Tag Archives: assessment

R.E.A.L. Projects – Critique, assessment and tuning

This post is part of an ongoing series written by our PBL Lead Laura Jackson, about how we are implementing R.E.A.L. Projects in school.

As I said when I ended my previous post, I feel very excited when I see the staff project folders with exciting projects in them. There is a summary of all of these at the end of this post and I’m sure you’ll agree that these projects will give our students an exciting variety of different learning experiences during our projects week. I think it’s important to detail how we got to this place in such a short space of time.

Back in February, all staff spent time with our PBL coach, Cara, planting “seeds of passion”- to try to find a way to ignite little sparks of exciting energy to then develop and create into Rigorous, Engaging, Authentic Learning experiences.

These words are vital but how can we apply rigour? How can we ensure projects are engaging? How can authenticity be validated? All of these need to be encapsulated within a learning experience. What do they actually mean? How do we do it?

The Innovation Unit says:

REAL projects

 

 

We also had to decide how to assess each project and also projects had to be “tuned” to make sure they had been given critique, and that and questions the project leader or the critique group may have had about the project were acknowledged and addressed if needed.

Project Tuning

One of the most important parts of project work is the giving and receiving of critique. This happens at all stages of the project but the earliest stage would be at the “tuning” stage. This was also possibly the most challenging part to co-ordinate from my point of view as each project needed to be tuned but also as part of a group, who would be the critique providers. 

critique play doh

My critiqued creation from our session with Cara

In preparation for this, Curriculum Leaders took part in a Critique and Tuning workshop with Cara to allow them to take this process into their Project groups. I then led a critique workshop for the rest of the staff which ensured we all felt it. If you have an emotional connection with something then you feel more passionate about it and believe in it more. If people start changing things, adding bits, taking bits away then it changes YOUR work and YOUR emotional connection with the work.

It was important to me that all staff took part in this session and it was also a light-hearted way to introduce critique to staff, but with a serious message. If critique is given in the wrong way to anyone- staff creating, developing or delivering the project or students who are completing the project, then this would not be useful to anyone and would have a detrimental effect on the person receiving the critique. As adults, we are very protective of our own ideas and values and if they are questioned in the wrong way then it becomes a negative experience and this should not be the case. This is also true of our students we work with day-to-day.  This task made me think about how we self and peer critique in lessons and I intend to use the same session with students towards the end of the academic year, time willing.

power of protocols

Working with Cara has also introduced me to a fantastic book- The Power of Protocols which is extremely useful in terms of gaining the maximum usage out of a set amount of time.  This way of working was also used in a session I attended at School 21 in February when we were discussing enabling conditions for projects in schools. Although I first thought using protocols seemed very regimented, I quickly realised that having set times for different parts of discussion, meeting and critique work is actually extremely useful and stops a lot of time being wasted just chatting or wandering off topic.

To tune projects, there is a need to be very specific and concise to articulate the project to others. In the protocol there are also “norms”

  • Hard on the content, soft on the people,
  • Share the air (or “step up, step back”)
  • Be kind, specific and helpful

This allows all the conversation and discussion taking place to be focused solely on the project and the content.

Within the tuning protocol, there are also different roles :

  • Facilitator -Begins the session by reading through the protocol. During the protocol, the facilitator is responsible for keeping the discussion on point and reminding participants to adhere to the norms.
  • Timekeeper– Keeps time for each section and lets the facilitator know when time is up.
  • Presenter – Shares his/her work with the group.
  • Critical Friends – Includes all people present except for the presenter.

During the tuning process, the presenter gets time to present their project idea and the area or aspect they would like critique on. The critical friends then ask clarifying questions to gain a deeper understanding of any aspect of the project or specific area. The critical friends then discuss the project with the presenter taking notes on their discussion without being involved and then they respond to this discussion at the end. The response could take the form of addressing some of the issues discussed by others, drawing conclusions from what has been said or discussed or simply acknowledging the points made by others.  The facilitator introduces each part of the protocol and the timekeeper ensures the protocol timings are adhered to. Timings may differ depending on time constraints- we tuned projects in 15 minute blocks (2 mins- 3 mins- 8 mins- 2 mins) but clearly timings and therefore the timings within each part of the protocol can be changed as needed.

Project Assessment

As well as tuning our projects, we also needed to decide on how our projects would be assessed.

“Academic rigour- head, hand and heart” was my message from the School 21 retreat. Within our discussions in school also, the learning that would take place during the week needed to be meaningful, exciting and also rigorous. The word rigour again:

Rigour

The Innovation Unit use Buck Institute for Education’s “21st Century Skills” framework to assess PBL work. The Buck Institute website contains a myriad of resources, ideas and information about PBL from all over the world and contains some fascinating work and reading. Their twitter account is definitely worth a follow.

We focused on:

ICT Literacy

  • how to find information
  • how to use equipment

Cognitive Skills

  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking

Metacognitive Skills

  • Self- management
  • Reflection

Personal Characteristics

  • Risk Taking
  • Accountability

Interpersonal Skills

  • Communication
  • Collaboration

As Curriculum Leaders, we discussed our projects with one another and looked for assessment opportunities within these discussions. Once we had these then we put them into the categories above, to allow us to see where the most likely assessment opportunities lay in our range of projects.

From this we then decided on three assessment strands which would be able to be assessed in any project taking place. We also added a learning target to each one to show what would need to be achieved in each assessment strand.

Communication – I can communicate my learning to others in an appropriate way.

Gathering Information – I can source, locate and investigate appropriate information using ICT.

Cognitive Skills – I can reflect and adapt to overcome challenges in my learning.

After further discussion with Cara on a different day, we also decided that to assess all three in one week would be very difficult, especially because critique could lead to multiple drafts. It could also potentially dilute the quality of assessment and critique in the project. Only one strand will be assessed in each project and this is to be decided by the project delivery staff on each project.  This is another benefit of using Cara’s expertise as she works in this field and has experience in this area- I, and we, are still developing our skills all the time and this small tweak means that time will be used effectively and assessment will still be rigorous which is what we require.

From this, short term learning targets have been created within the project plans to individualise the learning target for the projects.

