Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Future of Assessment in Primary Schools: Flipping Classroom Assessments

The Future of Assessment in Primary Schools: Flipping Classroom Assessments

Abandoning Levels: A Chance to Flip How We Assess Children?

It has been a hot topic for a while in schools up and down the country. September 2014 sees the abolishment of levels and the introduction of a new primary curriculum.  This should be a very exciting time for primary schools across the country, but teachers and head teachers seem to be worried. How can we track achievement? How can we hold teachers accountable? 

I honestly think we're missing the point here.  We have a glorious opportunity to rethink why we are assessing and reporting on progress in the first place. When it boils down to it, is telling a parent or child that they've made 3.4 points progress going to help them get to the next point in their learning?
Have I made enough points progress sir?

A Fixed Mindset to Assessment.
If we report a definitive level to parents, they become hooked on a number and a letter.  The comparisons begin on the playground. What does that really tell them? The only thing I can think of is if their child is on track or not? One use!

We put a lot of effort into getting to that one number or letter and completely miss the point of assessing children. We assess children's learning to find out what they need to do to improve. Their next steps.

Wouldn't it make sense to report this next step without the level attached to it?

A Growth Mindset to Assessment.
Let's flip the assessment process, let's imagine a world without levels.....hold on, it's not too far away.  We can continue to go down the same route of assessment, but with the ultimate aim of finding out what each child needs to learn next - that's it, stop there, don't think of points or levels, just the child's next steps.

Report these next steps to parents, senior leadership, and of course the children. We seem to forget that the children are the reasons we trawl through APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) grids and National Curriculum Level descriptors.  How many of us actually show the children or parents these grids? How powerful could that be? "See the gaps, that is what you need to learn."  It flips the parents views of assessment, no longer are they fixed on if their child is meeting national expected expectations, but seeing what they need to do to help them improve.

The Tapestry for Learning: Remove the Levels.

Imagine, if you will, the Assessing Pupil Progress grids all stuck together on top of each other with no levels separating each descriptor.
A Reading Tapestry - NO Levels!
This is a small part of the Assessing Pupil Progress Grid with ALL the levels removed from it.  It now becomes a continuing learning journey with the emphasis on next steps with no stopping point.

This is the start of the child's journey through reading at Primary School. This document can follow them through school being used by each teacher to track progress and ultimately used for planning purposes.

This is nothing new, using APP grids to assist planning, it's helped me find gaps in children's learning for years.  The difference could come if I used it to report to parents.  Not a number, but a next step to help their child.

Crucially this also serves to show the parents how far their child has progressed, coupled with books, it can also illustrate how much effort the child has gone into to get to where they are now.  Something that is often ignored when reporting just a number or a letter.  The focus is shifted to effort, achievement and next steps in learning.

The children need to be empowered to manage this way of working for each subject and as teachers we need to allow the children to be free to work on any aspect of the Tapestry, whether it is Art, Drama, History, English, Maths, Science or another subject that hasn't been invented yet! 

Monitoring Progress: Lovely Quantifiable Data.

From a tracking and monitoring point of view, where should each child reach at each age? When the new curriculum comes into place in September, in my opinion, children should be assessed at the end of EYFS, Year 2, Year 4 and Year 6 at Primary school.  That's enough, no more assessments every 3 months checking whether a child has made enough points progress to turn a box green.  Children learn at different paces. We've all had a child in our class who suddenly appears to move quickly then return back to normal, this is how children learn. They go back, forward, back, forward, quickly forward, and so on.  They never keep still, but they are making progress at different rates.

Do we need 3 monthly assessment weeks to know that a child needs pushing on or that they need an intervention?  We do that day in day out in our classrooms.

The Online World of Assessment for Learning: Flipping

Technology and flipping could potentially hold the key to how children learn in the future.  Imagine a world where this 'Tapestry' is held online for parents to access at anytime they wish to find out how their children are progressing in school and find out how they can help their child even more without waiting for parents' evening to come around.

The Khan Academy: Online Learning.
The Khan Academy is a non-profit educational website created in 2006 by educator Salmon Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School.  The stated mission is to provide a "free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Wikipedia

Khan originally created videos to help his cousin Nadia in her mathematics classes.  He began uploading his videos to YouTube as it proved to be more practical.  Surprisingly, he soon found people from all over the world had begun using his videos to learn.  The Khan Academy was born.

If we take this idea of distance, online learning and apply it to our classrooms we could combine the assessment process too.  Go back to the APP grid with the levels removed and now imagine that each objective has a link to a video or website with information designed to help the children achieve that objective.  The children would log on to their own personalised learning area to find out what they needed to learn next, click on a hyperlink, make notes, watch and then bring those skills into the classroom ready to publish something or ask questions about misconceptions.

The beauty of these next steps being online is that they can be accessed at anytime and used anytime.  Aaron Sams and Jon Bergman (Flipped Learning Pioneers) describe a student in their class who had a very busy extra-curricular timetable and how they used Aaron and Jon's videos to 'get ahead' in their class. The student had then created time to complete their school work and leave time for extra practice for their extra-curriculum activities. The student is in charge of their learning, not the teacher.

Reporting to Parents: Flipping Reporting and School's of The Future.

Would you really need to report to parents at the end of each year?  We've been writing reports for parents since the Victorian Era, a system of reporting which is still statutory in 2014.  Would it be more beneficial to allow parents access to the online learning tapestry and then have a short meeting with their child's teacher whenever they feel need to.  Does this not lead to point of why do we organise our schools in this Victorian way?

A School of the future?
If children are in charge of the direction of their learning then why do we need to sit children in classrooms the way we do now?  Early years education have a wonderful approach to learning.

I imagine every child from the age of four to eleven working in a space similar to that of the Google offices.  They come to school, log on, find out what they need to learn that day.  They can work with children who have either mastered or are working on similar problems and are in charge of the pace of their learning. 

This topic is worthy of it's own blog. Something I will be looking into over the coming week. Stay tuned next week. 

In September we have a great opportunity to change the whole way we think about assessing pupil progress and reporting to all stakeholders.  Remember to think with a growth mind - find those next steps and recognise the effort and the new skills you've acquired to get to where you are now.  Levels, have we ever actually needed them?

Follow me on Twitter @chriswaterworth


  1. Hello. I lost it a bit near the end there.....what is the function of the classroom teacher? Thanks.


  2. The classroom teacher will still be integral to this system working. Although the children will be accessing videos, website etc to learn, they will only be accessing lower order knowledge and understanding. It will be the job of the teacher to skilfully give the children opportunities to apply, evaluate and refine the skills they have been learning.

    We can't assume a child has mastered a topic because they can use it in a 'non-real world' environment. For example, learning to multiply numbers can be done with a written method on paper, but what do they do with that skill? Children need to apply these skills in real life situations. Something they will never be able to do on a computer.

  3. Interesting. Not sure that came out in the blog, though. Also, I'm not sure of the necessity for real life application. For example, multiplication is a skill that is required in much of mathematics that comes after multiplication has been mastered. If pupils can effectively use multiplication in their further mathematical studies, the skill has been embedded. Unless you are defining real life as 'not in the computer'?


  4. When I am talking about 'real life mathematics,' I am talking about the children using mathematics in their everyday lives. For example calculating the area of a wall to know how much paint or wallpaper to buy.

    Only by giving the children 'a reason' for mathematics will they fully demonstrate an understanding. Children be taught methods to calculate, but what do they do with it then? This is when the teacher comes in to give them opportunities.