting some pupils’ learning to be more successful than others.
128. Marking was a common theme of whole-school training. In the best examples seen during the survey, careful thought had been given to interpreting policies on marking and feedback in terms of teaching and assessing mathematics. The most successful approaches often included pupils assessing their own and each other’s work. More frequently, however, teachers were expected to implement whole-school policies. Some schools required marking which consisted only of comments. Others expected every piece of work to be assigned a National Curriculum level, sub-level or GCSE grade. Many teachers found these policies difficult to apply in mathematics when pieces of work met one element of a particular level description only in part. In any case, the level descriptions in mathematics are linked closely to specific content and often are not directly related to descriptions at the lower levels. One approach to ‘comment only’ policies was to mark diagnostically, focusing on topics where misconceptions were common. The effectiveness of this approach depended on the quality of the tasks. In some cases, the work teachers set and the questions they asked were not challenging or probing enough and therefore did not stimulate useful assessment.
We have included in this section links to the ‘Diary of a subject leader’ items which relate to the issue of assessment: