Evaluation of Project 1 of the Assessment is for Learning Development Programme:
Support for Professional Practice in Formative Assessment
4. Phase 1 of the Evaluation: Findings relating to Primary and Special Schools
4.1 Aims and implementation of the project
In their overall aims, most primary schools mentioned the raising of attainment:
'The main aim is to use formative assessment strategies to raise attainment overall - principally by raising pupil confidence and motivation - but, as importantly, to begin to close the gap between high and low achievers.' (Head Teacher)
Other goals included:
- raising pupil confidence and motivation;
- involving pupils in evaluating and improving their own learning;
- enhancing the quality of learning;
- improving and focusing classroom teaching;
- promoting self-evaluation by staff.
In some schools, the aim of the project was to support an already identified development need in the school, for instance, improving functional writing, developing the school's assessment policy and practices.
4.2 Formative assessment strategies implemented
Schools adopted a wide range of strategies to satisfy their aims. Table 1 provides an overview of the types of strategies adopted in participating primary and special schools.
4.3 Use of resources
Most of the funding for the project was invested in staff time. This included cover for involved staff to attend meetings, external briefings or recall days, locally and nationally; to enable peer observation and discussion of feedback; and to make links with other projects. Staff were also given time for planning, record keeping, the writing of individual diaries, undertaking evaluative activities and report writing.
There was some, although relatively little, expenditure on equipment. This was usually to enable lessons to be video taped.
Table 1: Strategies of formative assessment adopted in each participating primary school
Work undertaken in relation to maths and language. P1 and P7 involved. Longer wait time, use of higher order questions, group responses, training pupils to pose questions, immediate feedback, comment rather than marking, clear explanations to pupils of feedback procedures
Work undertaken in relation to language with years P4 and P5. Planning and redrafting of mainly written work with children working in pairs/ groups to discuss and redraft with teacher report
Strategies adopted for topic work. Aims to raise attainment and develop pupils who are confident when doing new things and who are creative and inventive; open ended questioning; thinking skills stories
Strategies adopted in science and creative writing, Years P4 and P6 involved. Aims to develop use of higher order questions; improve waiting time; involve all children; encourage interactive response amongst pupils, provide positive oral feedback from teacher, in science children recording findings and ideas. Teachers giving oral and written positive feedback
Strategies adopted in science and social science. Years P1 and P5. Increase wait time; increase opportunity for higher order questions; develop pupils' discussion and reflection skills; greater pupil participation.
P1/P2 and P7 involved in the project. Maths- raise number and maths awareness by 10-15 minutes of 'simmering' activity; involves interactive direct teaching with more open questions. Language 12 week project involving a programme of reading texts and associated writing tasks - group work with 30 minutes discussion of reading, planning for writing, writing at home and discussion of final products
Focus on mathematics with two pupils in early years whose barriers to learning are autism, communication difficulties and challenging behaviour, work videod to become part of the school's induction programme
Improving pupils' communication skills; focuses on two pupils with complex physical, sensory and behavioural barriers to interactive communication - supported on a one to one basis
Two projects were implemented. Both involved improved questioning and increased response time.
Two projects. In Primary 1 the emphasis was on improved questioning (wait time) and cooperative learning. Traffic lights used to demonstrate levels of understanding. In P7, the focus was on using criteria for assessment and comments to improve feedback on writing.
Focus on mathematics including giving oral feedback to encourage pupils to express when they have difficulties and individual tuition which looks more closely where pupils are in their development.
Raising attainment in writing. Sharing targets with pupils. Team approach - pupils and teachers working together. Three classes involved.
Focus on wait time and improving questioning. In story writing, individual feedback given to promote improvement. Two classes involved. Links made with philosophy for children.
Project involves two teachers of P1 and P6. Strategies adopted include wait time, sharing criteria for success prior to giving out tasks, improving the quality of feedback.
Developed interactive teaching, wait time, positive feedback
Problem solving as a base. Wait time and questioning. Use of video to improve practice. Two teachers involved and the Head Teacher.
Strategies adopted included increased wait time, buddy system, group evaluation and correction strategies. Three classes were involved including nursery children.
Project focused on use of wrong answers in mathematics, use of wait time and better questioning, traffic lighting, discussion in pairs to practice responses.
Project focused on improving functional writing including reports, articles, biographies, book reviews. The school already practiced elements of formative assessment. They wanted to design an assessment system for functional writing.
Aims were to raise attainment in writing and in topic work and develop the policies and practice of assessment. Focus was on oral feedback in a writing context, better questioning in topic context, lengthening wait times.
* This table includes details of the participating special schools in addition to the primary schools.
4.4 Record keeping
Schools adopted a wide range of strategies for monitoring progress. All schools completed an action plan before embarking on the practical elements of the project, although many of the initial plans changed. Some schools devised pro forma for recording significant points. Others devised record sheets for keeping a check on the number of pupils answering questions and the quality of the answers. In some cases complete systems were devised, for instance, the writing of an agreed lesson plan with objectives and outcomes followed by an immediate evaluation of the lesson, with diary entries made over a block of lessons. In some cases, pupils kept records of discussions that they held. Many teachers kept a diary. These proved valuable resources for personal reflection.
Video or tape recordings provided useful feedback to participating teachers and also acted as stimuli for staff development activities.
Although the documentation process was reported as time consuming, it was extremely valuable in enabling teachers to reflect on their practice and provided a valuable resource for facilitating discussion and further development with participating and other teachers.
4.5 Development of the project
The pattern of development of the project in each primary school was distinctive although most primary schools used collaborative and consultative approaches to arrive at an initial action plan. Informal and frequent discussions tended to be held between the participating teachers and the Head Teacher. Identifying difficulties and working to overcome them was a key dynamic. In one case, this kind of discussion extended to the secondary sector because of co-location. In this case both primary and secondary teachers observed each other teaching and shared practice.
Typically, development was a collaborative and reflective process with teachers sharing experiences and asking each other for advice as the project progressed. In some cases this was formalised, for instance:
'During the Science lessons the teaching partner observed the other partner. The lessons were recorded using an agreed lesson plan format stating learning objectives and outcomes.' (Head Teacher)
Some schools developed strategies building on work that they had already completed:
We did not 'start from scratch'. This project gave us the opportunity to revisit, refine and improve our current good practice and to share our experiences and findings with, and learn from other schools……… we needed to find the best ways to use/manage teaching and learning time more effectively - especially to have quality time to talk with individual pupils about particular learning attempts. This required us to re-think our weekly timetables and lesson plans and to review our management of contact time. We really needed to attempt less, but to achieve it more effectively and thoroughly - to the optimal level of quality for both teacher and pupils.' (Head Teacher)
In many schools plans evolved and changed over time:
I think we were very unsure of what was expected and our first action plan indicated that we would look at our questioning and the use of wrong answers in maths. At a recall meeting in August, we soon realised that we were going to have to be much more specific and this meeting provided us with more of an insight into our end target. Therefore, our follow-up action plan had a mission statement and more specific targets to work on.' (Teacher)
'We made changes to our original action plan. A number of strategies had been suggested to us at a recall meeting and we decided to try out some of these ideas.' (Teacher)
Box 1 provides examples of the reflective process in operation during the early stages of the project. Box 2 provides a detailed example of the way that the project developed in one primary school.
Box 1: Examples of the development of the project following teacher reflection
Teacher reflections as the project developed
When we first started, we observed each other teach a lesson. We both found that our wait time was not very long and we were also asking a number of low order questions. Time for a change…'
'… I felt the children needed to learn that there are different kinds of questions and that different questions have different purposes. However, I felt that lower order and higher order was too complicated for 5 and 6 year olds. An activity called Fat and Skinny in Start Them Thinking gave me a way in. The idea that higher order questions could be called fat questions and a lower order question could be called a skinny question seemed an excellent analogy that the children could understand. Over the next few weeks, I introduced something called Question Time where the children had to ask a partner a skinny question. We would then have a reporting back session. At this point I felt the children had an idea about skinny questions but I needed to take it to the next stage and look at fat questions. I thought it might be a good idea to start with a skinny question and get the children to change it into a fat question.'
'I began to focus my attention for the project on my questioning during Environmental Studies. I made more use of wait time. This was difficult for some children. As the project ran its course, I made many changes along the way. I felt that asking questions through Environmental Studies didn't always work as the discussions needed to be able to follow the children's thoughts and ideas. I began to focus on my questioning after reading stories to the children, I started to use the Think, Pair, Share strategy more and noticed that although the discussions were noisy, the children were focussed on what they had been asked.'
Box 2: Example of project development
Development of a project to enhance functional writing
The overall objective of the project was to enhance academic attainment. It involved developing a feedback form for levels A to E of the national test criteria for Functional Writing in a format which could be used across the curriculum. The school wanted to design an assessment system which was:
- memorable for attainment and next steps;
- a means to promote dialogue between pupils, teachers and parents.
