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Secondary

Assessment objectives – Do less, deliver more

Illustration of suited man relaxing at desk with nearby box of papers against the backdrop of a beach scene

Changing your classroom testing habits could help you assess more effectively while dialling down the intensive effort, says Matt Findlay…

Matt Findlay
by Matt Findlay
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Secondary

As teachers, we need to know what our students already know so that we can plan lessons that build from this starting point.

After engaging with students, we then need to check in with them again to see how much of what was taught has actually been understood and retained. Thus, assessment blesses twice. It opens the door to teaching, but also gives us very powerful feedback with regards to how effective our teaching has been.

So with a shiny new year stretching out ahead of us, I offer you a challenge – to make assessment 10 times more useful than it has tended to be previously, and one tenth as onerous.

Through keeping a tighter handle on what students currently know and can do, you’ll be better prepared to engage them by meeting them where they are. More importantly, regular assessment will provide you with powerful feedback as to how effective your teaching has been, which could be the driver of an exciting new phase of growth and development for you as a teacher, and have positive downstream consequences for the hundreds or perhaps thousands of pupils yet to pass through your classroom.

That’s the lens through which I want you to view and take on this challenge. So here are some things you could try…

1. Test routinely

Instead of end of topic tests, test your students about once every six lessons on a mix of things you’ve taught since the start of Y7. This will highlight how effectively you’ve embedded previous learning through mixed review and sequencing of topics.

2. Keep the tests short

Tests should be viewed as information gathering exercises, but why collect more data than you can act on? I’ve found that I can obtain enough information from a single 20 to 30-minute ‘learning check’ to inform my teaching for the next six lessons or so. Longer tests will be more onerous and time consuming, but rarely more useful.

3. Don’t record scores!

Focus instead on what you’ll do in light of what the tests show. You might reflect on how you taught a particular topic – how well has your teaching landed with students? If there’s scope for improvement, devote more time to planning explanations and questioning, rather than writing scores in your mark book, entering numbers into Excel or preparing lessons in which students RAG rate their test performance.

4. Respond to learners’ needs

A strong performance from all students signals that we can proceed to the next stage of the learning journey. Conversely, the tests might show that some material needs to be revisited with the whole class, or that you need to provide some individualised support before moving on.

5. Identify your ‘priority learners’

Note who the bottom three students are in each learning check. I personally write their initials on a piece of paper taped to my desk expressly for this purpose, and go to them first in subsequent lessons. The best differentiation is giving more of your time to those who need it most.

6. Control the test environment

Make sure your learning checks and tests are completed under strict test conditions. You need to know what each students can actually do, not what the person next to them can do!

7. Mark the tests yourself

It won’t take long to mark a set of 20-minute class tests (try it!). Offloading this task on to students for peer marking denies you the chance to come fully face-to-face with how effective your own teaching has been.

Ultimately, if you can keep one eye on assessment as ‘feedback on the quality of my teaching’ and reflect accordingly, this will be a tremendously powerful factor not just in improving outcomes for students, but also for driving your mastery of the art of teaching. That means more enjoyment and more satisfaction from every single lesson you teach.

Matt Findlay is the head of Maths and a senior leader at a state secondary school in Dorset; he also co-hosts the ‘Beyond Good’ podcast with Femi Adeniran

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