Finally, I would also like to share the variety of projects staff have created and the essential questions driving the projects.

Project Title Essential Questions
Would you feed your hungry neighbour?
  • 1 in 5 UK mums regularly skip meals to be able to afford to feed their children – is this fair?
  • If your neighbour was hungry would you help them?
  • Almost 1 million people living in the UK needed emergency food supplies from 2013-14, how can we help?
Zombie Apocalypse
  • Are you a survivor?
  • How would society cope with the breakdown of civilisation?
  • Would you fight or flight?
Flotsam and Jetsam
  • How can we rethink our current use of material ?
  • What materials can be Salvaged/re-used ?
  • Can another use for a waste material or product be found?
  • How can we create a more sustainable lifestyle ?
Orienteering in the local community
  • What is orienteering?
  • Why is orienteering a sport that anyone can do?
  • How can we get our local community involved in orienteering?
Mood Music
  • Can music change your mood?
  • Do we respond differently to different kinds of musical stimulus?
  • Can music help us to relax/prepare for work/get us angry?
Travel Tracks
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Maths Movie Making (M3)
  • What’s the problem with maths?
  • Can I make maths interesting for all students?”
Afternoon Tea
  • Can we prepare and deliver an event for the local community?
Community
  • Who were the Durham miners?
  • What can we learn about community from the Durham miners?
  • How has coal shaped our community?
Set, Props and Costume
  • How can the set, costumes and props enhance the performance of Grease?
Does Fashion have a price?
  • What is the true price of fashion?
When in Rome…
  • How have the Romans left their mark on the North East?
  • How did the Romans on Hadrian’s Wall live?
  • How did the famous gladiators fight for survival in the arena?
  • What can we learn from the Romans?
Vikings
  • Vikings: Bloodthirsty raiders or cultured traders?
Durham Cathedral through your own eyes
  • What are the secrets of Durham Cathedral?
Kidz for Kidz
  • What kind of books do 5-6 year olds like to read?
  • How can we make reading enjoyable for young children?
  • How can we encourage and inspire young children to become more independent readers?
Films
  • Do films dictate our morals today?
Rock Climbing
  • Could I climb Mount Everest?
Seaham
  • Will we be able to visit Seaham beach in 50 years time?
Science: Great Beauty or Horrifying Monster?
  • Do you consider Science beautiful or does it disgust you?
21st Century Britain
  • What is British?
Trashion
  • Could you make clothes out of the things you throw away?

I intend to create a daily diary blog during our Projects Week – 29th June 2015 to document the week as it happens.

 

Building an Excellence & Growth Culture

I was delighted when Shaun Allison asked me to write a case study about our work in school to be included in a new book he is writing with Andy Tharby. Shaun’s Class Teaching blog was the original inspiration for the Belmont Teach blog and Andy’s thoughtful and insightful blog posts have been must-reads since we both started blogging around the same time over a year ago. Our similar philosophies led to Shaun, myself and a few other edu-bloggers setting up the Excellence and Growth Schools’ Network last year as well as sharing ideas on a range of concepts – most significantly perhaps around curriculum design and assessment. Since meeting at the Growing Mindsets convention last year, Shaun and I are like old pals now and can be relied on to clog up each other’s timelines with recipes, pictures of single malt and the lyrics of indie bands circa 1989! Here’s my contribution to the book, although the final edit could look a lot different once Andy has put it under an English teacher’s microscope……………………….

Key influences

Much of our recent work in school has been strongly influenced by Chief Program Officer for Expeditionary Learning, Ron Berger’s publications “An Ethic of Excellence” and “Leaders of Their Own Learning” as well as Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dr Carol S Dweck’s books “Self Theories” and “Mindset”. Untitled drawing (1) All of our staff – teaching staff, support staff and governors – have been given wide access and exposure to this work in school. We have multiple copies of these books in our Teaching and Learning Library, which top our loan statistics by some margin. All of our Learning Hub Leaders have a personal copy, as well as those who had elected to read them in their Edu-Book Club as part of their Personal Professional Development programme. This is supported by a compendium of blogs and videos we have compiled and continue to update on excellence and mindset.

Learning Hubs

To further ensure we develop an Ethic of Excellence and Growth Mindset amongst our learning community, all members of our teaching staff work in a choice of one of five Learning Hubs as part of their Personal Professional Development programme.

Learning Hubs logo 2014

Our Learning Hubs operate along the lines of Dylan Wiliam’s “TLCs: Teacher Learning Communities” model, with each hub, comprising approximately 8-12 staff meeting for 2 hours once every Half Term, with the following aims: Challenge

  • To embed a culture of ‘growth mindset’ across our learning community in order to raise aspirations and expectations of what students can achieve.
  • To ensure high levels of challenge for all students in every lesson, every day.

e-Learning

  • To use e-Learning to embed a culture of ‘growth mindset’ by empowering students, staff and parents to become engaged, confident, independent, resilient, information-literate users of e-Learning.
  • To develop personalised e-Learning resources for staff (teaching/pedagogy), students (learning) and parents (to support learning process as active participants).

Feedback and Critique

  • To consider the nature, timing and engagement of our students with feedback and critique.
  • To develop feedback and critique systems that ensure increased clarity, effort and aspiration amongst our students, supporting a culture of ‘growth mindset’.

Literacy

  • To consider how the language of subject specialisms can be explicitly taught by all teachers and supported by parents through a range of strategies.
  • To develop students’ chances of academic success by insisting that academic language is used in the classroom, and at home when talking to parents about school work.

Questioning

  • To develop deep and probing questioning for teaching/memory that elicits students to think hard supporting a culture of ‘growth mindset’ and questioning for assessment that informs teaching, e.g. hinge questions, multiple choice quizzing etc.

Mindset across the curriculum

Our Mindset work forms not only part of our pastoral programme, but is also supported by subject areas in lessons around five key themes:

  • Motivation & Inspiration
  • Aspiration
  • Resilience
  • Self esteem
  • Mindset

All students complete a learning journal during tutor time as part of this work.

