Bright Spots: Formative Assessment

At Durrington formative assessment is one of our four threshold concepts aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning. We have identified 4 strategies which have been implemented with curriculum leaders and through subject planning development sessions in curriculum teams. The 4 strategies are:

  • Quizzes and multiple-choice questions.
  • Reading work or observing students at work.
  • Assessing composite parts of a complex problem.
  • Diagnostic questioning.

Last week I spent some time visiting lessons and meetings with various curriculum leaders, looking for bright spots – examples of teachers using formative assessment strategies effectively in their classrooms. This is what I saw:

In drama, April Cross was observing her students working on their “Blood Brothers” performance. April was able to make inferences into the common misconceptions, highlight best practice and give whole class feedback to support the students. April not only gave the whole-class feedback on the main themes she saw, but she used the good student example as a worked example for students showing effective use of levels. April then used diagnostic questions to check the students understanding of how to use levels and why levels was an effective tool to use within this specific element of the performance. Following April’s observation, questioning and use of good student examples she could gain knowledge of where the class were, their struggles and their understanding. April can then use this information to inform her future planning.

In maths, Annie Hewett was teaching her year 11 class how to apply a range of previously acquired strategies together to break down a complex problem. Annie had previously taught all of the elements required to succeed in the task. Annie had noticed while the students were practising, through looking at their previous tasks and their recent low stakes quiz, that the students were struggling with this specific type of problem. Annie then unpicked this further by asking the students to explicitly explain the steps needed to follow to be successful in the task. From this Annie was able to pinpoint the area the students misunderstood and plan how to address this accordingly.

In science, Michael Kyle was unpicking an area of the recent summative assessment where his students struggled. Michael discussed the importance of and how to metacognitively plan the specific type of question. This was modelled explicitly to the students, highlighting the most basic staring point and building on the students’ prior knowledge of both the process and the content. Michael then completed the same process with a similar question but unpicking the steps through detailed questions (what is the next step? How do I do that? Why do I do that first? Is there another way of looking at this?). Through his questioning, Michael could gain an insight into whether or not the students understood the strategy. He could then use this information to decide what to do next. Michael then finished by giving the students a third similar problem and allowed them the other two worked examples to support them, if required. This then ensured Michael had an accurate picture of the student’s knowledge of the process he had modelled previously.

In PE, Tom Pickford was leading a “subject planning development session” with his department. In the session Tom had highlighted what the team were due to teach over the next fortnight and what the common misconceptions are within that unit. The PE team had recently covered the types of training unit. In order to check student understanding Tom had proposed a multiple-choice question. Tom had outlined the question and alongside it the plausible answers (what is the best training type to use for a central midfielder in football? A – continuous B – Weight C – Interval or D – Fartlek). The reasons this question was chosen was to gain a specific insight into how well the students understood the topic area. If the students picked A this linked to them having some knowledge of training types but limited understanding of how to apply it to football. If the students picked B they understood the training types and the link to strength and muscular endurance in football. If the students picked C – they understood the training type and how to apply it to football but had limited understanding of fartlek training. If the students picked D they understood the key elements of football and the training types unit. In order to ensure the students picked the right answer for the right reason he suggested the team get all students to explain why, following their response. Tom then asked all teachers to collect in the student responses and then use the findings to plan the next step, whether that be to move on, address any common misconnections, re-teach some elements of the training type unit or unpick the students answers in more depth next lesson. Tom used his session with his department to explain how to assess students understanding of the topic and then use that information/evidence to inform the future planning at both department and class level.

These are all examples of great teachers using formative assessment effectively in their day to day work in the classroom.  No gimmicks, just good solid teaching, based on what the evidence says is most likely to work.  This is what we are about at Durrington.


James Crane

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