The head presented a draft of the action plan to the staff in August 2002. This provided the basis for discussion and developing the concepts introduced in the project. From the outset, it was decided to try and involve the pupils as much as possible, even though there were anticipated difficulties because of the age of the pupils and their relatively undeveloped language skills. During the term when it was developed, staff were encouraged to think about a method of coding attainment that was both manageable and meaningful for the children and would include them in the process of giving feedback. This very thorough preparation process led to a scheme where writing criteria levels were agreed with symbols to match. The forms that were piloted:
- were personal to each pupil;
- were double sided A3 to allow plenty of space;
- explained the targets in pupil friendly language;
- provided a progressive system of easily recognisable symbols for each target;
- provided space for parents to write their comments;
- provided columns to include:
- genre/type of writing;
- peer comments;
- teacher comments / next steps;
- pupil comments;
- three ticks showing that the attainment was sustained and not a one off;
- a sticker to motivate or recognise achievement;
- the date when the target was attained.
Beyond the original intention of being an instrument to offer feedback on functional writing, the format also provided a record allowing the children to demonstrate their achievements, to be proud of them, and to show to their parents.
The extent to which staff and children were involved in project development varied. In some schools the staff and many pupils were actively engaged, in others the focus was on a small number of participating teachers. Some pupils were made aware of the aims of the project and how it might affect them:
'…we shared the aims and objectives with them. We had informal discussion, formalised discussion, a parents meeting, to inform them about the aims. We brought the children on board and explained from the outset that research suggests that this way of teaching will lead to improvement.' (Teacher)
The Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) website and the meetings of school project staff with the LTS team and other colleagues were reported by many schools as giving huge impetus to the development process. They helped to clarify its foci and the techniques of formative assessment appropriate to the implementation in each school. Meetings, national and local, had a particularly strong impact:
'At the December recall date, a visiting teacher spoke about traffic lighting, until this point I had not fully appreciated the simplicity of this strategy. I have since used traffic lighting both in written and oral format.' (Teacher)
Overall, the approach to development was characterised by trial, reflection, and adaptation. It involved teachers in mastery of the techniques of formative assessment which were, over time, woven into the curriculum.
4.6 Difficulties In Implementation
4.6.1 Getting Started - Overcoming Barriers
Relatively few difficulties were experienced in the implementation of the project. At the very beginning, some schools had been unsure of how to implement the project principles and what was expected of them. Their reaction to the first national meeting was 'what on earth do we have to do?' Some schools reported what they perceived at the time to be a lack of clarity and direction from the project team:
'At first we were unsure what was expected re our input. Teachers are used to attending various in-service courses where they are told exactly what to do in the classroom. Most courses, until very recently, do not reflect on how children learn or on the active involvement of both staff and pupils engaging pupils.' (Teacher)
Initially, our early discussion on the project was 'Is this correct?' 'Is this what they want?' 'Is this enough?' (Head Teacher)
The experience was at first stressful.. being unsure what was expected of them by the project and it being the first project they had been involved in made a stressful start for the teachers involved.' (Head Teacher)
However, what was experienced as a lack of clarity at the beginning of the project turned into an advantage as they appreciated that it had forced them to focus on their own teaching and materials and devise their own action plan.
4.6.2 Lack of focus on primary schools
Some teachers felt that the early meetings might have been more helpful if they had been organised in primary and secondary phases. Some primary school teachers felt that they were given insufficient opportunities to communicate effectively with their peers. Related to this was a sense that the project was aimed at secondary pupils.
Even with the action plan it still took me a while to get my head round the project. I felt a lot of what I had been hearing at the recall meetings related to secondary or upper secondary and I was unsure how to bring it down to my children's level.' (Teacher)
4.6.3 Time factors
One of the main challenges had been fitting planning and implementation into an already "hectic" schedule. Participants reported difficulties in the early stages of implementation relating to the amount of time spent out of the classroom at meetings, conferences, recall days and in preparation, documenting progress and writing reports.
4.6.4 Project title
One Head teacher reported that there had been some concern across the school about the title of the project:
'…people didn't want to be involved in a project that was about assessment…it was the wish of the school to move away from ticking boxes and grading.' (Head Teacher)
A title which appeared to move away from a focus on assessment was seen as more appropriate, for instance, 'raising attainment through classroom techniques.' Partly because of misconceptions about the nature of the project, it took staff 'a while to get into this, to get their head round what the project was about.' When staff appreciated that the project was about learning and teaching approaches, which incorporated different kinds of assessment, there was an inclination for them to say 'we do that anyway.'
4.6.5 Pupil adjustment
There were some early difficulties because of the changes to existing expectations brought about by the project. Frequently, assessment prior to the project had been predominantly summative and written. In some cases, pupils experienced difficulties in adjusting, for example, learning to be honest in relation to undertaking traffic light exercises, getting used to Think, Pair and Share exercises, adapting to questioning involving the whole class. These difficulties were soon overcome.
4.6.6 Other challenges
Other difficulties experienced included:
- accessing the money available for the project in the period up to December 2002;
- the pace and speed of development lagging behind that in other schools making comparability and exchange of ideas with other schools more difficult;
- a lack of resources geared for the needs of the youngest pupils;
- the problems older pupils had in getting accustomed to the new approaches to assessment;
- the arrival of a new group of pupils to the school mid project;
- staffing difficulties through absence, promotion or relocation to another post;
- the need to prioritise HM Inspections.
Overall, relatively few difficulties were identified and where they were schools viewed the experience of working through them as developmental and positive.
4.7 Effects on pupils
4.7.1 Active engagement in learning
A major outcome of the implementation of the project was the change in classroom practices which increased the active engagement of pupils, who were encouraged to take ownership of their learning rather than being the passive recipients of the delivery of the curriculum.
Across a range of projects they were:
- involved in paired, group or class discussions;
- using wait time to prepare answers;
- describing their reasoning processes;
- providing clear explanations about what they were doing and why;
- adopting questioning and feedback techniques;
- learning that the learning skills they were developing could be adopted across all curriculum areas;
- engaging in evaluation, critique and comparison of the work of others;
- appreciating that it is possible to learn from mistakes;
- learning to evaluate their own role in particular learning activities;
- engaging in self-evaluation of the quality of their own learning and its outcomes;
- involved in discussion of the new teaching strategies;
- asked to provide evaluative feedback on the activities with which they had been involved.
The change in the extent of active participation of pupils in their learning activities was reported extensively by teachers:
'There's more demonstrable participation by the pupils.' (Teacher)
'Children are now more involved and see the purpose of their involvement' (Teacher)
The extent of discussion between pupils and with the teacher increased:
'I regularly use Think, Pair, Share with my children when I want to have a discussion with them. This has resulted in more children being actively involved in the discussion.' (Teacher)
'More and more children are participating in discussion as a result of the various strategies.' (Teacher)
In addition to the increased involvement of whole classes, the implementation of the project benefited individual pupils who, for a variety of reasons, had previously been on the periphery of classroom activities, for instance, the shy child and those who had previously been disengaged.
'I was really pleased to see L., a very quiet child who is capable but can be very withdrawn from discussions such as these, taking such an active role. To me, this shows how successful this project has been'. (Teacher)
A report of the effects on one disengaged pupil is given in Box 3.
Box 3: Increased participation of a disengaged pupil
For the staff participating in the project, the impact on one particular pupil was very important. This pupil was notorious for his lack of participation in lessons and the difficulties over the years to get him to participate fully. The project's emphasis on lengthening wait times led to this pupil's increasing participation and 'finally' to his 'inclusion' in the learning process. At the same time the teachers involved reported that the quality of the pupil's writing had also improved. This very visible success was replicated at the level of the whole of group (P7). The teachers reported that 'relationships with the children blossomed … trust developed. It became possible to bring forward difficulties without any negative impact.'
Overall, there was a considerable increase in the extent to which children worked together, in pairs or larger groups and in the positive outcomes of that work:
Group work is more effective' (Pupil)
Pupils were involved in evaluating each other's work and saw value in the activity:
'It tells you what other people think of your writing, not just the teacher' (Pupil).
Pupils indicated that discussions:
' help me to think of things.'
However, some pupils reported not enjoying discussion:
'It doesn't help me to think of more things. People talk too much. I'm not able to talk in my group - other people talk too much.' (Pupil)
This pupil preferred working in a pair.
Overall, observations by the evaluation team of the formative assessment strategies in practice gave the impression of pupil enjoyment and absorption in the work. Boxes 4 and 5 give examples of pupils working together in and between classes.
Box 4: Observation report of redrafting work
When I went to the class (P5) they were engaged in the redrafting of an imaginative story for which work had been started previously, when there was class discussion. The teacher said that they had done the same thing a few months back, undertaking a fairly lengthy process of working in groups of three to prepare a first draft of a fairy story and redraft it. These stories were then read by each pair/group to children in primary 3. This had been immensely successful, with the younger class enjoying it tremendously. It had boosted the confidence of the primary 5 class to see how well other children responded to their writing.
On this occasion, children had initially been given a choice of four or five titles. They had been working in social groupings of their own choice, to a maximum of three. After some initial discussion each group told the rest of the class, and the teacher, what they thought they would do. There was discussion and feedback from this process. The groups then proceeded to the first paragraph. They worked on their first paragraph and then planned the second paragraph, undergoing the same discussion and feedback procedure. Although this was a lengthy planning, drafting, redrafting and discussion procedure, the teacher said that the 'work is really very good.' On the following day I took part with the teachers involved in the project in the first viewing of some video footage that had been made of the primary 5 children reading to the primary 3 children. The secondary school English teacher thought that the stories had been commercially produced and was extremely surprised to hear the primary 5 teacher confirm that these were the children's own work.
