But, because, so

If you’re teaching English writing skills, or looking for plenary ideas in any subject, then take a look at Doug Lemov’s excellent summary of an idea in Judith Hochman’s Teaching Basic Writing Skills

As a teaser, here’s an example of but, because, so in action.  You simply take a key idea from your lesson and then ask the pupils to extend it in three different ways:

Eva killed herself … BUTmany people are to blame for her death.

Eva killed herself … BECAUSE  … she had fallen victim to an unpleasant chain of events.

Eva killed herself … SOthat she wouldn’t have to suffer any longer.

As a plenary activity, this would work with any subject, and it might well lead to some interesting revelations about the pupils’ thinking.   If this idea sounds interesting, you might also want to check out this popular article on exit tickets.


A simple recap

One of the most popular posts on this site has been this explanation of exit tickets.  Here’s a variation on that idea recently shared by @RemindHQ.  I don’t think the idea needs any explaining – see the exit ticket post for ideas on how to follow up …

stuck with you

Festival Feedback – Is AfL wrong?

For me, this was one of the must-see sessions at the festival.  When it was introduced however, Dylan Wiliam observed that: “they say there is nothing like a good introduction … and that was nothing like a good introduction”.  He was right.  Perhaps Dylan Wiliam and David Didau didn’t really need introducing, but I’d like to see if I can do a better job.

If you’re a teacher, it is highly likely that elements of your classroom practice are based on research carried out by Dylan Wiliam.  He originally began his working life as a Maths teacher, but now – nearly 40 years later – he is the Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the KCL Institute of Education.  Much of his recent work has focused on the use of assessment to support learning.  In 1998 he co-authored, with Paul Black, a major review of the research evidence on formative assessment.  Their findings have had a significant influence over government policy, and over the way in which teachers have been encouraged to use Assessment for Learning (AfL).  You can see him in action and learn more about his work here.

In March this year, David Didau wrote this blog, proposing that Assessment for Learning might be all wrong.  Better known to some as @LearningSpy, David Didau is a practising teacher and author of the best-selling book “The Perfect English Lesson”.  His blog is one of the most widely-followed educational blogs in the world, so it was not too surprising that Dylan Wiliam duly responded to his comments.  I enjoyed following this emerging debate, and there was no way I could possibly miss this live showdown in the Old Gym at Wellington College …

Wiliam & Didau

Looking at the picture above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these two are going at it hammer and tongs.  Actually, Dylan (left) has just said “Are you going to start?”, and David (right) has just said “Pardon?”.  There was no blood-letting at this debate, but more a friendly comparison of broadly similar views.  Some interesting points to emerge …

  • AfL tends to check short-term learning, and only rarely establishes that something has well and truly been mastered.  A good way for schools to address this would be for them to build more “spaced learning” into the curriculum (for more on this, see David’s blog here).
  • According to one study in New Zealand, 80% of the feedback pupils receive is from their peers, and 80% of that feedback is bad.  The book which contains this survey was highly-recommended by David Didau: “The Hidden Lives of Learners” by Graham Nutall.  Self-assessment is also notoriously unreliable unless carefully managed.
  • The most important aspect to effective feedback is the relationship between the pupil and the teacher.  If this is based on trust and respect, they will give one another feedback which really counts, and which therefore results in effective long-term learning.
  • Learning from mistakes has been proven to result in better long-term recall than getting things right the first time.  Therefore teachers should not wrap their students up in comfortable learning blankets, but should make activities challenging, not only so that pupils have to think harder but also so that they are more likely to make the sort of mistakes which help them to learn.
  • Students actually do much more learning when unsupervised than when receiving direct instruction, so teachers need to make sure they are well-equipped with effective independent learning skills.

Of course, that is only a very brief overview of a discussion which lasted for half an hour, but there’s still plenty to think about there.

If you would like to know more about all of this, David has posted his own reflections on the Festival here, and Dylan has duly added his comments.


ON THE LEVEL # 7 – Sound Assessment Practice

So, levels are going: where have we got to at Loreto in our bid to find a suitable replacement? 

Various assessment principles have been shared within the posts on this blog, and several colleagues have either consequently or incidentally discussed these with me.  Loreto’s assessment principles need to be formalised and published by September these year, and that looks like becoming one of those “summer holiday jobs” we all tend to rack up in this half term term.

