Monthly Archives: April 2015

Assessment without levels – the process

I’m writing this blog after day 3 of working on our assessment without levels structure. I am hoping that this blog post might provide some useful points for anyone who is to sit down and do this but I appreciate our assessment approach is slightly unique in comparison to what I have seen from other schools. This isn’t a bad thing – as an academy we have a greater amount of freedom and flexibility in our approach – it’s just a heads up that some of this might not work for you and your school.

In designing a new curriculum for KS3 and a new assessment model, the first thing we have to ensure is that students are ‘GCSE ready.’ Therefore, our first port of call are the AOs. I am teaching with Edexcel so the AOs for Language and Literature are below (please note the AOs are exactly the same for all exam boards):

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I, therefore, tried to establish the commonality between the AOs for the two different specs (including A level) and, from this, created our own 6 Assessment Objectives that would carry across all 7 years.  It was important to me that we had a cohesive approach and that our students in KS3 had the same assessment objectives as taught in KS4 to ensure confidence with the skill set by the time they arrived in year 10.

AO1: The identification and interpretation of explicit and implicit information and ideas
AO2: The construction of meaning and effects using language, structure and form
AO3a: Comparison of ideas, perspectives and texts
AO3b: The significance of context
AO4: A personal and critical response
AO5: Form, purpose and audience
AO5b: Structure and organisation
AO6: Sentence structure and punctuation and vocabulary and spelling

Once this had been established, I started to look at the new specimen assessment materials to see how these AOs were going to be assessed.  You can find these easily on your exam boards webpage.  Exploring the criteria in Band 4 (year 11) and then Band 3 (year 10) (appropriate for our school context), I placed the assessment criteria / descriptors next to the relevant AOs.  I did the same for A level and then used the APP grids for KS3 focusing on old level 6a criteria for year 9 (again, appropriate for our school context) and worked backwards.  This was an interesting exercise as I was clearly able to see the progression and development of a skill over key stages.  I noted, interestingly, that the descriptors at A level seemed more simplistic in comparison to those at GCSE although we know inherently that they aren’t.  Once this was done, I focused in on the progression of a skill and edited the wording (without messing with the assessment criteria at GCSE) to ensure that the progression of the skill over key stages would be clear for staff to see.  I re-edited this after feedback from Phil Stock to remove fluffy terms such as ‘some’ which are subjective and open to interpretation so I tried to be as specific and focused as I could. More information about this can be found here at Daisy Christodoulou’s fantastic blog which Phil sent me over: https://thewingtoheaven.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/the-adverb-problem/

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I then cross-referenced the skills against the new National Curriculum documentation ensuring coverage (although as an academy we don’t have to follow this strictly).  The NC documents can be found here:https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum

Once I had done this, I wanted to see what my yearly objectives looked like.  Therefore, I transferred information over from the progression grids to create yearly objective banks.  An example of which is below.

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The next task was to map these yearly objectives to the long term plans at KS3 to ensure appropriate coverage.  An example of this is below:

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And there we have it.  Please find all the documents referred to (progression maps, yearly objectives and long term plans) here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0hc8h4u2fqcja16/AACuPRUtCQAWGPvgqze8nWqza?dl=0

What else do I need to do?

  • Develop a strand for spoken language
  • Create a reading for pleasure strand which will be developed in our library lessons
  • Construct the assessments to ensure complete focus on yearly objectives
  • Create assessment sheets for students to ensure clarity with regard to yearly objectives / objectives for each unit
  • Tracking sheets for staff – how will we track students’ attainment against objectives

NB. Our school is not going for the excellence, secure, developing etc approach.  All students will be expected to meet the yearly objectives with extension and support work going on behind the scenes.  We will simply be reporting to parents whether students have met an objective or not stipulating that if they do meet objectives year on year at KS3, they will be GCSE ready.

We will also have a whole school numerical grading system based upon the objectives students have met / not met.  My next step is to develop this for English.

It’s ok to have a moan…it’s much more honest.

What a treat to read such a positive post on teaching this week!

And then how interesting that the responses to the post fell into two categories: those who lavished praise that finally someone had written something positive about the profession and reflected the views of those ‘who love their jobs’ and those who felt indignant about being told how to feel.

Summing up my response in 150 characters is somewhat constraining so here goes in a shorter blog post.

