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When exams get in the way of learning

There is so much pressure for children and schools to do well in formal exams, from age seven right through A-levels, that it is easy to forget how much power assessment can have as a tool for learning and excitement. All the following are examples of assessmentI A teacher and a primary child sit down for a discussion about a piece of writing. They talk about the original and effective phrases in the story, as well as the places where the pupil could think about finding a better word or image (see page 10). Meanwhile, in the nursery, teachers use their digital cameras to capture significant learning moments as the four-year-olds play.

African-American high school students give presentations about their family histories, for instance how they came to migrate to Chicago from the South (see page 8).

Two eight-year-olds hold a perfectly natural conversation about their "learning power", setting goals for self-improvement (see opposite).

And in Cambridgeshire, International Baccalaureate students keep portfolios and diaries of the community service work they must complete (page 13).

Schools are discovering the value of "assessment for learning", in which evidence about the level children have reached is used to help teachers figure out where they can go next and how best to get there. Teachers find it improves relationships with pupils and makes their jobs more fulfilling (page 9). Assessment for learning is on government agendas, too, across the United Kingdom. England, though, is the only nation that is not at least thinking about scrapping formal tests at 11 and 14 (page 6). With the pressure of high-stakes testing at 11, many schools may see the benefits of assessment for learning as a luxury they can't afford.

The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of the Times Educational Supplement and not of nferNelson.

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