Throughout the course of the morning I watched children reading their stories and working on them, doing impromptu dramatisations and characterisations of their work with much enthusiasm. Ultimately the work would go into their writing folders as a final draft, and then they would move to the computer suite to produce a group story with individual copies for each of them. The teacher reported that one of the most noteworthy changes that had been brought about by this process had been the increased confidence of one boy, working in a group of three, who had a serious speech impediment. Both his willingness to speak and the quality of his speech had improved.
The children thought that working in a group was much more fun than working individually and they could ' make up better characters', do acting out',' make up stories that were much longer', make people with characters that matched their descriptions' and 'turn into fantasy characters. On their own the children thought that they would produce 'shorter stories', 'with not so many ideas' and that working together they ' got to mix up ideas and make something better out of it.' When asked how they knew whether their work was good they showed an awareness of audience by saying 'if other people like it.' One suggested that the most important criteria for judging work was that it was ' exciting and interesting.' The group showed an awareness of different modes of presentation, saying that there could be 'visual presentation' or that you could 'speak it.'
Box 5: Classroom observation of children's development of questioning techniques
The class consisted of eight Primary 4 pupils (8/9 yr olds) and eleven Primary 3 pupils (7/8 yr olds). Three of the primary 4 boys were receiving extra learning support. The primary 4 section of the class was working on an interview scenario. They had planned to interview their school janitor who also helped with many sporting and leisure activities. The topic had been introduced to the class and when I arrived they were working in pairs on developing questions that they would ask the janitor. They were working with a set of prompts on a typewritten sheet. These had arisen from the class's previous discussion with their teacher.
The pupils indicated that they ' get better ideas if you talk to each other', that they were ' a wee bit more confident' and it was 'less boring'. Working on their own led to boredom, anxiety and a lack of opportunities to talk.
There was particular evidence of improvement in the work of lower achievers:
'T he lowest attaining primary one group are becoming increasingly motivated and more involved in the work of the class…greater levels of concentration - more engaged in tasks.' (Head Teacher)
' The slower learning child is more active and keen to contribute to discussion. The inclusive approach means that all are involved.' (Teacher)
Young people in some case study schools spoke about the advantages for 'lower attaining groups' in terms of increased and more equitable participation in the class. However, some children with specific or general learning difficulties had experienced unhappy and unproductive interactions in pair and group work settings. Children need to be given clear guidelines about the kinds of behaviour which are acceptable when working in groups. There was evidence that some children were learning more appropriate group behaviour. (see Box 6)
Box 6: Classroom observation of practical problem solving
Two trios from Primary 2 were observed working on a practical problem solving exercise. They were required to rank boxes of different sizes and weights into different orders. The teacher explained what was required encouraging the pupils to discuss the problem with each other as they were working. The first activity was to organize the boxes by size. This was carried out and then the teacher asked the pupils to discuss another way of organizing the boxes drawing from them the idea that weight might be appropriate. The concepts of heaviest and lightest were then discussed. The learning was reinforced by a discussion about 'what we weigh,' and 'why we weigh.' The pupils were asked at the end of the exercise to assess how they felt they had done in the task. Some expressed confidence, were pleased with their work, and felt the discussion was beneficial. One felt that she should not have dominated the discussion, another said she was 'mixed up.' All the pupils enjoyed working together on the task and reported that they helped each other, talked, listened to each other and were therefore able to tackle the task better.
Increasing pupils' opportunities for active engagement in learning tasks increased motivation and improved attitudes towards learning. Overall, Head Teachers and teachers commented very positively:
Motivation has increased' (Teacher)
'Children look forward to their Science lessons. They discuss Science with their parents.' (Teacher)
Our primary six class has a higher than average number of boys who started to slip in basic subjects in Primary 5. The boys had developed an 'uncool to learn' attitude. However, it was apparent during their Science lessons, that they were keen to learn and contribute their own ideas.' (Head Teacher)
The curriculum subjects where the project was implemented seemed to have benefited from increased motivation:
'I am going to ask my Mum if I can get a chemistry set for Christmas. I love Science.'…
In another school, the teacher described the pupils as 'loving the processes involved in the project' and described the strategies as '… motivating the youngsters……with output a third faster……and a third better' and the pupils '… picking up things quicker'.
He emphasised that the project had helped pupils to:
- know why they were doing things;
- become more reflective about their own writing;
- be more focused on quality rather than quantity;
- have a purposeful conversation with teachers.
A strategy shared between teachers working in two different schools had an immediate impact on motivation:
'Myself, and a colleague from another school, decided to try shared marking. I would mark essays from half of his class and he would mark half of my class. This proved very successful because they knew that they were working for an alternative audience and they wanted to put in more effort as someone else was reading their work.' (Teacher)
There seemed to be a particular improvement in the motivation to undertake written tasks:
'Our children are more able to apply their skills and knowledge in Science. Their language and writing is clearer and more descriptive and they are less reluctant to write their explanation. They have devised various ways, e.g. sketches, labelled drawings, of showing their understanding and children comment very positively on this aspect'. (Teacher)
The project overall had a positive impact on pupil confidence:
"there have been definite changes in confidence … before the project, group work was quite a struggle in terms of getting them to interact with each other, the usual squabble of who would be reporting back, who would take the notes, who would ask the questions - children dominating the discussion. That has changed quite a lot. I now have children that are quite confident to come out to the front of the class and report back findings and they didn't have that confidence. I had children who gave an individual talk on a subject and were able to take questions from their peers and handle this, as I would, as the teacher - "right I'll take your questions now". (Primary 7 teacher)
Increasing wait time allowed success and the growth of confidence in children who needed longer to think and more encouragement to respond:
'I really think for myself and have my own opinion' (Pupil)
'Raised confidence, especially with the low attainers. You can see their hands go up as quickly now as the high attainers. It also made me look at my differentiation within the groups because you can't ask a difficult question to these children and expect their hands to go up. …it made me think even within an interactive maths lesson, making sure that I am aiming it at all levels. You try to do these things but I don't think you're specifically looking at it as much as you are when you are part of this project.' (Teacher)
Box 7 gives an example of the increased confidence of a Primary 3 pupil.
Box 7: Example of increased pupil confidence
Paula (a Primary 3 pupil) was a member of a reading group of three. Her teacher reported:
'I have a little girl. I use wait time. The thing is when you start using one thing the other techniques creep in almost without you realising it. We do wait time as a matter of form now. This particular pupil was a very shy and quiet pupil and would never answer at the beginning of term. Well, I had her down as one of the less able pupils but through wait time I've discovered it's really that she just needs this wait time to get her thoughts in order. Previously I thought I didn't want to embarrass her, I will move on. I won't make her answer. I'll move on to someone else. I'd been doing this for a week or two and then I started doing wait time and you wait and you wait and Paula eventually answers with a good well thought out answer. She's not less able, she just needs more time to get her thoughts in order before articulating them and it's been really good for her. It's really boosted her confidence.'
* The child's name has been changed to ensure confidentiality
The increased use of group work was responsible for considerable advances in both confidence and level of work. A Primary 2 teacher gave several examples of pupils who prior to the project had difficulties in working with others. One pupil of average ability who previously had wanted to work independently had learnt to share with others and to work collaboratively. Another child was withdrawn and would not mix:
'He knew he was struggling and had difficulties but he is very confident now. Before he would rather have died than speak up in class but now he does. The improvement in his oral work is spilling over into his written work.' (Teacher)
His parents had noticed the change. He had stopped looking scared all the time and had become much more assertive and talkative in family situations. They were pleased with his progress. Other parents reported that they had perceived dramatic improvements in their children's confidence and felt it was because they were no longer worried about right and wrong answers. Other parents reported that their children had begun to understand the benefits of working with others.
Pupils with learning difficulties benefited from increased interaction with peers in group settings within an ethos of support. One primary teacher commented on the improved ethos of the class, in addition to changes in levels of confidence and attainment:
'It affects the smarter child as well, it taught the children as well to respect the views of others. To realise that everyone has a contribution to make and that their's isn't always going to be the main and the most important one. That everybody isn't going to adopt their ideas. I find them commenting favourably on other children.'
However, some more able pupils reported tedium resulting from a slower pace of learning and increased time for questioning and response. Teachers need to find ways of stimulating the more able within mixed ability groups.
4.7.4 Effects on behaviour
Generally, there were fewer comments regarding improvement in pupil behaviour. This may have been, in part, because the pupils participating in the project were on the whole already well behaved:
'I feel our pupils are already skilled learners who are motivated, well-behaved and whose work is of a high standard. Formative Assessment is a welcome tool to help us maintain or improve further this standard.' (Teacher)
Improvements in behaviour that were observed were related to engagement with work:
'(they are) more task engrossed, with motivation comes success.'