A golden opportunity

The abolition of levels at Key Stage 3 provided us with an ideal opportunity to create not just a new assessment system, but an entire curriculum based on the principles of Excellence and Growth. Central to this was the idea that everyone is capable of excellence. gold The curriculum we have created is a curriculum we value. A curriculum designed to focus on fewer things in greater depth, rather than being “inch deep and mile wide”. To achieve this we have invested in regular blocks of time for our staff so that they can work together in teams to design subject specific curriculum and assessment.

Key components

Each subject started by establishing their organising concepts, or “big ideas”, which required a review of the entire National Curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 4. Knowing the prior learning of our students enabled us to accelerate from it and ensure high challenge from the outset. It also allowed us to introduce GCSE knowledge and skills in year 7 and go “beyond” the typical confines for the year or Key Stage. We’ve also been very careful to pay attention to what cognitive science tells us about learning and memory, embracing the work of UCLA Psychologist Professor Robert Bjork. As a consequence organising concepts are spaced and interleaved in order to try and build greater storage and retrieval strength. In doing this, we hope to be able to challenge our students further, by increasing their knowledge base and recall to free up working memory to allow them to think hard about, and assimilate new information. Assessment is then focused on mastery of fundamental concepts, ideas, knowledge and skills by designing rubrics containing learning targets for each unit ranging from “establishing” at a basic understanding through to the highest thresholds of “excellence” and “beyond”. As part of our commitment to excellence and growth, we believe that futures aren’t fixed and that all students have the potential for excellence and can improve by:

  • working hard and putting in their very best effort
  • acting on feedback from their teachers
  • becoming leaders of their own learning

As part of this commitment, all students are given access and the opportunity to demonstrate their learning right up to the “beyond” threshold. As well as specifying information about lesson resources, homework and assessment opportunities, each unit also contains a link to previous interleaved sequences, as well as deep and probing questions, which are designed in advance to encourage students to think hard about new information. As Professor of Psychology Daniel Willingham says: “memory is the residue of thought” or as Durham University Professor Robert Coe puts it: “learning happens when people have to think hard.”

Assessment, Recording and Reporting

In a similar fashion, our Assessment, Recording and Reporting of student progress has been revised to incorporate our philosophy of excellence and growth. MidYIS testing on entry is used to identify any potential that may have been missed previously. Progress is reported relative to starting points in simple terms as “excellent”, “good” or “not yet” – incorporating the language of growth. The bar is set high, so that meeting your baseline threshold represents good progress from the starting point in each unit. In a similar way, our revised descriptors for effort encourage excellence and growth. For effort to be classed as excellent, for example, a student must:

  • Consistently strive for excellence
  • Take ownership of their own learning
  • Be highly organised and self disciplined
  • Show initiative and responsibility
  • Show real determination in pursuit of goals
  • Demonstrate resilience when things get hard
  • Continuously seek, reflect and act on all feedback
  • Actively participate and contribute for the benefit of all

This year, in our efforts to help our students become leaders of their own learning, we have replaced our traditional annual report with a series of student led conferences in each subject area, which give students an opportunity to share their work and talk about their progress with parents and teachers by reflecting on and articulating what they have learned.

R.E.A.L. projects and realsmart

Recently, we’ve been working with realsmart to try to support this process even further by giving our students the opportunity to submit evidence of meeting learning targets to their cloud based learning portfolios. Any evidence submitted can then be used as a starting point to discuss progress at their student led conferences. We’ve also started working with Cara Littlefield, a Project Based Learning coach from High Tech High in San Diego through the Innovation Unit to develop R.E.A.L. Projects whose three key principles support our philosophy of excellence and growth, i.e:

  1. All students are capable of excellence regardless of prior attainment, needs or background
  2. Student work should matter
  3. Schools and classrooms are communities of learners

Through this work our staff and students are being trained to build a culture of peer feedback, critique and multiple drafting through the use of models of excellence. These skills are further developed during our whole school Project Week in the Summer Term, which involves public exhibition of high quality student work. Our Ethic of Excellence gallery, which sits in the heart of our school also complements this by displaying beautiful student work nominated by individual subjects. IMG_0031 IMG_0033 IMG_0034

Creating a Curriculum for Excellence in Languages

This post is part of an ongoing series on how we are creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest blog in the series was written by Lee Ferris, our Curriculum Team Leader for Internationalism, Language and Culture.

How does an MFL department at an 11-16 secondary school prepare for the rigours of a Curriculum for Excellence? Read on to find out.

What’s in a name?

Well, quite a lot actually. For a long time, I have been convinced that ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ is no longer fit for purpose as the name of a department whose work goes way beyond teaching languages. Of course, the idea that languages teachers instinctively and necessarily incorporate cultural awareness into their pedagogy is not a novel concept. Indeed, it formed a key tenet of my own teacher training at Durham University. Whether you call it ‘intercultural competence’ or ‘cultural awareness’, it is universally agreed that deeper language learning can only take place when the student has an appreciation for the people, traditions and culture of the Target Language country/countries. However, this is rarely formalised in Schemes of Work or Programmes of Study – when it is, it tends to be, frankly, inadequate for the needs of 21st-Century learners, instead paying lip service to a concept so indisputably crucial to the rounded, balanced curriculum we all aspire to provide for our students.
With that in mind, I submitted a proposal to the school’s SLT to change the name of our department from MFL to ILC – the Department of Internationalism, Language & Culture. The aims of the department would be:
• To be a ‘deliberate practice’ department, constantly seeking to improve Teaching and Learning through active research, collaboration and sharing of good practice.
• To promote academic excellence through cooperative, collaborative and independent learning.
• To be an ‘e-Learning department’ with a commitment to the full and natural integration of new technologies in Teaching and Learning.
• To promote contextualised linguistic spontaneity, creativity and, ultimately, fluency.
• To work with our partner schools, local, national and international cultural organisations (e.g. Tyneside Cinema, British Council, Goethe-Institut), as well as other departments within the school (e.g. Belmontvision with Performing Arts, Berlin Wall 25th Anniversary project with History) to promote knowledge and appreciation of the culture, history and people of the Target Language countries.
• To fully incorporate internationalism and culture into Schemes of Learning so that they are an integral element of language learning and not an ‘added extra’.
• To provide opportunities for students to gain experience of work and study in areas with an explicit international dimension.
• To raise aspiration and attainment in languages at GCSE level.

