Our guest blogger this week is Chloe Sefton, a member of our English team. This Tuesday, in our weekly butterfly session, Chloe presented on ways we can assess the learning and progress of our students in lessons without using levels.
Last September, a government education report was published by John McIntosh CBE which explored the importance of, and set out the logic behind a move towards, Assessment without levels.
In this lengthy document, McIntosh concluded that:
- It is “high quality formative assessment that goes to the very heart of good teaching”
- “Too often levels became viewed as thresholds and teaching became focused on getting pupils across the next threshold instead of ensuring they were secure in the knowledge and understanding defined in the programmes of study.”
- “Depth and breadth of understanding were sometimes sacrificed in favour of pace.”
In the past, the school curriculum revolved around levels, and I remember countless English lessons I taught that began with an objectives and outcomes slide that told students what they needed to do in that lesson to achieve Level 4, a Level 5 or a Level 6. What I didn’t realise then is that this possibly limited the learning that happened within those lessons to a Level 6 and oversimplified the study of English – a subject in which excellence requires lots of different strengths and strands – into superficial, basic episodes of learning.
What McIntosh suggests is that as teachers we try to move away from labelling a student’s work as an A, a B or a C and instead focus on providing detailed, personalised and meaningful feedback that pushes them further along their journey within our subject. By removing the constant levelling of our students’ work, we are actually telling them that there is no limit to how brilliant their work can be, and forcing them to be learners that respond to feedback and don’t think “Ah, I achieved my 6c target. Well done me.”
With this in mind, I considered how I had evolved the way I assessed students’ work over the past few years, and, with some help from teachers in departments across the school, have put together 4 simple and transferable ways you can try assessing without levels in your lessons. I hope these are helpful and adaptable to different subjects.
STRATEGY 1: You’re in charge
What I really enjoyed about using this method of assessment with my lovely Year 7s was that it allowed them to join together all the learning they had done this year. Although our focus was dystopian writing, and they loved being able to design and set their own task within this area for their partner, their success criteria included things on punctuation, paragraphing, imagery and lots more. Everyone was aiming to create something ‘excellent’ and this created huge enthusiasm amongst the class.
STRATEGY 2: STAR marking
This is a great way to improve your students’ ability to critically assess each other’s work and go beyond the annoying and kind of cute comments we’ve all seen before in peer assessment… “Nice paragraph. Write more neat next time”. You will need to equip your classroom with highlighters for this one – each pair will choose two different coloured highlighters and then use these to highlight excellent work and work that needs improvement. Every highlighted section must have an annotation in the margin explaining either what was good or what needs improving. This is really good to use against a success criteria to give students ideas of what they should be looking for. My top tip with this would be to set aside a good 10 minutes to make sure it gets done properly and then give students a chance to read through each other’s comments and discuss.
STRATEGY 3: Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards
This idea is so straightforward it hardly needs explaining. Put very simply, where you cannot or do not want to use levels as outcomes, introduce some healthy competition by labelling your awards as medals.
STRATEGY 4: Structured peer/teacher marking
Another idea on how to encourage students to think about their learning in detail, this one is great in getting students to be specific and not vague with their feedback. Whilst I have used this to get students to look at each other’s work, I would like to try this as a way of marking essays myself. Students get really excited giving their own work line numbers and this has worked really well with my Year 10 class. This great tool was actually made by another teacher in my department, Chris Black, and I am thankful he passed it on to me and hope you too have fun seeing this improve your students’ ability to peer assess.
Well, there you have it. Four new ways to think about assessment without levels. Of course, assessment and levelling will always be important, but I think there is nothing better than a lesson with your students where you see them produce a brilliant piece of work that shows a real depth of understanding. The process of learning, practising, getting feedback and refining is so much more important and fulfilling than a single number or letter.
Guest Blogger Chloe Sefton.
Teaching & Learning Associate.