Several teachers commented that the pupils had improved as they became clearer about what was required of them.
4.7.5 Learning to learn
An extremely important aspect of the impact of the project was the effect on children's metacognitive skills. Participating pupils learned about their own learning. They became more aware of their learning needs and what they had to do in order to make progress. This was noted by teachers:
The children are able to identify where and when they need help with their work.' (Teacher)
'Their learning has improved.' (Teacher)
and the pupils themselves:
'You learn from your mistakes.' (Pupil)
'It tells you your next step in writing.' (Pupil).
'It shows you what you have to do next time.' (Pupil).
Examples of pupil comments relating to using a feedback form to improve their writing skills are given in Box 8.
Box 8: Children's comments about using a feedback form to assess the quality of their writing
When you next come to look at it you know what you need to improve.' (P4/5)
'It makes us more confident, will make us get better.' (P4/5)
'It's good to take home and let your parents see how you're doing.' (P4/5)
'I would be happy to show my parents - I'm proud of my work.' (P4/5)
'It's a good idea that classmates get to help you out.' (P4/5)
'The clipart helps you understand the target.' (P4/5)
'I think its good because it tells us what other people think of our writing.' (P6)
'I think it's a good idea because it makes us think about our writing.' (P6)
In one of the case studies, Primary 7 children spoke eloquently about open, closed and higher order questions and their relationship to learning. They articulated the difference between 'knowing' a fact and evidencing your understanding. In another project the children were able to discuss lesson aims, targets and reflect on their attainment and the attainment of their peers. In one case study, the teacher emphasised that the process of sharing targets had been very beneficial to the pupils and had given ' a focus to their peer work'. The processes involved in the project had made pupils aware of their learning needs, what was good and bad about their work and an awareness of what they needed to do to progress to the next level of achievement.
This increased knowledge about learning was accompanied by an increase in pupils taking responsibility for their own learning:
'Children are now taking responsibility for their own learning as a result of the programme.' (Teacher)
Children also developed an understanding of the actual procedures adopted:
'After eight months of doing it the children are trained and it is much easier. For instance, if I say go and buddy check they know what to do.' (Teacher)
4.7.6 Pupil feedback on the project
Pupils were sometimes involved in the development of the project, although this was relatively rare but many were involved in its evaluation. Overall, students were positive about the impact of the project. Some examples of feedback in relation to specific strategies are given below. The lesson observation described in Box 9 and the pupils comments about the lesson indicate that how strategies are implemented has a huge impact on how well they are received. Pupils prefer to choose who they work with, and as they become older become increasingly embarrassed about public exposure over which they have little control, have an increasing awareness of issues of equity and are more self-directed.
Traffic Lighting: Most pupils found traffic lighting helpful. It was preferable to raising their hand and asking for help. The youngest pupils were able to understand it:
'It's because when you get something wrong you have got to remember that for next time because that's going to be your target then and you know what your target will be and then you know that it's all red now and you need to do your target next time and then you might get a new target next time.' (P2 pupil)
Questioning: Pupils appreciated that questioning the whole class would motivate more children to concentrate :
'If teachers ask the same person all the time… some people think they can just sit back and not do any work …' (Pupil)
Some children believed it didn't matter if they were right ' as long as I tried.'
Although some, in high ability groups felt pressure:
'It's all right if you don't know it that well when you're in the lower groups but if you don't know it when you're in the higher groups there's a kind of pressure.' (Pupil)
Box 9: Observation of Primary 7 class engaged in improving writing skills
The aim of the project was to improve feedback particularly written, on pupils' writing. There were several strands to this: providing clearer learning intentions (through the use of exemplars and criteria); paired work with 'writing partners'; detailed written comments alternating with marks against criteria; opportunities to redraft work in response to comments; pupils developing their own feedback in response to the criteria grading by the teacher and the writing partner.
The scheme had evolved during the year, For example the criteria against which a 1-5 rating was given were thought to be too general to be helpful, so more specific details were incorporated. The teacher was also concerned that the 'writing partner' scheme was not as effective as she hoped, partly because she had done the pairing. The lesson observed demonstrated some of these approaches. The purpose of the lesson was to prepare for writing work in a discussion genre. The preparatory work was intended to model what was required for this task. It involved providing exemplar material of a written argument. The class was then put in writing pairs to discuss the 'for' and 'against'. No writing was done during the lesson.
Interviews with a group of high attaining pupils indicated that they had negative feelings about the 'writing partners' they had been given and would have liked to choose their own partners. They did not enjoy oral feedback, as it was too public but they were very positive about detailed feedback on work (especially "tips"). In relation to the discussion and class room activities, they felt that they had already learned what they needed to know and would have preferred to get on with the writing in the lesson. The lower attainers in the class held similar views to the 'high flyers' about writing partners and classroom oral feedback. They were generally positive about the Pupil Action Plan (in which they had to decide what to improve in response to the criteria grading) but were less satisfied with receiving detailed comments on only 25% of their work because of concerns that 'the teacher might miss a good piece'.
Wait time: The feedback from pupils in the field visits regarding wait time was generally positive:
'If you are rushed to give the answer you might get the answer wrong. But if you have got time to think about it then you have got time to plan your answer.' (Pupil)
'It gives you longer to look over your answers.' (Pupil)
'It gives you time to get the numbers organised and find the right ones.' (Pupil)
'People in lower groups answer questions a lot more, just as much as the people in the higher group.' (Pupil)
'Y ou won't get better if you don't get a chance to answer the questions.' (Pupil)
The difficulty with wait time was that those pupils able to respond quickly sometimes became bored. The more able pupils sometimes demonstrated frustration at the slower speed of lessons, having to wait for everyone else and not being able to progress at such a fast rate.
'Sometimes the teacher longs the question out a wee bit.' (Pupil)
The transition from raising hands to respond to a question to individual pupils being targeted by the teacher with no hands being raised was difficult for many pupils:
'It's an awkward thing to start when it's been like that since day one.' (Pupil)
Discussion: Pupils were generally positive about the benefits of discussion:
'We get to discuss our answers and we get to make our answer better.' (Pupil)
It helps you' (Pupil)
Group work: Some pupils commented that in discussion there could be freeloaders who did not contribute their fair share. Many indicated that they preferred paired work:
'We all used to argue a lot because we all used to have different answers and everyone would want their answer to be right.' (Pupil)
The idea of unequal partnerships was reported as a "downside" to both group and pair work. It meant that sometimes you were virtually working on your own.
Paired work: Generally pupils were positive about working in pairs:
'If two people think and share their answer they get a better answer.' (Pupil)
'It gives you a chance to talk about your answer so if you don't know it and you've got a partner they can explain it to you' (Pupil)
Teacher feedback: Written and verbal feedback were generally perceived as useful. However, pupils tended to like getting a grade and comments, although the comments alone were seen as helpful:
'See when you did something wrong it would tell you what it was and tell you how to change it.' (Pupil)
'It helps you to improve the next time.' (Pupil)
Pupils reported that in the past
'Y eah, because they would just give you a mark like 23 out of 26. The check ups you would just get a mark then also and they wouldn't tell you what you were doing right and doing wrong, and they would say try it again but you didn't know what you were doing wrong, so you would just keep doing the wrong thing over and over again.' (Pupil)
Receiving grades and comments gave pupils increased confidence, although children with high grades tended to be more satisfied with grades only. Pupils saw the value of feedback which told them when they were doing well and why, as well as feedback that told them how to improve the poorer aspects of their work.
Verbal as well as written feedback was particularly valued. Pupils felt that when they received individual oral feedback, written comments and a grade these linked very well together to improve learning.
Peer assessment: This was viewed positively by pupils and even the youngest children were able to engage in peer assessment providing it was structured appropriately:
'They are helping you because they are looking at your work and they are checking it.' (P2 pupil)
Pupils particularly valued praise received from their peers:
'If someone says you do something really well… then you are proud of that.' (Pupil)
'If you write down what you think you have done well and if other people recognize it .. it makes you feel good.' (Pupil)
'Quite good when other people say…they don't say you are rubbish and that…' (Pupil)
4.7.7 Perceptions of formal assessment
Pupils had varying views of assessment but generally the connotations were of summative assessment, for instance, ' grades' and ' hard work.' Both tended to be viewed as negative and threatening.
Some saw assessment as:
'to prepare you for when you go to the High School.' (Pupil)
'To get you ready for when it's more challenging.' (Pupil)
Some had developed a deeper understanding of the nature of formative assessment:
'Nearly everything is to do with assessment - we keep learning new things and the teacher has to make sure that we understand.' (Pupil)
'To help you learn.' (Pupil)
Not all pupils had understood the relationships between teaching, learning and assessment as exemplified in the project. The process of their work being reviewed and feedback being given was not perceived by them as 'assessment':
' Not really, I think this was an enjoyable project.' (Pupil)
There were mixed responses to questions about the 5-14 National Tests. Some did not consider them as a form of assessment because ' they are quite interesting' but others saw them as anxiety provoking:
' If you got it wrong in a National Test it would be the end - to me it would be the end of your life.' (Pupil)
As the project extends pupils might benefit from an increasing emphasis on the differences between formative and summative assessment.
