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Assessment for Learning and Teaching

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The key to effective practice is to be able to work out what a child’s specific needs are at one time, and to find ways of creating opportunities for them to succeed (Moyles and Robinson, 2002:281). Assessment is the process of measuring someone’s knowledge, skills and understanding, therefore to get to know the pupils in my class and to understand their learning and behavioural needs I used assessment strategies.

Using assessment strategies allows teachers to evaluate learning needs and allow children to all get the correct teaching they deserve, improving outcomes for all learners and making every child matter.If we think of our children as plants, summative assessment of the plants is the process of simply measuring them. The measurements might be interesting to compare and analyse, but, in themselves, they do not affect the growth of the plants. Formative assessment, on the other hand, is the garden equivalent of feeding and watering the plants-directly affecting the growth (Clarke, 2001:2). Clarke makes an effective link in this metaphor explaining how formative assessment describes processes of teaching and learning and the importance of this, whereas summative assessment takes place after the teaching and learning.

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Assessment for learning (formative) informs assessment of learning (summative). Teachers need to use their assessment for learning to facilitate learning and to ensure learning is taking place, this will then inform the assessment of learning when their work is marked or levelled at the end of the term or year to sum up their learning, this is important and will allow teachers to gain an understanding of where this child is in their learning and to discover what a learner has achieved over the year.

Black and Wiliam from Kings College, University of London in 1988 were commissioned to find out whether or not formative assessment could be shown to raise levels of attainment. This research concluded that formative assessment strategies do raise standards of attainment: There is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment is an essential feature of classroom work and that formative assessment is an essential feature of classroom work and that development of it can raise standards (1998:13). In my experiences in schools formative assessment really informed my teaching and practice.The class teacher and assistants carried out observations during group work in lessons, however these observations were not used or looked at during the planning process and so the next lessons were too challenging for some learners. When I took over the teaching and planning, I ensured that I used the observations of pupils to inform my planning of the next lesson. The year one teachers also used the previous year’s plans and both classes had the exact same plans which were not adapted for their class.In my opinion both classes have different learners with individual needs and the learning was not personalised for them.

“Practitioners will need to plan for each child’s individual learning requirements” (Nutbrown and Clough 2006:10). Formative assessment is essential in teaching and if teachers do not use it effectively they may hinder pupils learning. Teachers need to plan to suit all learners individual needs and abilities and if teachers do not do this “there is a danger of requiring children to take steps that are too large for them, so they can only follow blindly, without understanding” (Harlen et al, 2003:81).The assessment reform group (1999) discusses assessment for learning in practice and summarises the characteristics of assessment that promotes learning for each individual pupil. These characteristics include sharing learning goals with pupils as this helps them to recognise what they are aiming for, also self- assessment which provides feedback for pupils allowing them to recognise their next steps and how to take them. Furthermore assessment is underpinned by confidence that every pupil can improve and this involves both teacher and pupils reflecting on assessment data.These characteristics of assessment were seen whilst in schools and when used well by teachers worked very well.

Making the learning intentions clear whilst planning helped when assessing children’s understanding and if they had met the success criteria of the learning intention. “The learning intention is the heart of formative assessment and needs to be made clear at the planning stage” (Clarke, 2001:8). Sharing the learning intentions with pupils is significant in effecting teaching and assessment, “research shows that children are more motivated and task oriented if they know the learning intention of the task” (Clarke, S, 2001:19).The learning intention needs to be delivered to the pupils at their level of understanding and in my last placement success criteria were used involve pupils in their own learning which in turn developed self assessment and understanding. In my experiences during the plenary worked well in recapping over the learning intentions, giving the pupils the opportunities to self assess whilst in turn giving the teacher a chance to observe their understanding.Black and Wiliam’s research shows that if peer and self assessment is linked with the learning intentions of a task, children’s progress, persistence and self-esteem is improved (1998). In my teaching I used peer and self assessment in my lessons as it allowed pupils to take responsibility for their learning and increase their understanding.