The SLT approved the name change and it was with renewed vigour that we proceeded to our intensive curriculum planning, beginning on 16th and 17th June.

The ‘Big Picture’

Before starting to think about what our ILC curriculum would look like and what we would want it to achieve for our students, I had been heavily involved with a ‘hub’ focussed on learning intentions – more specially, formulating suitably challenging learning intentions befitting a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. I had also attended sessions in school on ‘assessment beyond levels’, at which Curriculum Team Leaders and others pooled ideas to come up with an assessment system that would reflect our overarching ambition to improve Teaching & Learning while effectively exploiting (in a positive sense) the national move away from National Curriculum levels. It was at these curriculum conferences that we discussed, as senior and middle leaders, what a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ could and should look like.

The first activity the ILC department undertook in our curriculum planning sessions was an open discussion about ‘the big picture’ in our department. As we talked, openly and freely, about the role our department currently plays within school, I quoted almost ad verbatim what my colleagues had to say in the table below, avoiding the use of overtly formal language:

ILC1

The findings of our initial discussion on the context of our department. Click to enlarge.

A clear picture emerges from this discussion of a department with a united sense of ambition and a shared vision of the core purpose of language teaching. Clearly, the concept of broadening horizons is an umbrella intention with implications way beyond the simple transferral of linguistic knowledge. The table also betrays a unanimous desire to stretch, challenge and support our students to achieve beyond their expectations. It suggests a genuine will to facilitate sustained progress while ‘having fun with language’. In short, it gives an impression of a department with laudably lofty expectations of what it can achieve while maintaining a distinct person-centred humanity so essential in education.

The national circumstances

We spent a considerable amount of time as a department looking at the DfE’s published Programmes of Study for Languages at KS2/3, as well as the current guidelines for the new GCSE. From this, we deduced that the KS2 PoS looks like a recipe for potential chaos. A significant dilemma for secondary languages teachers in recent years has been taking account of the incredibly divergent prior knowledge among each Year 7 cohort, depending on the actual language covered at primary school, the amount of time (and effort) dedicated to it and the wild variations in content covered. However, what we gleaned from the PoS document is that these are the basic expectations of language (ancient or modern) teaching at KS2:

  • Describing and opining in writing and orally.
  • Writing phrases from memory.
  • Using authentic sources.
  • Actively engaging in the Target Language.
  • Communicating facts, ideas, needs and feelings.
  • Basic grammar: gender, high-frequency verbs, differences between the Target Language and English.
  • Phonics of cognates.

This struck us as being very ambitious indeed – not necessarily a bad thing in itself, as long as we can be certain that primary schools can and will deliver these elements adequately. To that end, a conversation with Dan Brinton, our Deputy Head Teacher, later in the day reaffirmed the need for solid collaboration and synchronisation with our feeder primary schools. This may, for example, take the form of a series of in-house conferences to train primary teachers in the delivery of the essential features of the KS2/3 PoS to ensure fluidity of transition in Year 7, as well as sustained progress building on prior knowledge, an ambition previously impossible to realise.

The department then decided that in the absence of specified content in the KS2 PoS, we would put together our own ‘wish list’ of linguistic content we would like our students to arrive at Belmont Community School equipped with at the start of Year 7:

  • Numbers 1-60
  • Days, months and birthdays
  • Simple greetings and introductions
  • Classroom objects
  • Alphabet and spelling
  • High-frequency verbs, including avoir and être
  • Awareness of gender of nouns
  • Colours
  • Simple adjectives with agreement
  • Animals
  • Weather
  • Likes/dislikes

Next, we cast our beady eyes over the KS3 PoS to pick out the core elements in preparation for curriculum planning. These turned out to be:

  • Communicating orally and in writing in a range of time frames
  • Give views and opinions on a range of topics
  • Transcription
  • English translation of short texts
  • Translation of short written text into the TL
  • Listening, speaking, reading, writing
  • Understand and communicate personal and factual information
  • Initiative to expand beyond minimum response
  • Literary texts in the language (stories, poems, songs and letters)
  • Deepening vocabulary
  • Increasing accuracy
  • Writing prose

Items shown in red above refer to skills and knowledge not present in previous PoS and skills which we would need to develop from KS3 into KS4. The links between the ‘new’ knowledge and skills and the outline of the new GCSE are clear:

ILC2

The requirements in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing in the new GCSE. Click to enlarge.

Our organising concepts

We had already discussed in professional time meetings what we felt would be the measurable skills we would want to assess at KS3 in the post-NC level era. The ideas put on Padlet ranged from broad areas such as ‘comprehension’ to more specific, GCSE question types such as ‘Positive, Negative, Both’. In the end, we decided that our assessment skills would be identical to our key organising concepts for our curriculum. Therefore, our first task on our curriculum planning days was to discuss and agree on a maximum of six concepts around which our curriculum would be built. These turned out to be:

  1. Mechanics of Language (MoL)
  2. Communication (CMC)
  3. Comprehension (CMP)
  4. Culture (CUL)
  5. Internationalism (INT)

The thinking behind these concepts is relatively self-explanatory. When discussing our name change proposal as a department, one proviso expressed by a colleague was that any formalisation of internationalism and culture within our curriculum should in no way detract disproportionately from our core aim of achieving the best possible results for our students in whichever language they take up at GCSE. The core concepts above mean that the active and passive skills of language learning are both covered by Communication (CMC) and Comprehension (CMP), while knowledge of grammar and structures are explicitly assessed via the Mechanics of Language (MoL) concept. This will ensure rigour in the teaching of grammar, something which we all felt had diminished noticeably under the Listening/Speaking/Reading/Writing assessment model. The addition of Culture (CUL) and Internationalism (INT) means that we will have the means, via suitable Schemes of Learning and assessment mapping, to regularly evaluate the students’ development in this area.

The next stage involved looking more closely at each of the organising concepts and determining the knowledge and skills we would wish the students to acquire over the course of KS3, with Belmont’s new assessment threshold model (Establishing > Developing > Securing > Advancing > Excelling > Beyond) in mind. This led us to these conclusions:

ILC3

The core knowledge and skills for our organising concepts. Click to enlarge.

