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How we could reform assessment and certification
Image by non-partizanImage by non-partizan

[Originally published on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 5th November 2015]

In my recent post ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘, I outlined a number of issues which give me concern over the assessment of SQA National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, introduced as part of the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.

Whilst there may be many teachers who would wish for a return to the simpler assessment arrangements of the Intermediate 1 & 2, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications of the ‘Higher Still’ era, which have been replaced by the CfE courses, I feel that one of the major shortcomings of CfE is its failure in doing anything to fundamentally change the nature or the purpose of assessment.

The new system, as with all of its predecessors, places almost the entire value of the certified qualifications on the terminal summative assessment of the course – the exam. Though some courses have significant elements of coursework, and many include an extended project or research task, still the majority of what our students, schools and staff are judged upon happens in a narrow time frame of a few hours at the end of almost an entire year of study. The results of these high stakes assessments supersede those for the individual unit assessments completed during the courses studied, rendering them effectively worthless.

In addition to this, there is the issue of the complexity involved in marking and recording the results of the unit assessments (which I outlined in ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘) which makes it difficult for students to understand whether they have passed units or not and increases the administrative burden on teachers.

In order to overcome these issues I propose the following changes to the methods of assessment and certification.

Unit Assessment via online e-Assessment

The SQA currently makes use of its own system for online e-Assessment, SQA Solar, for a range of courses across Nationals, Higher, HNC etc. Centres and candidates have unique, secure logins ensuring security of the assessment, and the system allows assessments to be scheduled at a time when the student is ready to be assessed.

This system could be expanded to incorporate all unit assessments in all subjects at all levels, and could be set up so that students performance could be recorded against the many individual criteria necessary to achieve a pass in a given unit. Any reassessment required could automatically be tailored to the specific areas not achieved at the first attempt. Given a sufficiently large bank of assessment items, or a sufficiently adaptable format, allowing numerical data to change for calculation-based questions (as it does on Heriot-Watt University’s Scholar VLE), it might be possible for students to make multiple attempts at assessments until the required standard is reached.

As the system is fully automated, this would free up teachers’ time for teaching and supporting their students learning, rather than using it for the bureaucratic administration of data. It would also reduce the ‘data chase’ required to ensure that SQA data is kept up to date on school MIS systems for transfer to SQA systems.

‘Points’ allocation and certification for internally assessed components –

Most courses have individual unit assessments which must be passed by students in order for them to achieve a grade in the final examination. Although these unit passes are included on students’ certificates, there is no explicit value placed upon them in comparison to the exam grade achieved. By allocating all components of all courses a number of points at the relevant SCQF level, students could potentially build up points across a number of courses whilst being able to choose whether or not to sit the final examination. This would reduce the ‘high stakes’ nature of the final examination, and allow for students, departments and schools to be judged and compared over the full range of their performance.

Points allocation for units could be based on the ‘size’ of the units, whilst exam grades could be allocated points determined by the band of pass. In my own subject, Physics, for example –

N5 – points awarded at SCQF level 5

3 x units, each with 10 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands – A1 = 30 points, A2 = 25 points, B3 = 20 points, etc

Higher – points awarded at SCQF level 6

2 x full unit, each with 10 points + 2 x half unit, each with 5 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands as for N5

Revision and separate certification of assessed course ‘Added Value’ units and ‘Assignments’ – 

Many courses have an internally assessed ‘Added Value’ unit, which at N4 has to meet every one of a significant number of individual criteria. Teachers are allowed to provide feedback to students in order to modify their submissions so that these criteria can be met.

The equivalent component of most N5 courses is an externally assessed ‘Assignment’, a formal report which is completed ‘under close supervision’ after a period of research which may include practical experimental work. Though guidance is given to students from their teachers, no feedback may be given on the report produced which is sent to the SQA to be assessed. The final mark for the assignment, given out of 20, forms a small proportion of the final score and hence the final grade.

These arrangements make it much more demanding for an N4 student, who may find the task much more challenging than most N5 students. A poorly completed N4 AVU would not meet all of the critera, resulting in the student not meeting the requirements of the unit, and subsequently not receiving an overall award for the course. A poorly completed N5 Assignment carries no such penalty, and would simply give the student a lower final score – without denying the student an overall pass.