In physical education lessons I encouraged pupils to assess themselves and each other’s performances, saying two things they liked and one thing they could improve on.This was beneficial to pupils as they received praise and ideas from their peers which developed their self-esteem and helped with the understanding of the activity. Assessment for learning seeks to involve pupils in peer assessment so that they can reflect and discuss how they can improve their performance on future occasions (Galton 2007). As a teacher I will encourage the use of paired talk as peer discussions involve children talking to each other in a language they are familiar with and therefore more likely to understand.Peer assessment provides children with the opportunity to discuss with and challenge each other which are valuable experiences that cannot be gained when working alone. Vygotsky and Bruner stress the importance of social interactions between learners as this leads to a greater understanding of the work being discussed (Pritchard, 2009). Furthermore working with a peer, reading work to each other and supporting each other can aid pupil’s learning as Vygotsky suggests further: A child can perform at a higher level when supported or ‘scaffolded’ by an dult or more experienced peer, described as their ‘level of potential development (Whitebread 2003:97).

Black and Wiliam’s research however showed inhibiting factors concerned with effective learning and the use of assessment, “for primary teachers particularly, there is a tendency to emphasise quantity and presentation of work and to neglect its quality in relation to learning” Furthermore “the collection of marks to fill up records is given greater priority than the analysis of pupils work to discern learning needs” (1998:4).This was apparent in my experiences as teachers were focusing on quantity of work to go in their files and giving a greater attention to marking work, rather than giving pupil’s feedback and helping them understand how they can move forward in their learning. As Galton suggests “feedback, in the widest sense, involves more than simply correcting mistakes” (2007:84). To assess pupils understanding teachers must be involved in gathering information about pupils learning and include them in critically and constructively reviewing their work.The Assessment Reform group discusses the methods for gaining such information and includes observing pupils, including listening to how they describe their work, questioning using open questions and asking pupils to communicate their thinking in different ways (1998). Questioning is an important strategy that I used in my teaching, not only does it keep pupils alert and on task, it allows teachers to elicit children’s understanding and misconceptions. It also provides an opportunity for children to extend their thinking and promotes inclusion.

Effective questioning from the teacher can lead to rich class discussions which provide the teacher with a vast amount of information to assess the children’s understanding (Black et al, 2003). From my experiences open questions were more effective as they “can encourage self-expression and extended responses” (Tanner and Jones, 2003:49). Closed questions on the other hand worked in certain situations for example testing or behaviour management, however if used often in lessons some pupils were afraid of answering as closed questions suggest there is a right or wrong answer and his hindered their involvement and learning. Tanner and Jones support this: Although closed are adequate for assessing lower-order skills and the recall of information an over-reliance on this restricted form of questioning has negative consequences for learning (2003:49). Questioning and observing pupils learning and understanding has informed my teaching and it needs to be consistent and ongoing for it to be effective. A good teacher needs to ensure they are supporting or scaffolding a child’s learning by questioning and pre-empting mistakes and checking understanding.Observations are a fundamental part of this process and key to ensuring measures of success (Hargreaves, 2002).

The school and classroom environment, and the organisation of resources within it, can have a very significant impact on the quality of children and young people’s learning (DfES, 2001). This statement underpins how important the classroom environment is to pupils learning. The organisation of the classroom is significant and pupils need to be able to work in groups or pairs easily and see the teacher at all times. Cluttered classrooms can take pupils attention away from learning.Therefore the layout and organisation should suit these needs. The role play area is another significant part of a stimulating environment. In my experience creating an exciting role play area that links with pupils learning topic, engages pupils and provides a way for learning to take place through play.

Pound suggests that “play encourages creativity and imagination” (2005:74). The organisation and the physical layout are not the only important factors of the classroom environment, even more significant in supporting the needs of learners are the opportunities and challenges offered by the teacher.Teachers need to build up good relationships and have high expectations of pupils in their learning and behaviour. (Arthur, Grainger and Wray 2006). The Primary National Strategy (DfES, 2005) clarifies what pupils need to learn effectively; according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs it gives the understanding that children need security, comfort and need to feel confident and self worth. Pupils also need to be stimulated and challenged and given opportunities to use their diverse talents.From my own experiences in schools building up professional rapports with pupils and knowing your learners is crucial, as it allows teachers to meet pupil’s individual needs and ensures that children are confident, happy and engaged in their learning (Hutchin, 2006).

I was impressed after observing teaching styles and attitudes used by teachers in schools. The relationship between the teacher and the pupils worked well and it was evident that pupils felt safe, secure and cared for. In order to develop into effective learners within the school context it is clear that young children need love and security” (Whitebread, 2003:6). This had a positive impact on the pupils as learners. In my previous teaching placement we had a pupil who had behaviour and personal difficulties, the teachers were able to support and meet his needs effectively by listening to him and using their teaching and management skills effectively. Emotions play an essential part in teaching and learning. We therefore need to make sure that early year’s settings are emotionally positive and supportive workplaces for all learners” (Pound, 2005:79).