Under the aegis of the AlbanTSA, five local schools have met and pooled various ideas on assessment without levels.  We have all agreed to trial various approaches in the coming months.  Here at Loreto, the Maths department has kindly agreed to help with the first trial.  This trial will finish at the end of this term, and we will share the outcomes of this in due course – collating the findings may well be another summer holiday job.

Next term we hope to trial various other ideas in order to help crystalize our thinking, and in order to get a feel for which approach most effectively meets the diverse needs of everyone with a vested interest in assessment – most importantly the pupils themselves. It seems to me that since most people are delivering revised curricula next year, they will need to revisit their methods of assessment anyway, so we might as well kill two birds with one stone.  If you are rethinking your approach, this short paper by Stiggins and Chappuis is well worth a look.  Amongst other things, it contains the following advice on what constitutes sound classroom assessment practice:


1. Clear purposes

Assessment processes and results serve clear and appropriate purposes.

a. Teachers understand who uses classroom assessment information and know their information needs.

b. Teachers understand the relationship between assessment and student motivation and craft assessment experiences to maximize motivation.

c. Teachers use classroom assessment processes and results formatively (assessment for learning).

d. Teachers use classroom assessment results summatively (assessment of learning) to inform someone beyond the classroom about students’ achievement at a particular point in time.

e. Teachers have a comprehensive plan over time for integrating assessment for and of learning in the classroom.


2. Clear targets

Assessments reflect clear and valued student learning targets.

a. Teachers have clear learning targets for students; they know how to turn broad statements of content standards into classroom-level learning targets.

b. Teachers understand the various types of learning targets they hold for students.

c. Teachers select learning targets focused on the most important things students need to know and be able to do.

d. Teachers have a comprehensive plan over time for assessing learning targets.


3. Sound design

Learning targets are translated into assessments that yield accurate results.

a. Teachers understand the various assessment methods.

b. Teachers choose assessment methods that match intended learning targets.

c. Teachers design assessments that serve intended purposes.

d. Teachers sample learning appropriately in their assessments.

e. Teachers write assessment questions of all types well.

f. Teachers avoid sources of mismeasurement that bias results.


4. Effective communication

Assessment results are managed well and communicated effectively.

a. Teachers record assessment information accurately, keep it confidential, and appropriately combine and summarize it for reporting (including grades). Such summary accurately reflects current level of student learning.

b. Teachers select the best reporting option (grades, narratives, portfolios, conferences) for each context (learning targets and users).

c. Teachers interpret and use standardized test results correctly.

d. Teachers effectively communicate assessment results to students.

e. Teachers effectively communicate assessment results to a variety of audiences outside the classroom, including parents, colleagues, and other stakeholders.


5. Student involvement

Students are involved in their own assessment.

a. Teachers make learning targets clear to students.

b. Teachers involve students in assessing, tracking, and setting goals for their own learning.

c. Teachers involve students in communicating about their own learning.

Latest proposals for reforms to GCSE and A-level qualifications

As part of the on-going reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, OFQUAL has just released details of all the subjects which still need to be reviewed.  Some of these subjects will cease to exist in their own right, with their content either being transferred into other specifications or dropped from the curriculum.  Anyone can comment on these proposals as part of a consultation progress which will end on July 30th.  If you wish to take part in this, or simply want to know more about it, click here.

GCSEs which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered:

GCSEs up for reform

GCSEs which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

GCSEs under threat

AS levels which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered, with teaching starting in Sept 2017:

AS levels up for reform (1)b

AS levels up for reform (2)

AS Levels which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

AS levels under threat (1)

AS levels under threat (2)

Full A-levels which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered:

A levels up for reform (1)

A levels up for reform (2)

Full A-Levels which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

A levels under threat



Feedback Reminders

Here are some useful reminders about feedback.  Click on the image to enlarge it:

feedback wisdom

This great “feedback flowchart” was created by David Didau (@LearningSpy).  Click on the image to enlarge it:


More thoughts on feedback and DIRT can be found in this previous post.

A useful resource for helping pupils to reflect on their performance in a test can be found here.