Revisions should be made to the assessment of AVU tasks to make them fairer on the students. Perhaps an AVU could be consider to have been passed if a significant proportion of the criteria for the task, say 10 out of 15, were met by the student.

In addition to the significant differences in the assessments of these equivalent tasks across SCQF levels, AVU and assignment tasks are often very similar in related subject areas. This results in significant duplication of effort and repeated assessment of skills across a number of a student’s subjects.

By assessing these tasks on a skills basis, rather than within subjects, a single AVU or assignment could be completed by a student studying more than one science, or social subject. Students could choose which subject or subjects their assignments could cover, potentially allowing more meaningful, challenging, inter-disciplinary work to be undertaken. Though this might make the assessment of students’ reports more complicated, it might offer an opportunity to make the assessment criteria more flexible, as they are for the Baccalaureate qualifications undertaken by some students in S6. If nothing else, a reduction in the number of these tasks would significantly reduce the workload on students and reduce the SQA who have found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient markers for these tasks since their introduction.

I recognise that these proposals would require significant change to our current systems of assessment and certification, and that the Scottish teaching profession has experienced unprecedented change throughout the development and delivery of Curriculum fro Excellence. I further accept that one of the main reasons for avoiding radical change in the exam system has been concern that parents, employers, colleges and universities, might not fully understand the significance of new qualifications. In reality, it could be argued that these groups don’t fully understand the significance of the current qualifications system, and haven’t done so for a long time, if they ever have at all.

On a superficial level, it is easily understood that a student with an ‘A’ grade in a qualification is in some way ‘better qualified’ than another with a ‘C’ grade in the same subject, and that a student with five Higher passes is ‘better qualified’ than another with three Highers and two National 5s. But unless one has recently studied a course, or taught it, there is little chance of understanding what knowledge and skills are really involved gaining such a qualification, let alone how that qualification compares with other subjects or other levels.

It is often argued that we need these qualifications to allow universities to choose between applicants for places on their undergraduate courses. Without wishing to belittle this assertion, it does bear comparison to the ‘Sorting Hat’ in the Harry Potter novels – e.g. ‘AAAAB’ at Higher being the minimum requirement for a Law degree (Slytherin?). Increasingly, however, universities apply their own assessment requirements (BMAT, UKCAT exams), conduct entrance interviews, or consider applicants on the broader indicators of their personal statements, reducing their reliance on the crude measurement of ‘ability’ given by exam results alone.

In many ways the awarding of badges by organisations such as the Boy’s Brigade or Scouts to indicate the achievements of their members is a much more understandable form of accreditation. Indeed many professional and vocational qualifications are already ‘badgified’ in this way using industry standards, against which ‘badges’ are referenced and accredited. Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox we browser, support such a system for teachers to award ‘Open Badges‘ to their students using ‘open standards’ – where the criteria for which the badge is awarded are embedded as meta-data and awarded digitally. These badges can be electronically attached to a student’s digital profile via their blog, Google or other online account, and shared with prospective employers, colleges and universities.

Some work has already been undertaken by the SQA to develop this approach to accreditation, outlined in this press release from 2013, with small scale projects being adopted by some FE colleges, including Borders College, for accrediting both the work of students and staff CPD.

Open badges may not solve all of the short comings of our current system, indeed other, better systems may be in use elsewhere, or currently under development. Such a system, if combined with students’ unique Glow account could potentially stay with them throughout their schooling and beyond, perhaps even following them beyond further and higher education and into employment. The development of such a ‘Scottish Learner’s Account’, integrating assessment, certification and the accreditation of skills could form the foundation of a truly radical approach to these issues upon which students at all stages could build throughout the ‘Lifelong Learning’ that lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the future of education.

Boarding Pass – @FernwoodDT
Used as a starter (Boarding Card) and plenary (Departure Pass)Used as a starter (Boarding Card) and plenary (Departure Pass)

I saw this idea on Twitter originally and like most of our resources it was amended to our students. The concept is simple the ‘Boarding Pass’ is given to students as they enter the classroom and are instructed to fill in their name and ‘One fact from last lesson’ the teacher then goes through some of the answers with students writing them on the board. G&T students and students that finish early are encouraged to write down a ‘key word’ from last lesson too. Again these are reviewed and shared on the board. This is a great way to link previous learning.

