Twelve is a good a number as any for directing people towards better teaching, assessment and learning. It certainly won’t cover everything and there are probably things you will disagree with. I don’t have any monopoly on what might improve teaching, assessment and learning. Rather these are the distillation of a number of presentations I have made of late and we are in the process of implementing across the Trust.
The quotes below in blue tend to be tag lines I use when presenting which are linked to particular slides and help me connect various parts together.
“You Can’t Teach Everything So Teach the Best that Has Been Thought or Said or Done”
There simply isn’t enough time to teach your whole subject; this would require many life times of teaching and learning to cover even a fraction of it. There are decisions to make and you need to teach that which is essential; the big ideas, the great works, the key concepts. What must your pupils study and learn, to understand and appreciate your subject, during their compulsory schooling?
“Don’t Plan Lessons, Plan Learning”
This always tends to go down well particularly if you work in a school with ridiculous rules around requirements for lesson plans. At its worse planning lessons can lead to a whole series of activities that keep pupils busy but don’t systematically build their knowledge or skills.
What teachers should be doing is carefully planning how to teach; determining the flow of learning from simple to compound skills and simple facts to the key concepts that underpin our subjects. Sequencing the learning, in a step by step fashion, is a prerequisite for both effective assessment and learning.
“Trust Me, You’re All Too Clever; Beware the Curse of the Expert”
Linked to the point above is the care teachers need to take with their assumptions about what pupils know. Having a degree in a subject and the experience of teaching it for years means you can jump from one idea or part of the learning flow to another. If your pupils are meeting the content for the first time they need you to slow down and be methodical. It’s the Goldilocks’ Principle of learning; each step mustn’t be too big nor too small. The steps must be just right in taking their learning forward.
“Find Out What Pupils Know & Teach Accordingly”
By using the end of topic assessment at the beginning or using Launchpad pieces of writing (nicked from Hartsholme Academy) at the start of a topic you can see what pupils already know and can already do. Armed with the learning flow you can now start at the correct point to move the pupils’ learning on.
It may be that you need to fill in gaps in their prior learning or ditch the scheme of learning as pupils already know most of what you intended to teach. The latter is far too true of many schemes of learning in Key Stage 3. Even more following changes to the primary curriculum.
“Find Out What Pupils Know & Teach Accordingly. Again”
This is the on-going assessment in lessons; the questions, short tests or exercises pupils are required to complete. It’s the dynamic, ephemeral assessment of learning. You must collect and respond to pupils’ responses numerous times within a lesson. Don’t worry about recording this data to show someone; assimilate what you are being told and respond, in real time, by going back over something which has been misunderstood or moving to the next step in the learning flow if the class, or at least the vast majority, have got it.
“Pre-Plan Assessments to Help Define Curriculum Excellence”
Before you start teaching a topic or scheme of learning make sure you have the end of topic or scheme assessment. This will show you the standard you are expected to teach to. In some subjects you need to put pupil’s work or prepared work from teachers alongside the assessment to exemplify the standard required. Teaching accuracy in English or fractions in Mathematics needs defining differently in Year 1 compared to Year 3 or 5 or 9.
“Life After Levels is Primarily a Curriculum Issue Not a Data One”
This comes in two parts. The curriculum provides a set of criteria against which you can assess the learning – what do pupils know or not know? There’s no need to try and aggregate this into a grade or level so don’t bother. If you want to evidence a pupil’s progress to someone submerge them in hours upon hours of conversation with your teachers who can show their detailed knowledge of each pupil’s learning and what will come next.
Much of the debate about assessments is actually a debate about your construct of the subject; what it means to be a good scientist, geographer, historian, musician artist, linguist or mathematician. Do you value purely knowledge which can be effectively assessed through multiple choice and short answers or do you see that knowledge applied to different situations and require pupils to explain their thinking, more extended responses required. Some of us like both.
“Find Out What Pupils Don’t Know and Teach Them It”
This piece of profound yet bleedin’ obvious common sense is the culmination of years of experience and study. The centrality of assessment to teaching and learning can be seen through the teacher’s age old question; “Now I’ve taught this, I wonder who has learnt it?”. Assessment connects and evidences what learning is the outcome of the teaching.
Analysing assessments down to a granular size that makes sense in your subject and for the age of the pupils you teach reveals what they don’t know and can’t do. You need to address these gaps in learning close to the point of first teaching. English in a secondary school tends to have a bigger assessment grain size than Mathematics but English in an Early Years setting has a very small grain size, for example, knowing the individual letters and their sounds.
Build in regular “reteach weeks”; use the analysis of your assessments to determine what you will do in those lessons. It’s too easy to leave pupils with significant gaps in their learning in a desire to cover the curriculum. Future learning is built on the strong foundations of prior learning; the alternative is trying to fill learning gaps in a frenzy in Years 2, 6 and 11.
“Use Data to Help Improve Your Teaching”
If this is going to happen you need to remove fear from the school. When you hear a teacher say, “Looking at the pupils’ results I must have taught that badly” and then having looked at a colleagues’ data whose pupils seem to have grasped it aks, “So, what the hell did you do?” then you’re in a good place. The culture is such that people can be honest, open and quite specific about which aspects of their subject they teach well and what they need to focus on next to improve. It’s a great form of professional development.
“What Do You Do in Meetings? What Would You Rather Do?”
This is one that produces the nodding dog syndrome. It seems to be a generic issue across most schools; teachers and leaders who chat to me often say as much. It’s an issue for us too. We have to spend some time chatting to each other about basic organisational and operational issues otherwise schools would become chaotic. We’re probably overdoing this at the expense of focussing discussions on teaching, assessment & learning.
People I talk to rarely tell me they’re bored and haven’t got enough to do. Time is a limited, precious non-renewal commodity. It’s why focussing discussions in meetings on what the flow of learning should be, how best to teach an aspect of your subject, what are the common misconceptions that you might meet in the class room, pre-planning assessments and providing time for teachers to hear about how other colleagues, who teach a particular aspect very well, approach it.
“Less Assessment for Leaders, More Assessment for Learners”
This is the moment of trust and bravery where leaders need to step up to the plate. It’s not just about collecting aggregated data less often – levels, grades or percentages – it’s about understanding you can’t create one size fits all policies. Putting an aggregated grade, level or percentage into a spreadsheet in order to report to whoever doesn’t help pupils learn. The key information is the disaggregated data showing what pupils do or don’t know and can or can’t do. This is the data teachers need to be effective in the class room and needs to be the assessment data you value within the school. It’s a look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves approach to assessment; I’m not saying it’s easy but I am saying it’s necessary.
“Consistency & Inevitability Not Severity; It’s the Average Speed Camera Analogy”
You have to get the behaviour right in the class room; without teachers can’t teach and may even give up on teaching. We know this is one of the key reasons people leave the profession; poor behaviour is in a teacher’s face every second of the day that it is allowed to go unchecked. Operate at a whole school with simple rules, inevitable consequences (and rewards) and a we’re all in this together mentality. A few staff who can yield a proverbial big stick won’t help the Newly Qualified or supply teacher.
If you’d like a coy of the slides please click on the PDF link below:
Presentaion on Great Teaching Assessment and Learning – PDF
Our Teaching, Assessment & Learning Policy is here
Essential food for thought before September – I am particularly interested in teaching “how” to learn foreign languages as opposed to just being able to use them so the idea of planning the learning is top of my agenda, in fact I think this underpins education as it brings about independence. Not so keen on MFL games purely to entertain, I find competitive activities based on language skill sit very effectively in the overall lesson and boys particularly like this sort of approach.
A GREAT post! Thank you!