Get the idea

27th January 2006 at 00:00
Kevin Harcombe considers three primary-level guides offering inspiring suggestions and practical information

Formative Assessment (renamed Assessment for Learning in DfES parlance) is key to the Government's primary strategy (research from the Institute of Education showing that it has a greater impact on children's progress than anything else, including the much vaunted multiple intelligences).

Shirley Clarke's follow-up to Unlocking Formative Assessment is about its practical implementation. Her key tools (sharing learning goals; effective questioning; self and peer evaluation and specific, meaningful feedback) are exemplified with action research from schools. My problem with action research is that it is, of necessity, small-scale, too often low level, lacks rigour and is occasionally parochial, so I found many of the case studies only sporadically illuminating.

Shirley Clarke's own input is, however, cutting-edge. She is particularly good on questioning, self and peer evaluation and feedback, and she includes other current ideas, such as Royce Sadler's thoughts on "closing the learning gap" through small incremental steps.

There are suggestions on the advantages of decontextualising learning objectives and specificity (and realism) in marking. None of this is rocket science (for example, she advises that feedback should be quickly followed up by an opportunity for the child to act on it, rather than left till the following week), but Clarke's clarity and systematic approach make her work indispensable for the classroom practitioner.

Chris Smith covers self- and peer evaluation in Teaching Gifted and Talented Pupils in the Primary School. This aims to help teachers design activities that encourage all children, especially the gifted and talented, to demonstrate and develop their abilities. It also provides high levels of challenge for those children ready for it.

Refreshingly, the author emphasises that learners of all abilities have more in common than differences, but for a "practical guide" there is quite a lot of theory. Readers are asked, for example, to examine at length their own notions of intelligence and whether intelligence is fixed or changeable. She does, however, suggest ways in which teachers can create a working environment that helps more able pupils to thrive and takes the reader through the design of, and follow up to, learning activities.

She touches on Howard Gardner's ever-fashionable multiple intelligences, the practical use of Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills and, most stimulating, Joan Dalton's divergent questioning.

The most useful section for the class teacher looks at developing a menu for three forms of participation - involvement, development and creation.

So when studying "The Three Little Pigs", one involvement activity might be to make up five questions about the story for others to answer. Development might be "what do you think happened to the three pigs after the story ends?"and a creation activity could be to make a board game based on the story.

This approach is exemplified with dozens of suggestions for poetry, geography, maths and science, many transferable to other areas and all involving a cross-curricular approach.

Promoting Children's Well-Being in the Primary Years - part of the Right From the Start project - tips its hat to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, through a series of articles, offers a kaleidoscope of ideas and practical information promoting intellectual, social, emotional and personal development.

The contributions (from one to a dozen pages) from teachers, therapists, children and consultants (including Jenny Mosley) are varied and cover such topics as nutrition, brain gym, emotional literacy, staff well-being and gardening. In its range and diversity lie both its strengths and weaknesses.

Most of the pieces are concise and cogent, a few are rambling and woolly.

As a dip-in compendium, however, you will undoubtedly find something in it for your needs and there is an excellent section on children's books you can use to exemplify particular issues.

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands Primary School, Fareham, Hants

Formative Assessment in Action: Weaving the Elements Together

By Shirley Clarke

Hodder Murray pound;14.99

Teaching Gifted and Talented Pupils in the Primary School

By Chris Smith

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;17.99

Promoting Children's Well-Being in the Primary Years

Edited by Andrew Burrell and Jeni Riley

Network Educational Press pound;18.95

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