Behaviour management is another vital part of the positive learning environment. I struggled at first with my behaviour management skills and my authority was not respected. This was due to a lack of confidence in myself and my management skills. As I went through my placement journey I gained more confidence in my teaching, belief in myself to manage behaviour issues and developed my relationships with the pupils which enabled me to gain their trust and respect.From this I really noticed a positive difference in my behaviour management skills. Research shows that behaviour management is inextricably linked with a positive classroom environment as positive teacher efficiency is vital for effective management. Teachers need to feel, think, and behave more confidently allowing pupils to feel secure and therefore they are more likely to respond positively (Arthur, Grainger and Wray, 2006).

It is fundamentally important for teachers to establish their uthority with a new class and also for teachers to understand that authority is earned within the context of relationships built by the teacher. Such relationships are dependent on the teacher conveying respect, enthusiasm and knowledge for what they teach and that authority is communicated through a relaxed confidence in management, teaching and self (Rogers, 2002). Behaviour management skills include using preventative behaviour management strategies effectively. These include establishing and practicing rules and routines.In my experience continuously practicing rules and routines is an effective behaviour preventive strategy. Pupils need to be clear about what is expected of them. Rules set limits to pupils behaviour and pupils have to understand what acceptable behaviour is and what is not.

Arthur, Grainger and Wray state how important rules, routines and expectations are in behaviour management: Effective rules provide pupils with a physically and psychologically safe predictable environment and work in a preventative way to establish and keep order and maintain momentum through the lesson (2006:107).In my experience it is vital that pupils understand why they need to act a certain way and to gain maximum effects, the rules teachers give should be positively worded, realistic, focused and consistent. Setting aside time with pupils to raise whole-class awareness and inviting student participating into the understanding of rules, cooperation and behaviour will enhance positive working relationships and learning. Rogers supports this by suggesting “the process is as important as the outcome” (2002:29).The process of involving and including pupils will motivate them and help give them responsibilities and in turn promote behaviour management. I was able to work within a positive classroom environment where the pupils were encouraged and their achievements were fostered and celebrated. In my teaching I encouraged and praised the pupils for the work they had done, making sure they knew that I was proud of their work either by showing it to the rest of the class, putting their work up on display or giving them stickers or well done stones as positive reinforcement.

Reinforcement and encouragement are very effective strategies I used and will continue to use in my teaching. “Students value encouragement and feedback. They benefit from the assurance that you have acknowledged their work; the effort and the direction of their work” (Rogers, 2002:86). It is crucial that pupils gain self worth and self esteem as they are strongly related to educational success and emotional wellbeing. As Whitebread suggests if pupils are to “thrive emotionally and intellectually, young children need to feel love and self-worth, they need to feel emotionally secure and they need to feel in control” (2003:6).Reinforcement and rewards are the main preventative strategies I used to ensure effective classroom management and behaviour. The reactive strategies I set in place were cautioning by informing pupils what would happen if the unwanted behaviour persisted.

The pupils would have their name on the cloud if they had to be reminded more than three times and this was a big deal to the pupils in my class. When pupils worked hard or met learning or behaviour targets they were rewarded with praise, stickers, special privileges or having their name on the sunshine.These rewards worked well as preventative strategies to behavioural issues and also help reorientate those pupils who weren’t working or behaving well because they wanted to be praised and rewarded like their peers. This idea is supported by Skinner who believed that behaviour is shaped by punishment and rewards and that children try and avoid punishments and gain rewards, therefore an action or response is more likely to take place again if it is followed by positive reinforcement (Pritchard, 2009).These rewards and sanctions worked for the class in my previous placement, however every class and child is unique and it is vital for teachers to know his or her learners and their individual needs and preferences. Arthur, Grainger and Wray support this by saying “for rewards and sanctions to be effective they need to be fit for purpose- the reward must be something the pupils like and the sanction something they do not like” (2006:110). Therefore teachers need to know what their learners like and what they don’t like otherwise the rewards and sanctions may have counterproductive effect.

In conclusion a positive classroom environment is fundamental for effective behaviour management and learning to take place, furthermore assessment for learning is a crucial part of effective understanding and teaching as Hutchin says “it is not the assessment itself which is important, but what we do with what we know” (2006:41). Teachers need to reflect on their teaching and assessment as Pollard suggests “reflecting on teaching provides a focus for analysing and developing learning and teaching” (2005:4).

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