Threshold assessment

We then felt confident moving forward to determine what our threshold assessment descriptors would be in each context (NB we decided at this stage to move away from ‘concept’ as ‘Assessment Context’ seemed more appropriate). It was also at this point that we made the decision to combine Culture with Internationalism so that the two will be assessed together. We divided into pairs, each pair focussing on two of the Assessment Contexts and working back from Beyond to ensure that the most challenging, rigorous knowledge and skills were at the forefront of our planning. Reading through the descriptors, there is a clear route of progression from bottom to top – rigorous, geared towards excellence but infinitely achievable:

ILC4

Assessment Context 1: Mechanics of Language (MoL). Click to enlarge.

ILC5

Assessment Context 2: Communication (CMC). Click to enlarge.

ILC6

Assessment Context 3: Comprehension (CMP). Click to enlarge.

ILC7

Assessment Context 4: Culture and Internationalism (CUL/INT). Click to enlarge.

It is clear from the tables that Assessment Context 4 will require a cross-curricular delivery strategy. How to actively teach and promote ‘Culture and Internationalism’ formed the basis for one of our lengthier and most intense discussions. We envisage having greater organising input into Belmont’s ‘Challenge Days’. These are sporadic days in the year when the students are taken off timetable to focus on a particular strand of PSRE. We also foresee consistent collaboration with other departments in the school. Our recent Belmontvision event, organised and implemented in conjunction with our fantastic Performing Arts department, was proof positive of the innate possibilities in exploiting cross-curricular links to support tangible and practical culture and internationalism. We also plan to work with the Humanities department on specific strands of AC4. For example, this October, we will work with History to carry out a ‘Berlin Wall 25’ project, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The basic outline for the project? History will teach the students the factual information behind the history of the wall; we will exploit this knowledge to encourage the students to think (in German) about how they would have felt in a similar situation, using a range of feeling/emotion vocabulary with the conditional and connectives. Their thoughts will then be written on a reconstructed small-scale Berlin Wall. A simple yet incredibly powerful example of how AC4 could be delivered by fostering cross-curricular cooperation. Other avenues can – and will – be pursued.

Another ‘Eureka!’ moment during our discussion about the delivery of AC4 was centred on the potential power of ‘takeaway homework‘. We have been keen to implement this independent learning strategy since being introduced to it by Sam Bulmer from our English department at one of our ‘Magic Monday‘ T&L events earlier in the year. However, we have found it difficult to put together a suitably rich ‘offer’ in our specific curriculum area. We are now exploring the idea that takeaway homework can be used to fantastic effect as the stimulus for ongoing independent research on a range of culture and internationalism-related themes. This will involve the students choosing each week from a ‘menu’ of tasks of varying degrees of challenge, all of which involve independent research on a cultural/internationalist theme. Vivos will be awarded depending on the complexity of the task chosen from the menu and awards given out each half-term to the students who have collected the most Vivos. In doing this, the students will gradually build up a Culture and Internationalism portfolio. We are also looking into the use of QR codes to stimulate the students’ curiosity about the culture of Target Language countries. This may take the form of simply sticking a QR code into the students’ books when they are marked. When scanned, the code will take them to a Target Language music video or film trailer.

Schemes of Learning

Naturally, all of this planning is futile without effective Schemes of Learning which roadmap the year. Simon Thompson (Assistant CTL) and I looked at a range of resources designed to support the changes to the curriculum and finally identified one that we felt was suitably rigorous for our Curriculum for Excellence. The next stage in our planning involved piecing together a Teaching and Learning framework for Year 7 and 8, to include interleaving of topics, reference to our new Assessment Contexts and explicit links to Culture and Internationalism. This is still very much a work in progress – here is a sample:

ILC8

A sample of our developing Scheme of Work for Year 7 and 8. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, under ‘Skills and strategies’, the relevant AC has been identified, along with its ‘level’. So, CMP-D would indicate that this is a Comprehension skill at Developing level. Similarly, CUL-A signifies a Culture skill at Advancing level.

It is clear the tracking progress and reporting to parents will be much more transparent and meaningful in a system where you identify that a student is, for example, ‘Advancing in Communication’, rather than Level 4a in Writing. This can only be a positive development.

The way forward

Clearly, there is a long way to go in developing ILC’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. As has always been the case, a curriculum fit for purpose is one that is constantly reevaluated and adapted to the evolving needs of students. The next few weeks will be spent honing the Year 7 and 8 SoW so that we have a watertight plan for KS3, which incorporates elements of KS4 to allow students to go Beyond their expectations. Further consideration will be given to how we carry this momentum through KS4 so that the ever-present risk of Years 9-11 becoming a soulless exercise in dragging students through a GCSE is eliminated. Rather, we envisage a culture whereby students are independent, collaborate, culturally competent/curious and outward thinking learners with a sense of their own place in the world and the wealth of opportunities open to them.

It’s a grand vision. It’s a Belmont vision.

Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch

This is the 5th post in a series about how we are designing our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest update contains a miscellany of information and ideas that I’ve shared at our second curriculum conference and most recently at the Dare to imagine – Education for the 21st century conference and the Cramlington Festival of Learning TeachMeet.  It attempts to pull together more detail on:

  • context and why we are moving away from levels
  • the interplay between curriculum planning and assessment
  • tracking of progress

It also includes a number of curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework.

A new taxonomy?

Most of us are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy and the SOLO taxonomy, however, the end of statutory levelled assessment has brought with it a new kind of taxonomy that can be used to describe the various behaviours people often seem to exhibit in response:

a new taxonomy?

  • IGNORING – pretending it’s not happening
  • PANICKING when you realise it is happening
  • PROCRASTINATING – accepting it’s happening and deciding to deal with it later
  • WAITING for “something” to come along
  • SEARCHING what are others doing?
  • BUMBLING  trying to move forward without any real plan

Despite exhibiting a number of these behaviours ourselves this year, I’m pleased to say we are now at last well on the way to creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model.