Lesson objectives/todays outcomes are then presented to the class by the teacher. Students are asked to digest this information and fill in an individual ‘target for todays lesson’ and ‘what level I aim to achieve’ these are kept by the student throughout the lesson.

At the end of the lesson students are asked to fill in the ‘Departure Card’ (which is eventually torn off via a perforate edge). Students write ‘One thing they have learnt’ and ‘What level did you achieve’ based on the learning in todays lesson. Students then love tearing off the Departure Card with the perforated edge and handing it to the teacher as they leave the lesson. The ‘Departure Card’ can then be used at the beginning of the next lesson again linking prior learning/showing progression and/or stuck in a work book. Questions can be changed to suit the lesson/subject I imagine it could be used in all subject areas it has worked particularly well in our schools MFL lessons too. This shows fantastic knowledge and understanding of a topic in an engaging yet simple method!

Here is a link to a presentation that shows how the boarding pass is used/presented to the students – Boarding Pass – PowerPoint

Here is a link to the guillotine we use – http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/A4-Paper-Trimmer-4-in-1-Card-Crease-Wavy-Cut-Straight-Cut-Perforation-/281181932948?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_3&hash=item4177bfcd94

See @FernwoodDT and @Me77ors on Twitter https://twitter.com/FernwoodDT for more ideas and resources

Any questions/feedback please email m.mellors@fernwoodschool.org.uk :)

Spaced Revision | Improving Revision with Effective Techniques.
Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 13.08.14

As we start to approach the exam session again, many students (and teachers) will be entering their favourite purveyor of stationary goods to arm themselves with all thhighlight-in-bookse tools that one could need to prepare for an exam: cue cards, revision books and, of course, highlighters. I have seen many students think that revisiting their notes armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way to get ready for the big day — well at least there is something visible to show for their efforts.

In this post, I will suggest a new evidenced based revision strategy called ‘Spaced Learning’. I provide some resources that I use in class at the bottom of the post to get you started too.

A recent study (Dunlosky, 2013) considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention. Some of the findings should not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both teachers and students should be using.


Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the learner to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time. The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article.

The Spaced Revision Technique

From this the idea of ‘Spaced Revision’ has evolved – an evidence based revision strategy that empowers students to use the techniques that work best for them within a set of scaffolding to support them. It has four stages that repeat over the course of a set period of time. This could be a revision period, over the course of a module, or ongoing over the course of the year.

Each spaced learning topic spans two days with two stages on the first day and the second two on the following day. A variety of different techniques are used for each topic you are reviewing (interleaved practice).


Stage 1: Review a topic – for the first 20 minutes utilise any technique you are comfortable with to review the topic. This could be highlighting, making notes, creating flashcards or using post-its. Often, you might stop after this and think ‘my revision is done!’. But no, this is just the start of an effective learning technique.

Stage 2: Transformation task – this is building on the elaborative learning tasks discussed above. Here you need to transform the notes or highlighting that you have from Stage 1 into something different. This could be a mindmap, a drawing, a song, a poem. By doing this you will have to be thinking ‘how’ am I going to show this content in a different form and ‘why’ does each piece belong. It can be fun too.

That is the end of the first session. When you return to your revision in the next day or two (distributed practice) you complete Stages 3 and 4 on the first topic and then start again with Stages 1 and 2 of a new topic.

Stage 3: Practice testing – with a friend, family member or one of the many websites online that have relevant psychology quizzes – test yourself on the area that you have reviewed.

Stage 4: Exam questions – finally, complete an exam question or questions on the area you have reviewed and mark this yourself using a mark scheme or ask your teacher to mark it (practice testing). Importantly, when you are composing your answer use elaborative interrogation and think ‘why am I writing this?’

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 13.08.14

The aim of Spaced Learning to to allow students to use techniques that they enjoy and help them revise while giving them a supportive scaffold to keep them going (or get them started).

Give it a go and let me know how you find the technique by tweeting @jamiedavies.


