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Research from the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE) has shown that cognitively challenging experiences – approaches to curriculum and pedagogy that optimise the engagement, learning and achievement of very able young people – have a significant and positive impact on learning and development. But how can we see this working, and what role does assessment play?
With careful and intentional planning, we can assess cognitive challenge and its impact, not only for the more able pupils, but for all pupils. When considering the place of assessment in education, first we need to be clear about what we are trying to assess.
Then we need to establish how we plan to assess, who the assessment is for, and what assessment will tell us.
It is useful to examine assessment using the three educational pillars identified in NACE research:
The best assessment methods are those that integrate fully within curriculum teaching and learning. Often, learning time is lost through additional testing and data collection, but when working in cognitively challenging environments, classroom tasks will usually identify how well pupils are learning without the need for separate exercises.
A good way of avoiding lost time is by using an introductory task to review prior learning. For instance, you could begin the lesson by instructing: “Using the information you have on… discuss with a partner… making use of the vocabulary you have learned…”
Within the cognitively challenging classroom we need to use assessment models that promote and sustain cognitive challenge and promote progression, and to measure the impact of both teaching and learning.
It should enable us to understand what the pupils know already and how effectively the knowledge is used in new, varied and complex contexts.
The children also need to understand the nature and purpose of the assessment themselves. When pupils understand the demands of learning, the learning journey and their own cognitive skills and learning attributes, they can then take action to improve themselves.
Assessment is not a separate part of teaching and learning but should be planned as part of it. Similarly, it shouldn’t distract pupils from learning, and learning should not be framed to meet assessment criteria.
Ultimately, assessment is not about data gathering and organisational checks, but should lead to enriched learning and refined practice with teachers and pupils working together to achieve an exciting learning environment.
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