Some thoughts on levels

  • Although originally intended to provide information on progress, there is a danger they have become a label that discourages a common intellectual mission and perpetuates a fixed mindset.  “Joe is a level 5” or worse still “I’m a level 5.”
  • The temptation to move up levels quickly in the name of “progress” is at odds with our desire to secure a deeper understanding of the big ideas, not just isolated content, and to allow more time for mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills.
  • The various models used to aggregate test scores, APP and the use of sub-levels by schools makes them unreliable.
  • High performing school systems don’t use levels

Can you re-think assessment in isolation without re-examining your existing curriculum?

Despite levels becoming non-statutory at Key Stage 3, the freedom to innovate and deliver the curriculum we want has always been there.  The limited amount of change in some cases between the old and new National Curriculum could offer little incentive to change, with some schools deciding to “stick” rather than “twist” or bolting on new assessment systems to their existing curriculum.

round-hole-square-peg

On the other hand, it also represents a golden opportunity to design curriculum and assessment systems that teach and assess what we value.

  • To make links and connections between big ideas explicit
  • To develop individuality and the ability to think
  • To specifically develop skills and habits of learning as well as knowledge.
  • To go “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • To provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • To allow for simple, meaningful reporting to parents and carers

Re-designing curriculum and assessment isn’t easy though.  We have to ask ourselves searching questions and think hard.  It takes time and we have to allow for that and ensure we provide ample opportunities within school.

Big ideas

Each of our subject areas have determined their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills that weave through their curriculum – the golden threads.

For example, in science:

Slide04

Planning for excellence (and beyond)

Progression is then mapped out for each big idea by asking:

  • What does excellence look like?
  • What can my students do?
  • What do my students need to understand next?
  • What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?
  • How can we go beyond the boundaries of the existing Key Stage?
Slide09

Big Idea 1: All materials in the Universe are made of very small particles

Cognitive science and curriculum mapping

We’ve also looked at how a knowledge of cognitive science might support the way we construct programmes of study in each subject.  In particular how it could help us to:

  • encourage students to engage emotionally with content by ensuring appropriate degrees of challenge
  • avoid overloading working memory by linking to the big ideas / building on prior learning
  • build storage and retrieval strength by mapping our programme of study to incorporate spacing and interleaving

Slide1

Here’s an example of how we might space and interleave some of our big ideas to ensure progression of knowledge and skills across our science programme of study:

Slide07

A threshold assessment rubric is then developed for each unit that:

  • Sets the bar high
  • Focuses on assessing the key knowledge and skills for that particular unit
  • Scaffolds down from the beyond threshold
  • Supports the development of deeper understanding and skill development
  • Enables provision of formative feedback that supports progression to the next threshold

Slide08

It is only at this point that the lesson-by-lesson overview is then created, containing links to the last interleaved sequence; the learning intentions; specific, pre-planned probing questions that encourage thinking as well as the “products” we expect students to create.

Slide14

How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…

  • Purpose
  • Big ideas
  • Key knowledge and skills
  • Progression
  • Mapping
  • Assessment criteria

…in advance?

Tracking

Establishing progress necessitates the need for a baseline, which can be a tricky business.  In the past, we have tended to lean heavily on KS2 test data,  however in our initial discussions we see this as an opportunity to use a wider range of data to include:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages
  • etc.

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this using simple statements about progress relative to it, rather than targets that place ceilings on student achievement.

Slide16

Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.

Slide17

e.g. if a student’s was currently working at the “securing” threshold they might usually be expected to progress to grade B/C (using current GCSE grades) or point 7/6

If they were working at the “developing” threshold then we might expect them to progress to grade C/D…etc.

What concerns me at the minute though, is how the use of some of this data fits with our thinking about a common intellectual mission and that all students are capable of excellence.

In fact, after months of reading, discussing, thinking and investing significant time (and cost) to allow joint discussion, planning and collaboration sometimes this feels as close as it gets to where my head is at right now.

Slide18

We’ve still got lots to work out and will need to evaluate the efficacy of all our work as we progress, however, in choosing to design a curriculum and assessment system that we value, it’s clear we share a real excitement, hope and optimism about the future.

Slide19

Here’s a link to an Excel version of our curriculum planning tools.  There are a number of planning sheets contained in the workbook, including some “Big Picture” questions by Pete Jones.  Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.  I would love to hear from you if you decide to use any of them in your school.  Feedback is always welcome.

Dan

 

 

Better learning intentions

sailing-ship-sunset

“Imagine oneself on a ship sailing across an unknown sea, to an unknown destination……very quickly, the daily life on board ship becomes all important…..the daily chores, the demands, the inspections become the reality, not the voyage, nor the destination.”

(Mary Alice White’s view from the students’ desk from Dylan Wiliam’s: Embedded Formative Assessment)

Why focus on learning intentions?

A ‘no-brainer’ right?  Learning intentions when used well help both us and our students to see the destination and chart the voyage.  Great learning intentions can provide challenge, foster grit and determination, develop higher order thinking through good modelling and scaffolding and encourage us all to aim for excellence.

under the microscope

But how many of us have really put our learning intentions under the microscope lately to analyse their quality and effectiveness?  How much of our time and effort is spent framing them or developing success criteria that promotes opportunities for all students to achieve excellence?  As Wiliam says:

“this is why good teaching is so extraordinarily difficult….it is hard…..because it has to be designed backwards”

A brief history of learning intentions according to……me

I started teaching in 1995 nearly 20 years ago.  I have thought long and hard about this and can still remember vividly the first time I began sharing learning objectives.  In 2002 the Government launched the Key Stage 3 National Strategy for Science.  At the time I was Head of KS3 Science which inevitably resulted in my working with our Local Authority Consultant as part of this initiative.  It was she who first pointed out to me that our department should really be sharing objectives with our students.  There wasn’t any great discussion about the reasons as I recall – simply that our lessons would be better if we shared them.  So off we all went “bolting-on” objectives to our existing lessons – job done!

It wasn’t until not long after this, as a Head of Department, when working with another LA Consultant on “AfL unit 3 – Developing objective led lessons” that the penny began to finally drop and I began thinking more carefully about objectives, using them to plan lessons and series of lessons rather than creating them post-script.  Through this publication I was introduced to the work of Bloom and his taxonomy of learning and it was around this time that I first read Black and Wiliam’s groundbreaking work on formative assessment “Inside the Black Box” and subsequent publications by the King’s College London Assessment Reform Group.