4.7.8 Effects on attainment
While it is too early to draw conclusions about the overall effects on attainment, some teachers were very positive about the impact, although some Head Teachers and Local Authority Co-ordinators were more cautious in their judgements:
'Hard to say with any degree of certainty, owing to the short life of the project. Looks like very successful.'(Head Teacher)
Pupils felt that there had been an improvement in their work:
'I used to write only one page and I write three or four now.' (Pupil)
'We are cleverer now.' (Pupil)
There was some evidence of improved examination results:
'Attainment has been raised … the children sat the national test three weeks ago and we got 100% and before this the likes of little XXXX, we just would not have contemplated him passing it.' (Teacher)
4.8 Effects on teachers
4.8.1 Teachers' understanding of the nature of formative assessment
The project was successful in developing teachers' conceptual understanding of 'formative assessment'. Prior to the project most teachers were unfamiliar with the concept:
'When I was first invited to join the project, I had to ask my Head Teacher what formative assessment is. I learnt about it at Teacher Training College but it was not a term that I used on a daily basis. I thought it could only be a good thing to learn about something I was not confident with.' (Teacher)
Generally, conceptualisations of assessment were restricted to summative assessment:
'The project was an eye opener in that before, assessment was only at the start and the finish.' (Teacher)
The project changed perceptions about the nature of assessment and its purpose:
The first thing we realised from our involvement in Project 1 was that we were missing the most important ingredient - the ongoing day to day assessment with the children that truly involved them in their learning. It was quite a discovery - how could we have missed this? But at the same time it brought us a challenge and a great buzz!' (Teacher)
'We now know what assessment is …… it is a constant issue.' (Head Teacher)
Realising that assessment went hand in hand with learning was a powerful learning experience for many teachers:
One of the most positive outcomes is that we are now more aware of what assessment is and how it can be beneficial to learning rather than simply as a record.'
Teachers observed that children were becoming more involved in their own learning, recognised the importance of this and reflected on the possible negative effects of constantly using summative assessment:
'Teachers have a raised awareness of the huge impact of formative assessment on pupil confidence and motivation and the sometimes negative effects of an emphasis on marks and statistics.' (Head Teacher)
Overall, schools reported that the project had had a major impact on teachers and led to:
- an understanding that formative assessment takes time and needs working at;
- improved feedback to pupils;
- a deeper understanding of assessment;
- teachers taking formative assessment techniques and philosophies beyond the remit of the project to other areas of work;
- teachers being more conscious of the nature of pupils' learning and more conscious of their learning needs.
4.8.2 Pedagogy - from teacher to pupil centred
The impact of the project on pedagogy was marked. There was a shift from a teacher centred pedagogy to one which placed pupils and their learning needs at the heart of teaching:
'The work of the project has led to putting the child more at the centre of both learning and teaching. The use of sharing criteria with pupils is now more widespread in the school and is receiving additional focus. In all, the project has been most useful in reflecting on classroom practice in general and therefore in the longer term to raising attainment.' (Head Teacher)
Teachers themselves commented on the change:
' I want to develop a classroom where every day I am learning something about their learning,' (Teacher)
One teacher reported:
'It has completely changed how I am thinking about teaching.' (Teacher)
A number of teachers commented that the project had moved them from a focus on summative assessment and outcomes to process.
'Even in terms of where I was in education 10 years ago, you can see that there is a shift and it's almost as if now the focus is on the process rather than the product. There's this care and commitment to looking at ways and analysing ways we can make things better.' (Teacher)
4.8.3 Formative assessment strategies adopted
Examples of the way that different strategies were adopted for classes of different ages and for different subject areas are given in Boxes 10, 11, 12 and 13.
In some cases the strategies adopted were very simple to implement.
'I have used traffic lighting both in written and oral format. In a pre-post assessment, I asked the children to highlight a number of questions red, amber or green. I was then able to spend the final week of the topic going over issues that were highlighted red or amber and disregard the green areas. It actually enabled me to focus my lesson more to the needs of the class and as a result all benefited.' (Teacher)
Wait time allowed all the children to think about the responses they were making encouraging more children to participate.
There are aspects of my teaching practice that have changed as a result of being involved in this project. I use wait time as a matter of course. This has had a positive effect in that more of the children are responding to my questions the longer I wait.' (Teacher)
However, the wait time approach to questions created difficulties for some teachers.
'Wait time was an area that neither of us were very good at and we both found this fundamentally difficult. As teachers, we are not very good at having silences in the classroom. We are used to taking the first hand up and moving on from there before everyone had realised what was going on. I now do it like an auction. I see one hand up - oh good there is two, three and so on. This allows the children to actually put up their hand as they have started to realise that I am going to stand and wait until more hands are up.' (Teacher)
Box 10: Observation of Primary 1 maths class (1)
The aim of the project was to improve the quality of questioning through increasing 'wait time' and through collaborative work. In the lesson observed these were implemented in a lesson on addition. The higher level questioning was expressed through paired work 'to find out the question to which the answer is 15.' The pairs then came up with their questions, in which they showed a willingness to experiment (15-0, 15x1, 5+5+5). 'Traffic Lighting' was also used to signal whether they had understood or not. The work was done with number blocks and transferred onto white boards. The paired work was generally effective and a follow up session carried out by the researcher indicated that the pupils had clearly got used to this collaborative form of working.
Box 11: Observation of Primary 1 maths class (2)
The class of 24 was divided into three ability groups. Firstly the teacher asked children to look at the programme of work to find out what they were going to do. One group was to do take away work, a second group to do addition work and the third group would do measuring work in relation to daytime and night time. Initially, the whole class worked on number recognition. The first activity involved individual children identifying numbers on large cards and then hanging these in the correct place on a number washing line, strung across the front corner of the classroom. This lasted for some 20 minutes and the children thoroughly enjoyed it and were very keen to join in. Specific children were asked questions about the number line in terms of the order of the numbers and simple addition. It was clear that the notion of wait time was being used. The second activity centred round the notion of daily time - night and day and also of time telling using a conventional clock. For this activity one of the groups sat on the floor round a small white board where illustrations were used to demonstrate the notion of night and day. Questioning to children was targeted at individuals and again wait time was implemented. While one group was doing this, the other two groups were working in their maths work groups on addition and subtraction respectively. Subsequently the group working on day and night returned to their tables to colour in pictures of day and night with appropriately coloured crayons. The lesson concluded with a review of time telling for the whole class, again with wait time implemented. About 80% of the class had their hands up to answer routinely, but on several occasions the teacher asked someone who did not have their hand up. There was a final number line activity with pupils placing number cards appropriately on a vertical number line. On several occasions throughout this session, the teacher used a tiger glove puppet called Timmy to emphasise to the children what they were expected to learn and again to review what they had learned. The children clearly enjoyed their classroom experiences, particularly when Timmy the tiger helped their teacher to explain and review their activities.
Teachers reported greater awareness of pupil gaps in knowledge and an increased awareness of the needs of individual pupils. This facilitated their adopting appropriate strategies to support learning.
'I am better able to pinpoint areas of pupil weakness in certain subjects more clearly and therefore act to support the pupil more effectively.' (Teacher)
Teachers became more aware of when there were difficulties, for instance, the project:
'made you more focussed and made you see tiny building blocks clearer… and more conscious if progress is not being made.' (Teacher)
Teaching changed as teachers were more focused on pupil learning:
'I have found the feedback forms have really helped me focus on the learning objectives of my writing lessons. This has paid dividends in the delivery and assessment of my whole class teaching.' (Teacher)
There was increased and better quality interaction with pupils:
'The forms have helped to really focus my thinking and engage in an extremely productive dialogue with the children.' (Teacher)
In many cases, there was a relaxation of adherence to summative assessment regimes and a slowing of the pace of work. At first, teachers worried about this, but these concerns diminished as perceived improvements in children's oral and written work became evident:
'You can see that by slowing down the pace, the learning is more real. There is more real learning. It is a deep approach to learning rather than a surface approach. You can gloss over things and if you are rushing to get through text book pages and record things in that way, the emphasis is more on churning out as much as we can get on paper.' (Teacher )
'With the high attainers I think the work has slightly slowed down because we take more time - the assessment becomes much more embedded in the lessons. You are constantly assessing the children and instead of rushing through thousands of work and having piles of marking at the end, which means nothing and half of it is wrong, it's more geared towards making sure that what you do is right. Doing it immediately as soon as they have done the activity. To be able to get there and be hovering around them constantly. …they go back and start on that. I think this has made a drastic improvement. There is increased confidence. …now you can see they actually know it. To go back to the slowing down I mentioned … it also concentrates me more on a group, making sure they have the process you are actually teaching.' (Teacher)
Overall, the effects on pedagogy were positive. There was consensus that the quality of teaching had improved as a result of the implementation of the project:
'The effects on teachers are very positive. They are far better teachers as a result of the project- more skilled and reflective.' (Head Teacher)
Box 12: Observation of Primary 2 English class
The class had 18 pupils. A story about pterodactyls was told to the class who were gathered round what was called a Target Board. The teacher adopted questioning techniques, no hands up and wait time. Pupils were reminded of the function of wait time and encouraged to think. The aim was for pupils to write their own stories. Each child was given their first sentence and encouraged to add more. The teacher then adopted the traffic light strategy to enable pupils to select their target for the day. Pupils were given booklets to write in and were divided into groups with each group being allocated to a classroom assistant or teacher. A buddy checking system was also utilized and pupils were encouraged to take their books home for parents to write a comment. The environment of the classroom was very supportive and purposeful. Pupils were excited and engaged by the tasks. They were all called on to contribute and showed a high level of understanding of the strategies and how they related to their learning. Pupils understood the buddy system and there was productive discussion about each other's work.