  • You need to plan your revision well and make sure that you stick to the plan. If you ever miss a session, you need to double up. It is all too easy to fall behind and then just give up with the process. With that in mind make an achievable plan and stick to it – and here is a sheet to help you do that.
  • Most exam boards put past exam papers that are more than 12 months old online 0r you could use sites like Resourcd to find them too.
Jamie’s Flipped: (almost) a year with a flipped classroom

There are lots of different ideas about Flipping your classroom, see this TED talk for more. But essentially you provide your learners with resources and videos to allow them to ‘learn’ the material as homework and then build on this with skills in your classroom. Starting in September 2013, and as part of my MSc research, I have implemented my own interpretation of a flipped classroom with really interesting results. This post is a brief into to the research behind the flipped classroom and then I discuss how I have implemented it and the power of blogging to engage students outside of the classroom.

Flipped learning? Flipping mad?

Flipped learning is “…a form of blended learning that encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing” where the instructor provides “an opportunity for academics to provide more personal feedback and assistance to students, but also to receive feedback from their students about the activities that they are undertaking and what they don’t yet understand.” (Wiley and Gardner, 2013).


Several papers have reported on the impact of ‘flipped learning’ on undergraduate psychology courses and suggested that there is a positive impact of this on students’ attitudes toward the class and instructors as well as on students’ performance in the class (Wilson, 2013). There are far too many technological changes to how we are teaching and learning to list here, but they all suggest that same fundamental question: How do students learn best? (Halpern, 2013) and the possibility the flipped learning could be a step forward should be considered.

Using videos to support students’ learning has attracted the attention of a large number of researchers (Young and Asensio, 2002) and a key concept within the idea of flipped learning is the use of new technologies to support learning; or as some would label: blended learning (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). To successfully implement the flipped classroom approach, a change is needed to the existing traditional teaching approach. These changes have been conceptualised by Hamdan et.al. (2013) into four important elements referred to as four Pillars of F-L-I-P. These four pillars stand for Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional Content, and Professional Educator.

An interesting comment from Wilson’s (2013) action research where she attempted to flip her classroom is that she suggests that what she implemented was not totally a flipped classroom:

Although I have attempted to ‘‘flip’’ my classroom, what I have achieved is really a half- or three-quarters flip. I have removed much, but not all, lecture content from the course. (pg. 197)

This raises the idea that a flipped classroom is a binary entity – it is either flipped with no teacher delivery of knowledge or it is not. This I disagree with. Flipped teaching is just another tool which teachers should embed into their lessons when and where appropriate. Especially at post-16 level it would be difficult (impossible?) to completely flip ones lessons and expect all learners to assimilate all of the knowledge of A Level  outside of the class.

The Power of Blogging

For the best part of a decade I have been using blogs to stretch my students and have given several lectures, INSETS or workshops on the topic. This started with PsychBLOG in 2007 where I hoped to provide wider reading and current research for my students – now a site getting ~25,000 views a month. Moving on our department has had a blog and posted notes and extra tasks for the last four years with great success.

Blogging software is becoming more advanced with each  day and now it takes nothing more than a few clicks to create your own part of the internet. There are really an infinite number of uses for blogs within the field of education: writing and collating new and relevant news for your students, giving students a summary of what was covered in that past week, leaving homework assignments, and so many others. Not only can you write your blog posts but students, other teachers and colleagues can comment on your writing and start discussions about what was raised.

There are many kinds of blogging software but the two most popular ones are WordPress and google’s Blogger. Both of these sites allow you to set up your own blog online and post articles or general musings through a web-based interface allowing access wherever you have the Internet. If used well blogs can provide to be a central part of teaching and independent learning, however, general rules of web etiquette still apply and all users need to be aware of this.

With this in mind, I decided that a blog would make an excellent platform for my flipped classroom

Jamie’s Flipped…

I’ve written before about flipped classrooms and how you can flip your classroom with Resourcd. This year I have partially flipped my classroom with one flipped task each week for students to complete over the weekend before their first session of the week – you can see it at jamiesflipped.co.uk or @jamiesflipped. I talked a little about my experiences of my flipped classroom at a ‘teachmeet‘ back in October (notes and video here)

My approach to flipped learning involved giving students a ‘task’ each week to compete which introduced the topic for the next week. This flipped task involved reading a chapter (a few pages) from their course reader, watching a video clip and completing a quick multiple-choice quiz (see the gallery for screenshots).

One reason the flipped experiment was so successful was the addition of the quiz each week. This ensured that I could monitor the completion of the tasks. It is also good to stand by the classroom door and know before the students arrive who has not completed their homework task. After a few weeks the students knew there was no escaping it.

