Assessment Methods

Much assessment is a part of the behaviourist based cycle where learning objectives are become relabelled according to the end-process as Learning Outcomes. They are therefore measurable and open to assessment on objective grounds.

Assessment is either formative or summative. Whilst much assessment tends to have the character of summative assessment, to complete a task, all but the final marking of a course ought to be formative. This is because assessment, in some way or other, should contribute to improved learning in the next task. Giving feedback to the student is the key element.

Assessment for Learning is an initiative that attempts to make the most of formative assessment. It involves increasing information in a sense of partnership between learner and teacher in terms of how the learning is taking place as much as what is taking place. The students are "in on it". Secondly assessment is a more continuous and thorough part of the process of teaching and learning. This includes reflection and evaluation, the less quantifiable aspect of learning, and is another partnership exercise between teacher and student.

The focus must be on the work and not the student. Nor should comment compare one student with other students. This improves the focus, removes bias and is better in terms of reaction from the individual student. The approach should be constructive where possible, and criticism can be followed by a comment of praise that refers to a real or closely potential improvement. Strengths are highlighted, as are ways to improve. The idea is to set out pathways ahead in continuing the learning; these should be as much as possible come under the perceived ownership of the student. A sense of ownership leads to a positive attitude.

Ownership should lead on to student self assessment and self reflection. This does not replace that of the teacher, but adds to and even informs the teacher from what the student does. The teacher is involved in strategies here, finding various ways in which to question pupils that enhance feedback (open and why questions to find out what students know, understand and misunderstand), and in generating forms of assessment.

One form of assessment to perhaps avoid (much of the time) is with numerical marks that close off enthusiasm to learn. Mark too highly and a student becomes complacent; mark too low and a student becomes disheartened. Both close off improvement. It is better to focus on comments (positive and shared approaches between teacher and student) and these should be specific to the work done rather than general comments on effort. Students do often want a numerical measure: they skip comments and jump their attention to the mark. Some substitute may be necessary, like a banded (a sliding scale of overall comment) among other specific comments. Sometimes a mark may be entered into a teacher's or college's record without telling the student: this has questionable ethical consequences of withholding information. It is also the case that avoiding a numerical mark contradicts the behaviourist approach.

There are some important strategies in such feedback based assessment. Talk is better than writing - and here involves learning as counselling.

One strategy is called scaffolding. This is positive comment with information that projects a student forwards. Some answers are offered in terms of how to do the work, as a scaffold facilitates one's own climbing, and allows the student to find out more. So this is a teacher facilitating the process of learning, not the answers.

A teacher should offer alternatives. This may be in a different learning style, or different approach within one learning style, when there is difficulty with the set path. Students can benefit from comment on a number of approaches.

Goals should be specific and immediate. They should avoid being large scale and based on course aims and objectives. The closer the goals the better, and should also be continuous (and therefore a student is monitored).

Data is important when it is value added for assessment. It should be rich data, taking into account as many factors as possible so that students can be related to one by one. Each student is an individual, and change is monitored for each one.

When students ask questions, when they show improvement through critical self evaluation, when the teacher knows the strength and weakness of students, when the environment is secure, and when there is an attitude of assessment and ownership, then the Assessment for Learning is effective.

During the academic year 2005-06 I was involved in working with the Subject Mentor and other teachers in the classroom, doing team teaching, small group teaching, individual teaching and support, and whole group teaching and learning support on all four levels of courses offered by the Department of Mathematics. I have been able to spend considerable time assessing individual progress and checking the students´ work regularly during the lessons. Comments have been specific and attempted to be continuous, so that the student makes progress.

At the end of the Semester 2 I carried out four revision lessons on the past exams papers with each of the groups GCSE A and GCSE D (see Scheme of Work for GCSEs). After collecting students´ work I provided marking with formative and some summative assessment statements (see Appendix for evidence).

Errors are often due to misconception rather than careless slips. Approaches to identifying misconceptions can include: asking the learner to demonstrate the method used (‘Show your working´); supporting learners to identify the problem rather than just correcting the work; exploring whether the specialist language is a barrier to accurate number work, checking that the number terminology is understood; offering alternative methods of computation; reinforcing self checking strategies including the importance of estimating the answer before and after carrying out the calculations.

Evaluation Process

Whereas assessment is of the students by teachers or by students themselves, evaluation is of the teacher put in place by the teacher or colleagues.

