Upfront about assessment

20th May 2011 at 01:00
Spelling out learning criteria at the start of lessons paid dividends for teachers at an East Renfrewshire school. Douglas Blane reports

Assessment is one of the thorniest bushes in the Curriculum for Excellence thicket, particularly for secondary schools. Teachers are unsure what's expected of them, and many may not have read the key document, Building the Curriculum 5.

The senior management at St Luke's High in Barrhead, East Renfrewshire, has grasped the nettle firmly, so teachers there are unusually comfortable with assessment under the new curriculum.

"The more experience I get with Assessment is for Learning (AifL), the more valuable I believe it to be," says Raymond Bell, principal teacher for AifL. "It empowers the teachers, it enables students to measure their own learning and it gives them feedback. We have success criteria now for the smallest piece of writing."

This might sound like a lot of work, but it's worth it, says English teacher Adele Simpson. "It opens the subject up to pupils who felt they weren't good at it. You break it down into the skills they need, instead of throwing a big thing like a critical essay at them."

The advantages are not confined to language and literacy, says chemistry teacher Margaret Anne Johnstone. "We share learning intentions at the start of any lesson in which they're doing something new.

A criticism sometimes levelled at shared learning intentions is that it can be a dull way to teach, with no surprises. But it depends on how you do it, says Mrs Johnstone. "My learning intention wouldn't be that more sugar dissolves in hot water, for instance. It would be "find the effect of temperature on solubility".

With experience in a school comes scope for flexibility, says Mrs Simpson. "It's important at first to be consistent in all subjects, and put learning intentions and success criteria on the board at the start of every lesson.

"But I taught a Lord of the Flies lesson recently, where I had them in big groups. I wanted the groups to break down, so I did not give the intention away at the start.

"Once you're comfortable with learning intentions - as primary teachers seem to be, as they've been doing it longer - you can start to mix it up a bit and get creative."

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