As well as the flipped tasks, each week I would publish the work that was going to be completed in class, the powerpoint and extension tasks on Jamie’s Flipped. I was surprised how many students actually read the articles, watched the videos or completed the extra tasks. Many commenting that they would do them on the bus on the way into college or while sat watching television.

At the first consultation evening of the year I canvased opinion as to my new approach and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with students stating that they liked the format of the tasks, it was more ‘fun’ than usual homework, and that they found the lessons easier as they had an underlying knowledge about what was going to be covered. More than this it gave me more time in class to complete tasks and develop my students understanding of the content and experiment with other activities that I would not usually have had time for.

My experience of ‘flipping’ my classroom this year has been a really positive one and it is something that I will continue to develop and use in future years. As well as all the benefits of the flipped classroom my students know that all of their resources, homework and guidance is going to be ‘on flipped’. They know where to go if they miss a lesson to get the resources, and where to get extension exercises from when revising. It has required an investment of time – but nothing horrific – and now that I have the lessons for this year, as with everything in teaching, I can adapt and reuse these next year.

Flipping great!


I have had loads of emails and tweets from people that would like to flip their classroom but don’t know where to start.

Here is a short (~15 minute) video that I have made that will take you from nothing to having a blog with your first flipped task containing text for your students to read, a document for them to download, a video for them to watch from youtube and a quiz to check their progress.

Here are links that I mention in the screen-cast:

resourcd.com – teacher resource sharing site
resourcdblogs.com – where it all takes place
wordpress.com / blogger.com / edublogs.com – other sites you can set up a blog
If you are considering flipped learning or just giving your students a different type of homework once in a while then this could be an excellent opportunity to experiment.

I could have spent hours talking about wordpress and all the ins-and-outs of it – so it might feel a little rushed. The best thing you can do it set yourself up a blog and spend an hour experimenting and seeing what you can achieve.

Let me know how you get on

Post original written on jamiedavies.co.

Ofsted Prep: How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student’s queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a “Do Now”

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.


2) Positive framing (Catching them when they’re good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. “I can see James has started jotting down some ideas…I can see Megan has put one point for improvement”. Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people’s names for being slow to start, “Ryan, you’ve been in here 5 minutes and you still haven’t got out a pen…Janet, why are you walking around?”. This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don’t pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.

Source: goddividedbyzero.blogspot.com 

In combination with Doug Lemov’s “No opt out”, it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers “I don’t know”, you can respond with “I know you don’t know, I just want to know what you think”. Every student has something in their head. If they’re still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a “Think-Pair-Share”. A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren’t even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this “pacman screens”, I’ve heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it “45”-efficiency in routines is important!

Source: itnews.com.au

By having routines for handing out folders, getting students’ attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you’re making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It’s one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply “did not get it”. The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you’ve never done before. Yes, I’ve been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in “performing for observations” or “pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery” which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.

NationalModeration.co.uk – a new(ish) approach to assessment moderation

As requested by @fkelly , I’ve decided to throw a quick post together about www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – a service I created to allow Scottish teachers to share their own unit assessments for the new National Qualifications.

Essentially the creation of this website was spurred by one glaringly obvious reality – the unit assessments provided by the SQA are simply not up to scratch, and as a consequence everybody is creating their own material and hoping that it meets the standards. Ón the face of it, this may be no bad thing – if we create our own unit assessments then we can tailor them to our own courses and our own pupils, and surely that is good idea?

To give an example, I have consciously themed my entire National 5 English course around the concept of ‘Coping with Conflict’, selecting texts which can be woven together across the whole year (‘Spiritual Damage’, ‘War Photographer’, ‘The Man I Killed’ and ‘Bold Girls’) – now that I am no longer forced to use a few set NABs I have also created reading assessments which follow this theme, thus enhancing the pupils’ overall understanding of what we are studying this year (at least this is the idea).

Several months ago, however, I realised that if EVERYONE does the same thing then there will be hundreds – perhaps thousands – of unit assessments being created across the country and many of us will be replicating the work that colleagues are doing (or have already done). Frankly, we all work too hard as it is to be reinventing the wheel hundreds of times over, so a system for sharing material is essential.