From there, through my subsequent involvement with the National 8 Schools AfL project in 2005/6 via a brief stint as an LA consultant myself, I got a lot more opportunity to reflect on their importance and their use became central to my teaching.  By this time I had been teaching for 10 years.  Was I late to the party or had it yet to really start?

late to the party

Since then the way I’ve chosen to frame my learning intentions have seen more changes than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe and it has been interesting to look back as far as 2005, thanks to various memory sticks I have miraculously managed not to lose.  Unfortunately I can find no physical record of any I wrote prior to this on that revolutionary piece of kit that replaced the chalkboard – the rolling whiteboard!

Here are a few of my own examples from the last 9 years to give you a flavour of what I mean:

Reactivity of metals_lesson obs 2008 WALT 2007 WALT WILF 2007 learning intentions grid simpsons learning intentions SOLO learning intentions 2 SOLO learning intentions 1 WAGOLL1b WAGOLL 2

Opportunity knocks

This year, in order to further develop teaching & learning across our school we have chosen to focus our efforts on two areas:

1)      Better learning intentions

2)      Better feedback & response

The two main reasons for this were:

1)      Our evaluation of teaching and learning during the Summer Term identified both of these key features of better assessment as pivotal differences between ‘the best’ teaching & learning and ‘the rest’.

2)      Their known high influence on the achievement of students.

It also presented us with a great opportunity to look again at why learning intentions are important and how we can make them even better.  A simple act of deliberate practice for us all.

opportunity knocks

Where to start?

We began the year by developing a shared understanding of what we meant by objectives, outcomes and success criteria.  We did this by collecting and sharing exemplar learning intentions from different departments via an e-portfolio before following this up with discussions in departments during the course of the Autumn Term.  Towards the end of term departments shared their best examples of learning intentions and success criteria for inclusion in our e-portfolio.

What did this tell us?

  • That the routine sharing of quality learning intentions is becoming more consistent, especially the use of the terms objective, outcomes, success criteria & WAGOLL (What A Good One Looks Like)
  • That there is still some variation between the ‘best’ and the ‘rest’ in terms of

–          length and complexity

–          descriptions of tasks rather than learning as a result of them

–          degree of challenge

–          sharing of quality success criteria / WAGOLL

So what now?

For us it’s time to get out the microscope and to begin to examine in detail ‘what makes learning intentions tick’ in order to analyse how we can make ours even better.

watch ticks

Important features of learning intentions

In his book “Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning” John Hattie identifies a number of important features of learning intentions from his extensive analysis of the research, i.e they should be:

  • Clear to students
  • Lead to a shared understanding of learning goals
  • Transparent – show how tasks relate to learning intentions
  • Inclusive of all students
  • Appropriately Challenging
  • Referred to – to help students chart their “journey”
  • Build in mechanisms for knowing that learning has been achieved

The 5 essential components

Hattie goes on to outline five essential components related to learning intentions and success criteria as follows:

  • Challenge

Related to prior knowledge and learning

Relative to a student’s current performance and understanding

Not unattainable – students must be able to see a pathway to challenging goals

Create positive tension –error is welcomed and encouraged

  • Commitment

Greater commitment from students = greater performance

More powerful when related to challenging tasks

  • Confidence

Supported by scaffolding along the learning journey

Helps build resilience amongst students to tackle challenging goals

  • High expectations

Support the development of students having high, appropriately challenging expectations of themselves

The most powerful influence on enhancing achievement (d=1.44)

  • Conceptual understanding

Move understanding from the surface level to deep and conceptual levels

The importance of language

As Dylan Wiliam points out, there is no shortage of advice for teachers on how to construct learning intentions and success criteria, although he does go on to encourage us to think about our use of language when framing them.  Using student-friendly language might help to engage students initially, however at some point students will still have to become familiar with key terms, phrases and language that define our subject disciplines.  “A sense of audience” can be simplified and broken down initially, however we still want our students to know what is meant by the term.

The role of context

Shirley Clarke advocates separating the learning intention from the context in order to achieve a greater “degree of transfer” of learning to other areas.  Too much detail can be seen as counterproductive – the clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get it, but the less likely it is to mean anything!

She uses this example based on banana production:

“To understand the impact of banana production on banana producers”

-can assess the students on what they know.

“To understand the impact of production on producers in the developing world” (using banana production as the context for learning)

-allows us to assess students on their ability to transfer their learning to e.g. sugar production.

Further exemplification of this from Clarke can be found below.

Confused_clarified_context

Making the non-observable → observable

Bloom’s taxonomy will be familiar to many of us who have used it when planning our lessons.  Of his 3 domains of learning, it is the cognitive domain we usually use when framing our learning intentions.

As you will have seen from the examples I shared above, in the past I have used (and advocated the use of) Bloom’s taxonomy, however, I was interested to discover recently that the taxonomy was developed initially from a proposal by a committee of college examiners who collated curriculum objectives from their own institutions and sorted them, rather than being based on research of student learning.

Bloom & Krathwohl’s original work identified a number of cognitive levels we function at, from the most basic “knowledge” to the more sophisticated “evaluation”.

Bloom & Revised Bloom

In 2001, the taxonomy was revised and the nouns replaced with verbs, such as “remember”…”understand“…etc. and at first glance the sophistication appears to have been switched at the higher levels of cognitive function, with “evaluation” and “synthesis” changing order.

Despite often being represented as a pyramid or a set of increasing steps, it is possible for students to operate at a number of levels at the same time.  It might therefore be better to model the taxonomy as follows:

Modelling Blooms

The empirical evidence for the switch seems to be a mystery, although research has since shown that students remember more when they have learned to handle a topic at the higher levels of the taxonomy.

Returning to Hattie’s important features that learning intentions should be clear, transparent and provide us with a way of ascertaining whether learning has been achieved, how easy is it to observe whether a student “understands”?  More helpful verbs are needed to help students understand how to demonstrate their mastery at a particular level and to make the “non-observable → “observable”.  We usually frame learning intentions using these “observable verbs”.