I love teaching. I love my school, the staff I work with and the students I teach. I am committed to my school, the staff and the students for some time to come because I believe that our investment in it/in our students is going to have a profound effect on the future of our academy and the students within it. I love teaching grammar – watching students grapple with elements of language that have previously remained untouched and deconstructing sentences in ways that they never thought possible. I love teaching literature – seeing students reactions to characters and key events and the joy in a shared journey. I love the challenge of learning something new and teaching something for the first time but I also love teaching units that I have taught a number of times and know work. I love seeing our students excel in all areas, including English but also in subjects such as the arts. I love seeing the improvements that we have made to the faculty (in the near approaching two years that I have been there). I love working with our principal, vice principal and SLE who support, challenge and push me to be better. I love the collegiate approach of staff and the fact we like each other enough to socialise with each other and enjoy each other’s company on a Friday.

In essence I love my job.

However, the fact of the matter is that I would be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t also admit that at times it is hard, exhausting and deeply frustrating. I am happy to stand up and admit that there are times when I want to give up. There are times this year where I have cried because I have been utterly exhausted. There are times when I have felt so frustrated by the constraints and accountability process I have wanted to scream. This doesn’t, however, mean that I don’t ‘love my job’. In fact, I think that recognising the difficulties of the job makes you a teacher more at ease with yourself and more equipped to deal with the emotional rollercoaster that is the education profession. What other career do you experience the highs of success and the lows of failure, the moments of sheer joy versus the moments of sheer terror all in the space of the day? In order to cope with this rollercoaster, teachers need to be able to talk freely without judgement and many do, turning to Twitter for support. In doing so, there is the shared space in which you never truly feel alone in tackling this rollercoaster. Someone said the other day that ‘on Twitter you know you will find someone who has been through the same experience as you, and that is a relief.’ It is a relief for so many people who have reached out in times of need and found the support that has helped them regain their confidence, joy, love, passion for what they do. A joy, love, passion all teachers have inside them but, at times, find difficult to find.

Those who are able to recognise and articulate when work becomes difficult also make better leaders. FACT. A leader who is endlessly positive and avoids dealing with the stresses of the job and being open about those stresses seeks to alienate their team. Who would go to a Head of Faculty who never admits that they feel the stresses associated with the profession or is seemingly excelling in all facets of their role? It does not create an image of a leader that one could talk to, find support from and seek comfort from. Instead, in acknowledging and admitting the difficulties one can find themselves in, one appears to one’s team as human – and, in turn, a space in which the team feel safe to share their worries and stresses is created so that problems can be worked through together. It is a well-known fact that schools who are struggling often have the friendliest staffrooms because everyone pulls together to support and help each other.

In addition, with some naivety ‘the corner of moaners’ in the staffroom is referenced – a corner which I have seen in the staffrooms I have worked in and have come to realise contain the wisest of all our professions. I wonder if the writer of this post considered that these ‘moaners’ are typically the ones who have been round the block a few times and have seen every ‘fad’ and ‘strategy’ introduced, dissolved and then re-introduced with the same amount of success each time. They have also seen many keen, enthusiastic and career-focused professionals come and go, racing through the school, creating a tornado of improvement and then leave, often with the school in no better position. More often than not, when I have spoken with these ‘moaners’, I have realised that they are not ‘moaners’ but, actually, hidden in those darkest depths are some of the most passionate members of the profession who have identified what works and feel no need to sign up to the barrage of new strategies schools seem to introduce on a weekly basis because they know, even before SLT, the probability of the strategy being a success.

Of course, the article rightly differentiates between offloading and moaning. Long term moaners can be detrimental to individuals and to teams. Having worked with a few, I can honestly say that the ability to suck the life out of someone is the power of a moaner, especially when you are working to counter-act their negativity. However, avoiding these types of moaners is useful or dealing with the level of negativity head on helps. Encouraging teams to reflect on positive moments during the week at meetings can be a lovely energiser to start a meeting and one in which everyone has to offer something positive, even if it is only for five minutes! On Twitter, the power of the mute button can also silence the people who just like to moan and offer very little else.

So rather than saying ‘We have the best job in the world, stop the moaning’, instead let us be more honest and say sometimes our job is bloody amazing but it is also bloody tough and when it is tough know that Twitter and those wonderful people on Twitter will be there to support you, strengthen you and reboot you, if you so want them to be. I know I will.