4.8.4 Teachers' attitudes and motivation
There was strong agreement that the project had engendered great enthusiasm in teachers:
'The project has been adopted by this primary school with great enthusiasm and fervour due to the leadership and commitment of both the headteacher and the two staff members who are central to the project within the school.' (Local Authority Co-ordinator)
Teachers participating in the project and their Head Teachers spoke of renewed enthusiasm, confidence and enjoyment:
' It's been one of the best things I have ever done! This isn't a sixth month wonder because it is just good old fashioned teaching and learning. You just need the initial theory of it and I don't think you even need that at the beginning. You can just show people at the chalk face the good ideas , and the good teachers will just do it.' (Head Teacher)
Box 13: The adoption of a range of strategies in one Primary 7 maths lesson
The maths lesson had been designed to demonstrate a number of principles put into practice as part of the project. It consisted of five separate parts.
Activity 1 - Number Fans
This was introduced by the teacher as a warm-up activity for the morning's maths. The children were reminded to wait for the signal for them to be able to answer. This was the teacher giving the thumbs up sign. Each child had a plastic fan with 10 leaves with numbers from 1-10 printed on each. They were to use these to construct the answer to each of a series of oral questions asked by the teacher. The questions covered the arithmetical processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Children had to select the right answers from the number fan and hold them up when the teacher indicated the waiting period was over. There were some problems for the teacher in maintaining the waiting period rule. Some children observed the answers of others children and then held up their own copied answer. For the simpler questions the waiting period was too long for the more able children but as the questions became more complex it was needed by all pupils. To conclude the teacher asked the children to reflect on the type of question that he had been asking, and assess whether they were lower or higher order. They estimated that 80% were lower order and reported that this type of question meant that ' you don't think as much', ' the teacher expects you to know immediately, and 'they don't challenge you that much'.
Activity 2 - Interactive Signals
Session 2 involved 'Interactive Signals' where the teacher and several children used various signals to denote numbers, for example, hands on head equalled 1000; clapping your hands equalled 100; slapping your thighs equalled single numbers. The children had to put up their hands to answer, only when the teacher gave the thumbs up signal. This was a very quick session lasting about two or three minutes.
Activity 3 - Number Bingo
Each child had a bingo card and the teacher told them that they would be playing for a single line across the card and that they would have a 20 second thinking time for each question. There were 40 questions which made varied use of arithmetical processes and mathematical language. The activity was designed so that it could not be won until all 40 questions had been read out by the teacher. The activity lasted for 15 minutes with one winner and, as it progressed, it seemed an increasing number of children became bored perhaps with the speed of the activity, which was quite slow for some of them, and the long wait for success.
Activity 4 - Problem-solving
A set of six arithmetical problem solving questions was delivered orally by the teacher. He introduced these as higher order questions and said that the children would have time to think and they should be ready to give their answer only when he gave the thumbs up signal. The first question required the children to give different ways of arriving at a total of 67p for two purchases. Many hands were raised in response and the teacher took 14 answers and responded to each of these. The teacher used this opportunity to expand on the notion of higher order questions demonstrating the innumerable kinds of answers that could be correct. For several of the questions here almost all of the class raised their hands and they were very keen. However the teacher cut this activity off because there were only five minutes left to move on to the final problem solving activity.
Activity 5 - Think, pair and share for problem-solving
The children used the 'think, pair and share method', first of all reading the problem, then joining in pairs and discussing possible answers.
Teacher commentary: 'The number fan - a warm-up activity to get everybody thinking. For them to show that they have an understanding and grasp of the types of questions that can be asked and that they would realise that those questions were simply recall of facts - nothing too challenging for them…… the longer wait time to give everyone a chance. Also for me as a teacher to realise who's answering, to let me step back from the lesson. I can look and see who's answering and get a measure of (their) confidence. Interactive signals had been used 'to slow down the pace of the lesson so that it was more to focus attention and concentration on signals and how we can answer in ways that are alternative to make the learning more interesting, fun, interactive and to move away from a paper-based emphasis …a fun, enjoyable way but children are still getting the benefit from it.' Number bingo was used to ' show a whole range of questions being used within different processes.' This was seen as allowing the development of mathematical language, again ' being delivered in a way that is not always necessarily having to write it down.'
Staff were reported as:
Enthusiastic and balanced…and more reflective as a result of their involvement in the project.' (Head Teacher)
'Staff have become more receptive to change and the evaluation of their practice through self reflection and peer evaluation.' (Head Teacher)
This was supported by the teachers themselves who reported that they:
'had become more reflective and effective and self-conscious in the habit of sharing what they as a group were trying to achieve.' (Teacher)
Teachers were reported as growing in confidence and having:
learnt a lot from things that did not quite work perfectly the first time.' (Head Teacher)
Head Teachers mentioned the raising of staff self esteem:
' Involvement in 'best practice' scenarios has contributed substantially to the motivation levels of staff…self esteem has been raised.' (Head Teacher)
Several Head Teachers mentioned that involvement in the project had stimulated a cycle of improved teaching, achieving and amenable children, which in turn underpinned teachers' growing enjoyment of their work.
Some teachers commented that the project had made them realize that they had been underestimating their pupils.
4.8.5 Personal and professional development
There was extensive evidence of the impact of the project on teachers' personal and professional development (see Box 14). Teachers became more reflective as a result of the project:
'I feel that to date the expectations that we had of the project are being met. It is, however, early days and evidence over such a short period is hard to evaluate. I would like to point out that the manner in which staff have reflected and keep reflecting on their own practice, will be of significant benefit in reflecting on classroom practice. Teachers with many years experience tend to become set in their ways and the project has certainly led us to self-evaluate and try other methods.(Head Teacher)
Box 14: Case study of personal and professional development
A Primary 1 teacher commented extensively on what he felt was significant personal and professional development. His memories of teacher education were fairly recent. He made the point that as a trainee teacher, ' you are very much self absorbed by your own learning' and that as a beginning teacher, 'it is perhaps too easy be devoted to the achievement of school targets':
'I think when you come out of college you're working towards the school objectives more than you are your own. You know the attainment has to be at this stage, when you come into school you have to get from A - B, whereas when you're at university studying to do it you're just at A and you are experiencing your way through it. There is more of a process and a final end when you come into school. That does make the lesson much more focused and driven.'
He spoke at some length about what he saw as perhaps an inappropriate balance in teacher education in favour of theory:
'I don't think they spent a long enough time explaining the strategies. You are fresh when you come out but I certainly learned a lot about longer wait time and things when I went to the course which I hadn't really thought of beforehand. The college didn't say use this strategy or that strategy. We did essays on assessment, etc. but the implementation stage was very different. In college everything is in certain subject areas but when you come to teacher training, I don't think that assessment was given the same weighting as now, looking at it has made me realise just how much it is part of the lesson.'
He continued, stressing the value of reviewing his approaches to questioning:
'I think my teaching and learning has improved throughout the assessment process because knowing how the children answer makes me then work on the next lesson and makes it better.'
There were considerable benefits to teachers' personal and professional development. As one teacher indicated:
'I have enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in this project. This was an area of my teaching which was not a strong point and I feel that it has benefited from this professional development. I have appreciated the chance to communicate with staff from other regions who were also involved in the project. I have come away from recall meetings inspired and fired up by the speakers.' (Teacher)
'It was like climbing a mountain, hard working out what it was you had to do but once you get there you feel as though you have really achieved something very satisfying.' (Teacher)
For others the project had provided an opportunity to refresh their teaching:
'I am finding that many of these ideas have been in place for many years but this project has given me the opportunity to think about how I can vary my approach and therefore reinforce the children's learning.' (Teacher)
A Head Teacher supported this view observing that a lot of what was seen as good practice a long time ago had been revived and brought up to date. This was viewed very positively.
Overall, participating teachers believed that their capacity for self-evaluation, reflection and continuous improvement had been enhanced:
It's like doing research work yourself … communicating and sharing with people … being more informed.' (Teacher)
In addition, there was a recognition that the changes they had made to their practice would need to be ongoing to have a long term impact on the children:
'I feel that I need to continue to work on questioning with my class. That is like the dripping tap with the result that they will gradually become more aware about the different types of questions.' (Teacher)
Overall, teachers felt that the practical focus on learning and better teaching had been of great value. Their own learning had been experiential and meaningful:
'The project has been so good for me, a lot of the in-service you do in school looks at specific things, you go on a writing course and learn about poetry, expressive arts course about art, IT you learn about Powerpoint. This is actually more towards teaching and this is a course that has looked at my implementation of teaching - teaching and learning in the classroom. This is a broad overall thing which builds up your confidence. In a development project you have to have a strong action element. A lot of our learning is on a course and you have got to then go and put it into practice but this one was practice-based. If you were going to be in the project you had to be doing the practice.' (Teacher)
Some teachers indicated that issues relating to formative assessment should be raised in courses of initial teacher education and suggested that there was a need for greater input about the practical implications of pedagogical theory in such courses.