Of course, Education Scotland and the SQA are providing something along these lines, but there are two reasons why I believe it would be helpful for a service which is independent of these bodies. Firstly, the websites of these organisations (especially Education Scotland) are – to be kind – not particularly user friendly, and I (like many others) don’t have the time or the willpower to fight my way through Glow to find material on a regular basis; secondly, I firmly believe that the only way for us to ever really become confident in the development and delivery of our own materials is for us to move beyond a dependence on official bodies to confirm that every little thing is up to scratch.

If – or, depending on your philosophical view of the amount of fluid in a glass, when – Curriculum for Excellence fulfills its potential it will be because of the incredible work of teachers, not Education Scotland, the SQA or the Education Secretary, and I hope that NationalModeration might play a small part in that development.

Basically, it works like this: teachers upload their unit assessments, other teachers moderate them by leaving comments, alterations are made as required and, eventually, gradually, standards become clearer and are met across the country.

At present the site only has English assessments but it would be great if other subjects could begin contributing materials as well (I’ll create however many subject specific pages are required in this instance). In order to sign up you must be teacher in a Scottish school (and verify this, usually by means of an official email address) – this means that the material can be kept secure, allowing us to continue to use it in our classes as our official unit assessments.

If you think that the site would be of any help to you as you continue to develop your approach to the new qualifications please do sign up – the more people are involved the more effective our approach will be.

Unleashing the Complexity
October 28, 2012

Assessment in the new Scottish Curriculum is still a hot topic for all involved. Obviously there’s the looming (or present for some schools) implementation of the new National Qualifications, but there’s still a lot of head scratching going on around assessment in 3-15. Whilst there are obviously many issues around the new approach, there are a particular group which interest me. These are around the complexities which arise from the new model of assessment in 3-15. I’ll broadly categorise these as…

We’re not as sure about where pupils are at. Without the National Assessments how can we be sure which level a pupil is working at? This for me is the wrong way of looking at it. Could it be that we were never sure? Perhaps the National Assessments provided a false sense of confidence as they papered of the complexities that were always there? People are complicated learners. We will never know precisely where one learner is on their journey and any categories will always be imperfect. This will be especially the case when the categorisation is achieved through a limited piece of assessment. Isn’t it the case that the 5-14 levels were originally supposed to be assigned by the teacher based on a wide range of evidence with the National Assessments used more as a secondary benchmarking tool? That sounds much better than the way it appeared to have ended up in many cases. If we are ever confident that we have a system that can simply and easily categorise something as complex and lacking in understanding as learning into a number of boxes, then we have gone seriously wrong. Learning, and learners, are complex. Assessment and judgements of progress should therefore be complex also, we should worry if they are not. We need to try and relax a little and revel in the complexity.

What do we do with pupils who haven’t achieved a level? Let’s ask this another way…what we do with pupils who haven’t progressed as much as others? This isn’t a new problem. Surely the issue of pupils progressing in different ways and at different rates didn’t arrive with Curriculum of Excellence? I’m not claiming that the issue of differentiating in a classroom is easy, I’m just trying to suggest it’s not new. It has, perhaps, been brought more to the fore as a result of what I’ve already discussed above. If complexities of progress have been brought out due to a more holistic approach to assessment, perhaps this is more likely to lead to the identification of a differential of progression in a class. Again, although this isn’t easy to deal with…surely this can only be a good thing from the pupils’ perspective?

How can we report to parents without “robust” evidence? For me, this question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of reports to parents. We are not the SQA. Our job is not to “assign” grades or levels which need be backed up with tons of rigorous evidence. The purpose of a report to parents should be to communicate progress in such a way to allow parents to support their children to make whatever next steps are required to improve. As such, I think it’s more important that the comment in the report reflects the complexities of the young person’s learning, than providing some sort of “reliable” level. In which case we need a holistic approach to assessment which allows us to validly access all the different forms of progression and not over rely on one particular form of summative assessment in our quest for reliability.

These thoughts reflect my own developing understanding of assessment in Curriculum for Excellence as a teacher and CfE Development Officer and I’m sharing them here in the hope that they help other teachers…however, I also appreciate that until those that hold us to account take a similar approach to assessment and progression we’ll always be a bit up against it. But, that’s not a reason to give up. We need to keep embracing the complexity and pushing others to do so too. Otherwise, we risk selling our learners short.

