I have worked in many schools, in various roles, and at various levels. As a young and green class teacher, school leader, strategic advisor and also Estyn inspector, there is perhaps one quote by the educational guru Michael Fullan that has resonated and continues to resonate with me through my career. It perhaps sums up the greatest issue we face as school leaders with the implementation of the Curriculum 2022? Without the inclusion of a global pandemic.
“Words travel Fast in education, but concepts less so”
In other words, we are so fast as teachers/school leaders to grasp the next new ‘BUZZ’ word or implement a the next new ‘GREAT’ strategy to raise standards, we fail to really understand. There is a significant difference between implementing a strategy and fully understanding the pedagogy behind the creation of this strategy. A Purple Pen of Power is not necessarily good feedback. A growth mindset display in every classroom does not necessarily deepen pupils thinking. A great example of this is understanding the difference between Attainment, Progress and Achievement. As a young and naive teacher, I am not too proud to admit that I assumed they were in fact one and the same thing. They were to me all just assessment!
However, they are as different as ‘bangers and mash’ and ‘fish and chips’…. Both great British dishes that could appear on the same gourmet pub menu and could potentially be palatable together? But NOT recommended on the same plate!
For clarification let’s consider what they really mean:
In the CfW 2022, the pendulum has swung very much away from attainment, to progress and achievement. This is a great positive for those schools in more deprived areas that are bringing the children on a journey and adding value to what they have done but could be a potential issue for schools in more affluent areas where children enter schools with good skills. It will certainly challenge teachers and school leaders to reconsider their assessment practices. The curriculum framework states:
“It is not about external reporting, but about a school understanding what it needs to know about its learners in order for them all to maximise their potential and identifying specific challenges and the support which particular groups might need.”
In the past much, assessment has been about securing external accountability. In this sense assessment has been akin to the tail wagging the dog. Schools have collected data on what has been required of them by external agencies rather than collecting data in a manner that moves learning forward and leads to progress. Whilst I agree with John Hattie’s mantra, “know thy Impact”. It has felt at times as a profession we have been beaten around the head with the word ‘Impact’. Certainly, as a strategic advisor I felt the pressure to produce clear and measurable impact data often stopped me doing things that seemed like obvious solutions but were based on gut instinct and intuition developed over the course of my career. Moving forward it should be about maximising learner’s potential. So we need to consider the fact, as professionals we don’t need to measure things because they are measurable, and likewise it is equally important not to ignore things just because they are not measurable/ quantifiable.
This then begs the question:
What is really important IN assessment in the new CfW?
The frame work states:
“Assessment plays a fundamental role in ensuring each individual learner is supported and challenged accordingly. It should contribute to developing a holistic picture of the learner – their strengths, the ways in which they learn, and their areas for development – in order to inform next steps in learning and teaching. Assessment should not be used to make a one-off judgement on the overall achievement of a learner at a set age or point in time against descriptors or criteria on a ‘best-fit’ basis.”
In other words, all assessment should involve the learner, and if it does not move learning forward then we should question its usefulness and its place in the new curriculum. Gareth Coombes and I have been grappling with these thorny issues over the past months and believe we should consider a new type of assessment. One that has only existed in education as a theory in the past. This type of assessment should be considered as assessment IN learning. (I have used capital letters explicitly to draw attention to this different method of assessing) I would explain assessment IN Learning in the following manner:
In the past schools have had to focus on Assessment ‘OF’ Learning, which is essentially summative assessment. This is a snapshot of where the learner is at any given time. It is teacher led and based on ‘the past’. It is essential a snap shot of a moment in time for a learner on their Journey. For many years this was considered the only and definitive method of assessment. However the arrival of Dylan William’s and Paul Black’s publication Inside the Black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment 2014 , teachers had a new concept and phrase: Assessment ‘FOR’ learning, (AfL), this should, unlike summative assessment practices, inform the teachers of pupils’ next steps in learning and be far more learner focused. This was revolutionary at the time, it took the concept of assessment away from a means of ‘weighing the pig,’ i.e. determining where the child was), to a method of ‘feeding the pig,’ (moving the child’s learning forward). To return to Michael Fullan’s quote at the beginning of this blog, this was unfortunately reduced to ‘thumbs up and thumbs down’ in many schools in its infancy. Another example of schools looking to the strategy without understanding the pedagogy.
Despite being revolutionary at the time, AfL had demonstrated over time to have had. drawbacks. It is focused on moving learning forward and is formative (informing next steps in pupils learning), it is essentially teacher-led. Assessment ‘FOR’ Learning requires the teacher to be in charge of the learning process. A great analogy for this is the Teacher as Pilot analogy. Please indulge me. In most learning scenarios the teacher is the one flying the plane, whilst the learner is a passenger. In this example consider: who has most control over learning and outcomes; who does most of the talking in the classroom; who does most of the thinking; who does most of the questioning? This is essentially assessment OF learning (Summative assessment). However, when teachers are more progressive and seek to involve the pupils as ‘co-pilots’, learners become involved in the assessment process. In this model children take some level of ownership of their learning and assessment. This is when self and peer assessment happen, children respond to the teacher’s feedback, which moves their learning forward. This is what we understand this as assessment FOR learning.
This Model is still slightly passive and should not be our end goal as teachers. We should be aiming to allow the pupils to pilot their own ‘learning plane’, whilst we as teachers coach the learning journey from the control tower. This notion of the control tower this is essentially assessment IN learning. If we look at the aims of the new curriculum for Wales, we can see evidence of the intention of pupils piloting their own learning planes:
“This understanding should be used by the practitioner, in discussion with the learner to ascertain the next steps required to move learning forward, including any additional challenge and support required. This should be achieved by embedding assessment into day-to-day practice in a way that engages the learner and makes it indistinguishable from learning.”
In other words, if we are not involving the pupils in this assessment why are we doing it? Assessment IN Learning should be :
· Pupil centred
· Planned for as a seamless part of the learning process
· Forward facing building on previous learning and guiding pupils towards their goals
· Clearly demonstrating progress
In this model we really need to ask some searching questions about how we have behaved in the past. For example, in the brave new world of assessment should:
· We be undertaking any distancing marking at all? Should we even mark books?
· Do we need to have books, or do we require something more suitable to the needs of the 21st centaury such as digital portfolios?
· We as teachers be writing reports, or should the learners be responsible for reporting their progress to parents, and leading their own parents evening interviews?
Thinking in this manner could revolutionise many of the aspects of school we currently take for granted. But whatever we choose to change as school leaders it is essential that as Fullan points out the words and strategies do not travel faster than our understanding. It is time to really rethink what we are doing, but not without really considering carefully how we move forward.
If you like the concept of Assessment IN Learning and would like to find out more. Gareth Coombes and Huw Duggan are running a number of programmes to help support schools in this time of transition. You can book online by visiting www.collectivelearning.co.uk or follow this link. for further information about in school in-service please email Huw@right-learning.com alternatively you can ring us on 02922 407733 to find out more.