4.9 Perceived outcomes in relation to the whole school learning climate
In some primary schools the project was reported as impacting on the whole school. This seemed to be because the nature of the dialogue between the staff had altered. It was now more focussed on professional concerns around the nature of teaching and learning and the integral relationship between teaching, learning and assessment. In one case study school, the project was reported as 'penetrating the whole life of the school'.
Some primary schools identified potential rather than actual benefit for the whole school and the learning climate:
'It is proposed to hold staff discussions following the end of the project. Sharing the strategies and thinking behind 'Assessment is for Learning' will, I am sure, benefit all staff and pupils.' (Head Teacher)
In others, the process of dissemination had begun informally:
'…staff discussion, awareness of waiting time, further staff discussion took place on open questions.' (Head Teacher)
'It is interesting how the project is beginning to infiltrate into other areas of the curriculum. We call it assessment but it is teaching and learning!' (Head Teacher)
In one very small school, the Head Teacher highlighted the relationship between whole school planning, school size and school ethos. He indicated that in small schools whole school ethos is crucial and that all developments must be embedded within that ethos. Developments require a whole school rationale. The project had focused on an issue relevant to all pupils in all year groups across the whole curriculum and involved the whole school staff, including auxiliaries. Communication with pupils was substantial and parents were not only informed about the project but taken into account in the development of the actual intervention. There was a 'whole community' approach. In these circumstances, inevitably, there was a whole school impact.
In a larger primary school, whole school impact was described in terms of the school community's enhanced conceptual understanding of assessment. In this school, other initiatives undertaken in the same year were woven together and linked into the assessment project. The Head Teacher described how non-participating staff had been influenced by the informal and formal dissemination of the project and by the literature on formative assessment. However, the Head Teacher acknowledged that further impact of the project on school philosophies and practices would be mediated by any subsequent national and local authority policies and initiatives.
Overall, at primary level, the impact of the project had extended beyond the confines of the classrooms of participating teachers. Much of this had occurred because of the enthusiasm of participating staff and informal discourse between teachers. Conceptual understanding of assessment had changed and there was an increased appreciation that assessment and learning are linked. In some cases, the project had affected the whole life of the school.
4.10 Parental involvement and response to the project
The extent to which parents were considered in the development of the project varied. In most cases parents were informed about the project as it was implemented. Some schools planned to inform parents after the process of implementation as part of the dissemination process. Parents were usually informed by letter, in the school newsletter or at parents' evenings. In some cases workshops were held to explain the nature of the project. Overall, the level of active parental involvement was minimal.
Where schools did involve parents the response was positive once parents understood what was required:
' We learned the hard way that when we sent things home at first we put - please comment on your child's work. And that's when we got - love and kisses, mummy. And they were commenting on the handwriting. So the next step was we put down - these are the things we want you to comment on, and you can still have - love and kisses, mummy. And now the parents just do it automatically and today the stuff is going home with no little note from me and the parents just know. And we'd an open day two weeks ago and people watched the video and they saw bits and pieces and they were saying - oh the writing has just been......... and doing this and that, and the children have been telling them about not putting their hands up. So the parents have heard from the child, but no, we haven't had a formal session with parents.' (Head Teacher)
Where parents' views were sought about the project, their responses were typically positive. Some expressed general approval of the aims of the project. Where Science had been one focus of involvement, the Head Teacher reported positive parental comment on children's increased interest in Science and in the level of children's discussion at home. Comments relating to questioning were also positive:
This is a good and fun way of getting the children to think about what they are learning.' (Parent)
'Stephen enjoyed the skinny and fat questions and often told us at home what kind of questions we were asking. The stickers given to the children made the parents ask about skinny and fat questions too.' (Parent)
One parent spoke of the importance of receiving written feedback on work:
'I feel that this has had the most impact on my son's learning. I remember the fear of getting a low mark from my school days. This continuous assessment involves more communication between teacher and pupils. I welcome this system.' (Parent)
Parents also evidenced increased understanding of aspects of their children's learning activities:
I can see what my child is trying to do.' (Parent)
'I can understand what the teacher is teaching and what my child is trying to learn.' (Parent)
I can see what is needed to achieve each level - what my child can do and what she needs to work on next.' (Parent)
One mother had ' heard a lot about group work - and how enthusiastic they are' and had noted the increase in motivation and enthusiasm - 'they seem far more involved. This is a good starting point for when they go further up the school.' (Parent)
Some parents spoke of increased communication skills in their children:
'She likes to teach other people what she has been taught. I think this is quite good because I know from this that she knows more about how she has learned something.' (Parent)
'I have noticed, when he is speaking, he talks about the subject longer and in more depth.' (Parent)
Some parents noted positive effects of the project on their children's confidence:
'I can see a huge improvement in his confidence and his communication skills. He discusses subjects far more and asks questions rather than waiting to be asked.' (Parent)
'I immediately thought this would be good for my child.' Marie had always been afraid to try to answer - afraid to stick her neck out - she went in a panic - now she's much more confident. She's moved from being far too reserved to volunteer for things. She likes school, she's quite happy…previously she was a bit afraid and apprehensive.' (Parent)
Another parent whose daughter had experienced difficulties in understanding the meaning of what she was reading reported that through the discussion of stories and of her own written work she had become 'much more informative about her work and also generally more communicative.' She was 'asking a lot of questions at home…taking in a lot more. Her school report said that her work was becoming much more colourful and interesting.'
In this pilot phase, while parents were sometimes informed about the nature of the project, their involvement was, in most cases, at a relatively superficial level.
4.11 Factors contributing to success
At primary level, the factors emerging as important in contributing to success included:
- having time out of class to plan, prepare, reflect and evaluate;
- the commitment of the Head Teacher;
- the commitment and enthusiasm of the staff;
- staff working together as a team;
- regular meetings;
- good organization of resources to support the use of the strategies;
- focus and commitment to the project from the outset.
The opportunity for team working was keenly endorsed by all interviewees as an important factor in the success of the project and a benefit in itself:
'It helps that there are four of us involved. Because there are four of us, we are talking about it, organising things to try and develop it within the school. Proportionately the four of us are very big in the school.' (Teacher)
It was suggested by many teachers and head teachers that the aims of the project should be included in the school development plan. In some cases this had not been possible because of the timing of the implementation of the project but it was felt to be important.
One of the major factors in the success of the project was its focus on teaching and the way in which, when teachers began to implement the strategies, they had an impact on pupil motivation and learning. The project resonated with the teachers as taking them back to the fundamental principles underpinning pupil learning:
'While we listened to the speaker we became aware that the project was going to be based on what we recognised as good practice but we also became increasingly aware that we were focusing on strategies that had long since got lost under a pile of timetables, documents, curricular policies and record keeping sheets.' (School Project Report to SEED, April 2003)
4.11.1 Self- evaluation
One of the key features of the project was the extent to which participating teachers were involved in self-evaluation. The reports prepared by the schools demonstrated the adoption of a wide range of self-evaluation strategies often including input from pupils and sometimes from parents.
Very few schools had specified criteria for evaluating success. Where these were in place they were related to pupil outcomes.
Schools referred to success across a range of pupil outcomes including engagement with learning, motivation, confidence, self awareness, self-evaluation, pace of learning, participation in group work, behaviour, quality and quantity of class work and performance in national tests.
Some schools made comparisons with their own previous practice and with equivalent classes not involved in the project.
Many schools used video footage or peer observation to evaluate lessons. These were followed by staff discussion, informal and formal. Participating teachers often kept diaries reflecting their thoughts as the project was implemented and progressed.
The extent and depth of the self-evaluations undertaken demonstrated the high level of commitment to the project by the participating teachers and schools.
There were few negative aspects of the implementation of the project. As one teacher put it:
There were no negatives…… just difficulties and only at first.' (Teacher)
Where difficulties had been experienced teachers felt that it was worth the effort to overcome them:
'Any opportunity cost analysis would show it was worth it.' (Teacher)
4.12.1 Time factors
Time was an issue in that the new approaches to pedagogy were in themselves time consuming. This led to a slower pace of curriculum delivery and concerns that the curriculum may not be covered.
' I was so conscious of the time it took - it seemed to take forever to get it finished.' (Teacher)
To some extent their initial concerns were allayed by the emerging quality of work and learning as the project progressed. One Head Teacher said that a 'defining moment' for him had been that at the same time as the project being introduced to the school he was undertaking his advanced driving course. He found the approaches used by the police instructors and examiners in this course very revealing in terms of the way they used detailed step by step planning to reach an objective or, if you like, learning outcomes. He equated this with wait time, suggesting that to get to the finish in terms of pupils achieving real learning, there was no point rushing and getting in a 'guddle' - the work had to be planned out in a methodical incremental way to achieve the right outcome, just as it was in the driving instruction. He said that 'it you don't exceed speed limits, you'll get there much quicker and more safely at the end of the day.' He equated this to the need for teachers to have proper planning that incorporated ongoing assessment, rather than rushing to finish a topic on time without ensuring that the children had understood all the steps.