For myself and on a continual basis, I have made use of Geoff Petty's guide (2004) which asks basic questions on self-assessment. Here are some leading questions kept in mind:

It relates to theories of Carl Rogers and Kolb, so that the teacher is learning from experience too, as should be the students.

The instant level of evaluation is the reaction I have made, along with others, has been, "This lesson went well," or, "This lesson wasn't very good." This does not achieve much, and each time I have then asked what the strengths of the lesson were and what its weaknesses were, to feed into the planning of the next lesson. Both strengths and weaknesses give rise to the question of cause, and therefore what is to be different about the next lesson to enhance the strengths and reduce the weaknesses.

In fact evaluation was formalised. Each of my lessons has been considered afterwards by filling in and answering an evaluation sheet (called a 'tick sheet') [See... removed] As well as this the Subject Mentor and other teachers gave me informal feedback after every taught lesson as well as formal feedback through teaching observations [See... removed]. However, I have written more, and thought more, and there has been a direct connection into lesson planning.

The effective evaluation made each time might go directly into the planning of the next lesson, the length of the actual evaluation itself depends on how many issues have arisen.

Evaluation in the college for staff development involves collaboration. In professional evaluation, for example where there is observation, a structured sheet guides the observation: what to look for and how each element is fulfilled. The college evaluates its members of staff, in that senior colleagues complete structured forms to guide the strengths and reduce the weaknesses of staff.

The College teachers ask the students each year to evaluate each course using a machine eatable questionnaire (see in Appendix). This occurred last half-term. The results are collated at the department, faculty and college levels. The feedback is analysed by the departments and corrective or developmental actions form part of the departmental SAR (self-assessment review) which is a critical component of the college strategic plans.

Students contribute their views about the lesson and their learning. Students are the closest to their work and in a situation where a teacher honestly seeks the responsibility of students, they are more likely to respond usefully. High ability students are more likely to respond and give a good appreciation of lessons, so questioning has needed to take this into account.

Often the self-evaluation of the lesson comes back to explicit aims and objectives with resources being ready. Negatively the aims and objectives may have been lacking, and resources not available or unclear. The lesson might have a good plan behind it that is paced, busy, changes within a meaningful structure, interests students, challenges them and relates to individuals with numeracy skills being developed. Again, a weaker lesson lacks some of these where students are not engaged, that what they do seems to be coincidental and there is a lack of interest in the room. The resources may be not have engaged them, and not been varied enough to apply to different learning styles. When this has happened, I have thought about how to make changes.

I have tried to use a variety of teaching styles, and asked afterwards whether more or different would have been appropriate (Mathematics is quite restrictive). Lessons may have moved too quickly or too slowly. Looking at the different classes and abilities, I have tried to alter the content and pace. This has involved some differentiation within a class. I have tried to modulate my voice to give a more lively and interesting presentation. My subject knowledge is strong, but not entirely comprehensive. From time to time I have done my own revision, and this is because of the planning. Yet it is important in evaluation to see how much what I have revised has related to the students' entry level. I ask whether I used appropriate questions and answers to test the learning of the students, and used other monitoring of all the learning (such as students showing their working).

I have worked upon the positive atmosphere generated by my demeanour. I have praised work, and seen to it that I have. Negatively I have seen where this has not happened, where weak students have not been highlighted and specific ability not spotted. I have asked myself if students were properly praised, identified and supported, and this through checking work sufficiently and applying comments that support their Assessment for Learning. Sometimes a task has been seen as simple and routine in planning, but I have then realised in self-evaluation that it may be the vital building block for something more demanding and comprehensive in the lesson.

In the end, a good lesson has been where objectives have been achieved, with the right resources, teaching styles, and appropriate levels, discovered due to good monitoring of the learning processes and student involvement in the formative assessment.

I have discovered that lessons vary week by week and the same lesson to different groups within the week. What may work for one class may not for another.

With the training period over, the overall evaluation moves to how I shall perform in the next and as yet unknown teaching situation. A number of issues arise from the practice.

As well as building on the full differentiated range of knowledge and skills from numeracy to Mathematics, so that this is taught well in British culture of learning, I would need to continue with the range of strategies of teaching to maintain interest and step by step learning, using appropriate varieties of tasks including pair and group work, ensuring the right entry level for individuals and a pace that keeps the learning moving along. Classroom management to avoid difficult situations arising and deal with them effectively when the do needs addressing further. I do still need to attend to my use of language.

Elena Worsfold



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