Notes on making good progress?: Chapter 1

In this series of posts I record my notes from Daisy Christodolou’s book “Making good progress? The future of Assessment for Learning” It is quite excellent. You can buy a copy here.

Why didn’t Assessment for Learning transform our schools?

Formative assessment is when teachers use evidence of student learning to adapt instruction to meet student need. It’s focus is on what students need to do to improve, on their weaknesses. Feedback then, needs to be tailored thoughtfully to direct the student in how to improve and allow students to act on that feedback.

Formative assessment should be used to diagnose weakness and feedback should tell students how to improve explicitly. AfL is not just about teachers diagnosing weakness and being responsive it is about students responding to information about their progress. Could be a good model for appraisal too.

There is a tension then, between summative and formative assessment. One is about measuring student progress against the aims of education while formative assessment is about the students finding out what they need to do to improve.

If we can agree on the aims of assessment, there is still a discussion about methods. We either favour the generic-skill method which states that to get better at a particular performance you just need to practice that performance. So if you need to practice critical thinking you just practice it or if you want to get better at writing an essay, you just write lots of them. Or we favour the deliberate practice method. This method breaks the final skill down into its constituent parts and practices those. So footballers practice dribbling, passing, defending and shooting not just playing whole games all the time.

Summative assessment is about assessing progress against the aims of education. Formative assessment is about the methods you choose to meet those aims: generic or deliberate. Depending on which one of these you subscribe too will affect your formative assessment, and thus whether assessment tasks can be used formatively and summatively.

If you believe that skill acquisition is generic then formative assessment tasks will match the final summative task. You will write lots of essays, feedback can be given and a grade awarded. If you believe that the method of deliberate practice is better then you may need to design formative tasks that don’t look like the final task. These tasks cannot be used summatively because they don’t match the final task.

Interestingly, belief in generic skills leads down the road of test prep and narrow focus on exam tasks because this model suggests that to get better at the exams you do need you need to practice taking them.

In my mind the key questions for a school, curriculum level or department that wants to adopt the deliberate practice model should be:

  • What are the key skills being assessed in the final summative tasks (don’t forget that language or maths skills might be a large component of this?
  • What sub-components make up these skills?
  • What tasks can be designed to appropriately formatively assess the development of these sub-skills?
  • What does deliberate practice look like in my subject?
  • How often should progress to the final summative task be measured i.e. how often should we set summative assessments in an academic year that track progress?

Please share your thoughts..

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