Getting to know the E’s and O’s

I know, I know. The experiences and outcomes have been around for ages now. Surely we’re long past getting to know them? In my experience however, this simply isn’t the case. Many of us seem to have taken something from them first time through, but now that we’re approaching the blunt end of assessment and reporting we’re beginning to wonder if we got them right.

Through our work with Myra Young, we’re being encouraged to take another look at the experiences and outcomes – this time starting with the purpose. This can often lead to a quite different approach to planning. Rather than looking at the experiences and outcomes and jumping straight to the activities we’d carry out, we think first about what the purposes of the outcomes are in terms of learning, how this could be evidenced and what the success criteria are.

On our inservice days next week at my new school, we’re lucky enough to be receiving CPD from teachers at Cramlington Learning Village with a view to planning our lessons using the accelerated learning cycle. But first I’m going to suggest that we need to ensure we understand the curriculum before jumping into detailed collaborative planning of lessons based on the learning cycle.

This can be illustrated with one of our science experiences and outcomes. Whilst in the past this might have led to us planning a series of lessons covering all the various organs of the systems we feel we need to ‘cover’, a fresh look at the purpose of the learning outlined in the curriculum brings a different emphasis and therefore quite different lessons.

We often complain the experiences and outcomes are vague and complex (which they are…but do we really want a version of the National Curriculum instead?) but if they are how can we expect to be fully familiar with them already? As difficult as it is to accept from the perspective of development work (which is going to get worse when the new NQs start arriving), the reality is that our understanding of the curriculum is going to evolve over time and I’m doing my best to try to keep my mind open to that…

Cross-posted on Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts

Reflecting on Learning

At a time when Scottish education is changing and standard tests were no longer around, I wanted to develop my own use of assessment within the classroom. I already used different forms of formative assessment which gave me as an educator instant feedback but although the use of ‘thumbs up, in the middle or down’ etc was somewhat useful, I wanted it to be more beneficial to the children. In short, I wanted assessment to inform next steps.

I then went onto create a Learning Log. As my first attempt had a few flaws (it was just based on achievement…it didn’t work too well!), I went on to develop a Log based on ‘Two Stars and a Wish.’ Every Friday the children reflect over each curricular area and write down what they have learned. They think of a maths and a writing wish too. Although they found it difficult to start with, the class now find it easier to identify specific wishes that they work on the next week. This means that each learner knows exactly how to improve their work. The children are encouraged when their wishes turn to stars.

When the opportunity came for the staff from our cluster schools to join/lead Learning Communities (groups of teachers from various schools working on a chosen topic to enhance learning and teaching in their classroom) I really wanted to be involved with the assessment community.

As a newly formed group, we wanted to look at the ‘Learning and Teaching’ A4 ring-binders our school had given every pupil, as well as Learning Logs. We tried out different types of Learning Logs within our classrooms. We also benefitted from an opportunity to visit another local school to view their folders to see what they were including. The whole group liked the ‘I can…’ list for every curricular area/topic covered in class so the children know exactly where their learning is going. (However, I would create these lists after the learners have helped to plan their topics.) From this visit I realised that these lists would be helpful but I still wanted to include a personal reflection ‘wish’ section so the learners know what specific points they have to work on.

The group have since asked the children and parents what they think of the folders- we received very positive feedback and interesting suggestions to improve them further.

As my Primary 4 class are now reflecting on their learning more specifically and regularly, I would like them to record their reflections on our class blog (http://edubuzz.org/blogs/dunbarprimaryschoolp4d/) or through film. It’s always good to keep things fun and fresh! Perhaps they have some ideas…

Throughout the year I have enjoyed seeing the class embed reflection into daily class life, not just as a written exercise once a week. Their honesty and enthusiasm to progress has certainly helped their learning progress and they, along with me, are greatly encouraged by it.

Involving Pupils in Assessment

One of the questions on the Suggested Themes page is:

How, realistically, can pupils be involved in both their learning and assessment?

This really reminded me of a practical example from Stoneyhill Primary School, where P3 demonstrated how they are actively involved in their assessment…

As a secondary teacher, I love this video. It exemplifies not only how it’s possible to involve pupils in assessment, but also that the Primary 3 pupils are gaining a lot from having this sort of opportunity. And if they can do this in P3, imagine what they could be doing in S1!

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