Constructive marks

27th September 1996 at 01:00
National Curriculum Science Walls By Jo Willis. Pounds 3.75 Doing Their Level Best with the New Orders By Juliet Edmonds and Ann Emery. Pounds 10. Association for Science Education, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA

Bill Laar discusses a novel way to assess primary achievement. These booklets aim to help teachers with the formative assessment of their pupils' work in science. National Curriculum Science Walls comprises a wide range of science activities based on the themes in the programmes of study at key stages 1 and 2, including humans, plants, variation and environment from "life processes and living things"; grouping, changing and separating materials from "materials and their properties" and electricity, forces and light and sound from "physical processes".

The activities are presented as "bricks" - "I know that plants can make food and I know what is important about photosynthesis"; "I know what 'adapted' means'" - which build a wall for each theme. They are suggestions and can be changed "by using a white sticky label". Bricks are shaded in when the teacher and pupil are confident they have been "achieved".

The material is intended to provide a visual record of pupils' progress and needs. A line drawn across the wall at the end of each year gives a record of progression to help pupils appreciate their development in science, to set goals and to enable teachers to discuss pupils' progress with parents.

In the context of assessment, however, what the booklet offers is little more than a form of self-assessment - the things "I can do, have done and know". It also provides an account of the activities delivered by the teacher. What the materials do not tell us, however, is what the pupils have genuinely assimilated. Too many questions are left unanswered. Too many of the statements still require questions of the "what if . . .?" "why?" and "how?" nature before teachers can be confident they have the requisite information to plan for the next stages of their learning. To accept without further enquiry or investigation statements such as "I know what kind of animals have five young", "I have found out about my sense of touch"; "I have done an experiment with plants to see how different temperatures affect the way they grow" is tantamount in terms of assessment to being satisfied we have an adequate picture of a child's competence in the skill of cycling because they have assured us "I can ride a bike".

However, though limited as assessment materials, National Curriculum Science Walls could certainly contribute to the valuable objective of helping children gain an understanding of the purpose and importance of self-assessment and become more confident about their ability in science.

Doing Their Level Best with the New Orders is designed to help teachers assess children's progress in Sc1 in Experimental and Investigative Science at Key Stage 2. The book includes examples of work produced during a number of investigations by Years 4 and 6 pupils, together with ephemeral evidence - overheard discussion, dialogue, observations collected by their teachers.

The material is analysed and the pupils' achievements are assessed against key learning objectives for Year 4 and against the Level Descriptions of Attainment Target 1 at key stage 2 for Year 6. For each of the children whose work is considered, suggestions are made for future experiences that would further their development.

Considerable care has been taken over the analysis of pupils' work and suggestions for future learning experiences, but the discursive and conditional style isn't easy reading for the busy teacher. It would have been more useful to relate the proposed experiences very clearly to the programmes of study. School Curriculum and Assesssment Authority exemplification materials do this better because they are more explicit about work examples and next steps to be attempted.

The authors are manifestly skilled in the teaching of primary science and its assessment. The teaching points are likely to be useful to the experienced practitioner, already confident in assessment techniques, who would probably be too busy to wade through the book. The recently qualified orless assured teacher might not easily find a way through it all, or if they did, would hardly have their confidence about assessment or, indeed, the teaching of science in general, substantially enhanced.

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