An East Lothian project at Pinkie St Peter's primary and Musselburgh Grammar is proving that teachers in upper primary and early secondary can rapidly improve pupils' understanding and results by using formative assessment techniques.
Simple strategies to improve learning, such as giving pupils more time to answer more open questions and allowing them to help each other, are showing strong benefits in core subjects. The system of "traffic lights", in which pupils admit their level of understanding by choosing green, amber or red options, is proving equally successful.
Mary Howie, an advisory teacher, in a report to the authority's education committee, explains that project groups in the primary and secondary were compared to control groups of others who were taught using more traditional approaches. Children were also given standardised tests and national tests.
In the P7 project class, boys outperformed girls and scored a higher mark than boys in one of the other P7 classes in all test areas apart from spelling. Almost every pupil made identifiable progress.
Mrs Howie states: "Across the primary school, in which 33 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals, the results show that the project group's attainment has soared over the time of the project and is now greater than the national average in almost every measure. This is an outstanding result."
In the P6 project class, pupils recorded better average scores than the control group. Both boys and girls in the project performed better in grammar and style and in questions on understanding the whole text. "The boys in the class using formative assessment outperformed all other groups in questions about context," Mrs Howie reveals.
In the S1 English department, the whole class involved in the project performed better overall in the final assessment than the control group.
"There were more girls than boys in each class, but even so, boys in the project class significantly outperformed the class average in questions about whole text understanding, use of language in context, and figurative language.
"By contrast, boys in the control group performed least well of all the groups, and significantly less well than the girls in the control group.
Girls in the project class performed better than the whole class average in spelling," Mrs Howie reveals.
In S1 mixed ability science, the project group returned the highest average score for all sections and has the greatest predicted number of Credit or General passes at Standard grade.
The study of the Building Bridges in Literacy P6-S2 project, funded by Learning and Teaching Scotland, reveals that the P6 class in language found it difficult at first to wait up to 20 seconds before answering the teacher's question: "Some pupils seemed to think there was something wrong with her!"
The direct teaching element of the lessons took longer (up to 20 minutes) because of the increased oral work but pupils remained focused until the end of the lesson.
"The quality of discussion and responses that emerged meant that, while there might only be a short amount of time left in the lesson for written work, the quality of this also improved, and the overall pace of learning was increased," Mrs Howie concluded.