Time was raised as an issue in relation to preparation and report writing.
4.12.2 Length of the project
Time was also raised as an issue in relation to the length of the pilot project:
'In a sense I think the pilot has been too short. This is a long term process. It is difficult to make judgements over months. We spent so much time building up techniques. Because of that pace, the results are not going to be instant. It is difficult to make a judgement when we started in August and the conclusion is in March. This is too short a time to say there are big or obvious changes related to the Formative Assessment Project.' (Head Teacher)
4.12.3 Changes in practice
For some staff, particularly in the early stages, implementation of the strategies required a fundamental change in pedagogical approach which they found stressful. Not all staff were comfortable with the increased pupil centred focus.
4.12.4 Competing pressures
Where schools had competing agendas to meet there were difficulties in implementing the project. In one school the development of the project had been temporarily 'derailed' (Head Teacher) by a whole-school HM Inspection.
4.12.5 External Accountability
Some schools were concerned that other government agencies, in particular, HMI might not be aware of the project and that this might have an impact on their inspection reports.
4.12 6 Tensions between formative and summative assessment
Some staff expressed concern that there was a tension between the HMI requirements for concrete evidence of monitoring and assessment and the principles of the project.
One school felt that the strategies developed within the project were too complex to use with the whole class and that there was a need for differentiated strategies to be used taking account of the development of language skills for different age groups.
Some staff and pupils felt intimidated by the process of being videoed. In some cases there was no technical support for help in making the videos.
Teachers spoke about the constant need for self-awareness and the ease with which they could slip back into older habits.
There was a general commitment to want to continue with the project. The main issue relating to this was whether there would be funding for further authority-wide development and staff training.
4.13 Comparator schools
4.13.1 Awareness of 'Assessment for Learning'
Interviews with the Head Teachers of comparator schools indicated that some were aware of the formative assessment project. This was usually through their contact and involvement with another local primary school that was participating in the project. Some schools were already adopting some formative assessment procedures and in some cases reported that their adoption had improved attainment. Head Teachers of these schools were enthusiastic about the nature of the project and looking forward to learning more following the completion of the pilot project:
'I understand there's a right time to be aware of this. It may be that the process is at the right stage for dissemination - you can't be involved in everything from the beginning.' (Head Teacher)
Several mentioned that they would like the project to be given priority in the authority. Others said that they would like it to be part of the assessment policy which is under review.
Some comparator primary school Head Teachers had not heard about the project:
Have not heard about the project and do not know enough to comment about this.' (Head Teacher)
Generally, the comparator primary schools contacted in the evaluation had not formally implemented any formative assessment practices in their schools, although there were some exceptions. These were usually where schools had implemented a range of related strategies, e.g. target setting, shared learning outcomes, next steps, personal planning, mind mapping, peer assessment. In these schools there was a clear commitment to focusing teaching on the needs of the learner and staff were anxious to extend their use of formative assessment procedures and be more explicit in their use.
4.13.2 Conceptions of formative assessment
In a few comparator schools, Head Teachers had reasonably clear and accurate views about the nature of formative assessment and its role in enhancing learning and teaching. For example, one Head Teacher explained formative assessment as:
use assessments, not to record but to give children feedback and identify weaknesses and goals' (Head Teacher)
While another explained it as:
providing information and evidence that will allow teachers to plan next steps in teaching/learning and show pupils their strengths and areas where they can improve' (Head Teacher)
In many comparator schools, Head Teachers had a hazy notion of the nature of formative assessment. Their conception was not well developed:
To improve opportunities for pupils' learning and to help raise standards and attainment.' (Head Teacher)
'It's a good guide to pupils' progress, giving staff feedback and confirms staff's own assessments.' (Head Teacher)
Some Head Teachers expressed concerns about the implementation of formative assessment which demonstrated a lack of clarity about its nature and purpose:
Only if it is meaningful, useful, realistic and not too time consuming for schools to implement. One concern I do have is that too much time is spent on assessment and not enough on learning and teaching.' (Head Teacher)
'I am concerned that we will spend too much time on assessment. Positive re-enforcement is equally valuable'. (Head Teacher)
Many of the Head Teachers of Primary Comparator Schools stated that the review of the assessment policy of the school was a need that would be addressed soon/the following year:
We are about to review our assessment policy to identify areas which require to be addressed.' (Head Teacher)
4.13.3 Implementation of formative assessment strategies
While there was development work ongoing in comparator schools it was not focused on formative assessment but, for instance, in 'looking at the content of science and expressive arts'. Some Head Teachers indicated that it could become part of development in the future:
'We could go on to look at formative assessment in the context of our development work in Science.'
Overall, the Head Teachers of primary comparator schools were keen to learn more about the project, felt that it should be given priority in the local authority, and expressed the view that it was a welcome move away from national summative assessment and should be part of the overall assessment policy. Some expressed concerns relating to its future implementation, about pressure on teacher time, and the general burden of documentation which meant that some important ideas got lost. Others were reluctant to merely adopt the strategies implemented by other schools.
Dissemination within schools had in many cases already begun at an informal level. Head teachers reported that all the staff of some project schools had benefited through accessing the experience of their colleagues informally as well as by accessing the literature on formative assessment offered by the project. Perhaps most importantly, participating teachers, on implementing the project were able to see positive changes in their pupils' motivation, engagement, interest and learning. These changes improved the ethos within the classroom and made teaching itself more enjoyable and fulfilling. This was communicated to their colleagues. This was perceived as particularly important in relation to dissemination as:
'One of the biggest hurdles facing us is selling the idea to colleagues - most of whom recognise the practice as something they "learned at college" and "have been doing for years!' (Local Authority Co-ordinator)
'There has been a little difficulty experienced by the two members of staff in relation to sharing information about the project with their colleagues. There was a feeling that they were not being taken seriously and that some colleagues did not understand what all the fuss was about.' (Head Teacher)
In some primary schools formal in service training had taken place.
Primary schools involved in the project made similar suggestions for the dissemination process. They emphasised the importance of those with experience directly communicating that experience to colleagues in schools not yet involved in the project. One school reported that they had already been inundated with visitors interested in the project.
Some comparator schools who were interested in learning about the project expressed concern that there had been a lack of opportunities for schools to find out how the project worked both locally and nationally. Comparator school Head Teachers made a range of suggestions regarding the process of dissemination process including:
- Hearing from colleagues about the impact on learning and teaching;
- Using videos for staff development purposes;
- Visiting project schools;
- Setting up conferences;
- Working with partner schools which have had experience of the project;
- The provision of examples of four or five case studies of different types of schools and different types of formative assessment techniques;
- Hearing from participating schools in the area in twilight sessions.
There was considerable enthusiasm for the project amongst comparator school Head Teachers:
The best way could be in a written form to look at with staff and discuss how to apply to the school …..feeling really positive ……there are exciting future developments' (Head Teacher)
'Hopefully, more information on what is considered to be good practice will be issued to all schools to implement so that all schools use a similar format throughout the region. Teachers will feel more confident with their classroom practice and this will help in future planning.' (Head Teacher)
4.15 Summary of impact on Primary and Special Schools
The primary schools participating in the project overwhelmingly reported that the aspects of formative assessment that they had implemented had supported the development of pupils' learning. The schools reported that the project had helped pupils to be aware of their learning needs, to be aware of different standards of work, what they needed to do to make progress, and to take more responsibility for their learning. Pupils were reported as learning more quickly, being more reflective, being more focussed on quality rather than quantity and being better motivated. Participation in whole class activity was greater and pupils were engaged in group work more effectively. The least able, in particular, were reported as having been re-engaged by the project. These changes in the pupils were important in encouraging teachers to become more involved in the project.
There were very positive effects on teachers' understanding of the nature of formative assessment. Teachers were reported as having developed a deeper understanding of the processes of learning as a result of the project and as seeing formative assessment techniques and philosophy as a key to effective learning. The project had a positive impact on motivation and teachers' attitudes generating
enthusiasm and excitement and ' a buzz and personal satisfaction.' Teachers were open about the developments informally, discussing issues relating to teaching and learning. Staff were reported as being more confident and committed and relationships between staff had improved. Perhaps, most important, there was a positive impact on pedagogy. The project led to the adoption of new pedagogic practices, an increased sharing of learning targets by teachers and pupils, careful planning of questions by teachers, much greater involvement of pupils, particularly the under-achievers, more effective group work, increased use of peer conferencing, pupils discussing their learning, positive and purposeful conversations between teachers and pupils, improved relationships between teachers and pupils and a better learning climate in the classroom.
The project provided an opportunity for teachers' personal and professional development. The processes involved in the implementation of the project ensured that participating teachers reflected on their work. The teachers believed that by focussing on the learning process they had gained a better understanding of how their pupils learned and were more aware of when progress was being made.