Making non observable observable

One of the criticisms of Bloom’s however, is very evident in the table above – where you can see how the same verb can be used across multiple cognitive dimensions.  “Identify” highlighted in yellow is a good example of this.  Furthermore, when searching for the taxonomy you will find variations in the way each of the verbs are used, which can be off-putting for teachers and confusing for students.

Hattie also highlights the importance of getting the balance right between surface, deep and conceptual learning – either in the short term or across a series of lessons.  He advocates the SOLO taxonomy as a powerful model for understanding these three levels, which I started using myself last year.  Unlike Bloom’s SOLO is a theory of teaching and learning based on research of how students learn, rather than a theory of knowledge.  Many of us are already familiar with the SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) levels devised by Biggs & Collis to describe increasingly complex levels of thinking that can be observed.  If you aren’t already familiar with the SOLO taxonomy, our Head of Science Julie Ryder has written a great ‘Introduction to SOLO’ which is accessible here and has also blogged about her personal learning journey with SOLO available here.

SOLO levels

Through constructive alignment, a deliberate alliance is then made between the learning activities we plan and the learning outcomes we expect.  Constructive alignment is a conscious effort to provide students with clearly specified goals, well designed and appropriate learning activities and well designed assessment criteria to enable quality feedback.

It helps us to:

  • “Unpack” a particular objective
  • Align learning goals, activities and assessment criteria
  • Scaffold learning intentions & success criteria
  • Ensure that outcomes match objectives

constructive alignment 1

Put simply, constructive alignment requires our perceptions of assessment to match with those of our students.  Again, you can see below how verb use is central to this process.

constructive alignment 2

Here is an example of how verbs are used in the SOLO taxonomy to support constructive alignment.  Notice that unlike Bloom’s, there is consistent verb use at each cognitive level.

SOLO taxonomy & constructive alignment

The case for routine sharing of success criteria

Success criteria are crucial in helping to develop a shared understanding of what “excellence” looks like.  They enable us and our students to hold a shared concept of quality as well as enabling continuous ‘quality control’ of ‘products’ during production.

Ensuring that all students know what quality work looks like has a profound impact on achievement gaps.  Wiliam outlines the research of White & Frederiksen in illustrating the power of students understanding what they are meant to be doing as follows.

success criteria research

Here the reflective assessment group were introduced to the 9 assessment criteria that would be used to evaluate their work.  Students were asked to assess their own performance against the criteria as part of an ongoing process.  Peers also gave feedback using the criteria.

The control group on the other hand discussed their likes and dislikes of the topic they were studying once per week.   Both groups had similar prior achievement in literacy and numeracy.  Both groups studied the same science modules.

As you can see, the gains for the group exposed to success criteria are obvious.  Notice the benefits for lower achievers are even greater.

Developing quality success criteria

Developing quality success criteria means challenging students to develop quality rather than just completing tasks.

The two examples from Hattie below illustrate this difference well.

Hattie success criteria example

When thinking and subsequently writing about this I kept finding myself drawing comparisons to fellow blogger Andy Tharby’s ‘sentence escalator’ idea.  To paraphrase him “great success criteria are never finished”.  The more we focus on ‘escalating’ the success criteria, the closer we get to achieving excellence.

Choice of rubric

A rubric is basically an assessment tool that contains the assessment or marking criteria.

Task-specific rubrics include all the criteria for a particular task (like the example from Hattie shared previously) whereas generic rubrics contain non-specific guidance.  When we use task-specific rubrics with students one of the advantages is that they know exactly what to include, however, in doing so we could limit the transferability of learning to new areas referred to earlier.  For this reason task-specific rubrics work well for summative assessment.  The fact that a new rubric has to be constructed for each task also supports the case for the use of generic rubrics on a day to day basis.

SOLO rubrics

Unlike Bloom’s, SOLO verbs can be used to ask a question at one level of cognitive complexity while at the same time providing an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning at multiple levels of the taxonomy.  For me it helps to think about SOLO verbs being able to be used in 3D as opposed to Bloom’s 2D use.

In SOLO Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools – Planning for differentiation, Hook & Mills show how SOLO assessment rubrics can be used to achieve this.  In the case shown below, you can see how when asked to “describe” – a verb used at the multistructural SOLO level – students can still demonstrate their learning at all levels of the SOLO taxonomy.

SOLO rubric

Co-construction

Co-construction is simply the process of ‘building together’.  By developing success criteria with students we increase the likelihood of them taking ownership of the criteria and applying them in the context of their own work.  By allowing students to help create rubrics, we help them to construct understanding for themselves.

Beyond rubrics – models of excellence

As it has done for countless others, the work of Ron Berger has transformed the way I think about and approach my own work, first and foremost as a teacher, but also as a school leader.  In his book “An Ethic of Excellence” Berger outlines “work of excellence” and argues that lists and rubrics are important, but aren’t enough in their own right, as they don’t leave a picture…a vision…an inspiration.  He urges us to admire models, to find inspiration in them and to figure out together what makes the work strong.  Rather than viewing this as simply copying what already exists, Berger refers to this as “tribute work” – borrowing from the best and building on it.  In doing so we create a vision of the goal measured against the best.

The use of student work has been shown to be a powerful mechanism for securing engagement with the success criteria and supporting student understanding of them.  Rather than talking in the abstract about what might make a piece of work good Berger encourages us to critique real examples.  Students tend to be better at spotting weakness in work produced by others and this could be as simple as asking students to rank and rate examples of work produced previously by other students in terms of quality, giving reasons for their choices.

In his book, Wiliam also shares a good example of how an MFL teacher supports her students to understand what a good French accent sounds like.  The teacher organised students into groups, in which each member of the group read the same passage of French aloud after which the group decided which member had the best accent.  The best French accent from each group was then heard followed by a teacher-led, whole class discussion to decide the strengths and weaknesses of each accent.

But why stop there?  As Berger points out, why not critique the work of real writers, scientists, artists…etc?

One final thought…

What better way to support the development of a culture of excellence within our own school than to “begin at the beginning” by focussing ourselves not just on producing “better learning intentions”…but producing learning intentions that are truly “excellent”.

Dan