Assessment for Learning and thinking skills

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Gaer Primary School has raised standards for learners by establishing procedures for ‘assessment for learning’. These have had a significant impact in changing the culture in classrooms. Using coloured hats, pupils assess themselves and peers. This process has helped the pupils reinforce their learning by explaining ideas to others.

Number of pupils: 459
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: July 2018

Information about the school

Gaer Primary School is on the west side of the city of Newport.  It opened in 2014 following the amalgamation of the infant and junior schools.  The school has 459 pupils between the ages of 3 and 11, including 63 part-time pupils in the nursery.  There are 17 classes, including a resource base class in key stage 2 for pupils with a range of speech, behavioural and general learning difficulties.

The average proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals over the last three years is around 20%.  This is close to the national average of 19%.  A few pupils are from a minority ethnic background.  The school has identified 32% of its pupils as having additional learning needs, which is well above the national average of 21%, but this includes the pupils in the resource base class.  A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs.

The headteacher took up his post in September 2014.

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

Following the amalgamation in September 2014, school leaders felt that it was important to establish systems and procedures for ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) that would work progressively well across the school.  Having trialled a range of AfL strategies previously, influenced by wider research, and witnessed success at first hand, the challenge was to now use this success to rationalise and create an AfL approach for the newly formed primary school.

Highly effective assessment for learning has been widely regarded by educationalists as fundamental in raising standards for learners.  This helps in making learning ‘more visible’ and helps learners to understand what excellence looks like and how they can develop their own work to reach that level.  In John Hattie’s seminal work on educational effectiveness, Visible Learning for Teachers (2011), Hattie ranked feedback strategies 10th out of 150 factors that bring about significant improvements in learner outcomes.  Others support this and argue that, if teachers use formative assessments as part of their teaching, pupils can learn at approximately double the rate. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Initially, the process involved the shared creation of a feedback and marking policy to provide a framework to outline the procedures associated with AfL.  Subsequently, editing checklists and self and peer assessment models and toolkits were developed to support and enhance the process and provide a more effective way of supporting pupils to improve.  ‘Close the gap’ marking was introduced as part of the policy, shaping an understanding of appropriate questioning and prompts to challenge pupils and help them progress.

One significant feature in the success of the process was the introduction of clear and achievable ‘success criteria’.  The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant and Time Bound) success criteria, often created with pupils, has ensured that there is explicit clarity regarding the expected outcome of lessons.  Staff and pupils are now more adept at providing very specific and effective feedback.

The De Bono ‘Six Thinking Hats’ were introduced to support the process.  Using these hats across the curriculum has allowed pupils to learn about a wide range of approaches to thinking.  In addition, pupils use the hats to self and peer assess from a particular perspective such as looking at processes, possible problems or from a purely factual angle.  The hats are very effectively used to support the pupil’s reflections on their learning.  Each colour represents a mindset to adopt when reflecting: yellow (things that went well); black (things that didn’t go well); red (emotion/feeling elicited); green (creativity); white (facts/information that underpinned the learning); blue (next steps).  Pupils self-assess their learning highly effectively using the hats, both orally and as a written response.

The blue thinking hat is effectively aligned to ‘next step’ targets.  Individual pupil targets are developed with all pupils from Year 1 onwards.  Pupils create targets alongside their teacher and apply them across the curriculum.  They are recorded in an individual pupil ‘target book’.  Targets are SMART and focus on very specific aspects of writing.  An example is, ‘to use simple sentences to build tension’.  Pupils and teachers use stickers to highlight when a target has been met.  When targets have been met three times a new target is agreed.  Each pupil will have no more than three targets at any one time.  The process ensures that pupils are very clear about what they need to do to improve their learning.

Peer assessment models have been introduced and refined to support pupils’ development in providing constructive feedback to their peers.  The progressive models make reference to the success criteria, marking checklist, individual targets, celebration of strengths and next steps.  The process highlights the importance of respect when providing feedback to peers.

A process of continuous self-evaluation and professional dialogue by staff and school leaders, looking critically at impact, has ensured that the systems were refined and applied consistently.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The new processes have had a significant impact on changing the culture in the classrooms.  The systems have created a supportive and collaborative ethos, whereby pupils are actively engaged in their learning and confident to try new things and not afraid to make mistakes.  They are confident to edit their learning and reflect on changes that will improve standards.

The ‘assessment for learning’ processes have had a highly significant impact on learner outcomes.  Pupils now take greater ownership of their learning and are able to improve with greater independence.  They are more aware of what good learning looks like and their next steps in order to achieve higher standards.  The AfL processes have helped create a sense of self-efficacy, a confidence in their ability to reach targets through hard work and determination.  The peer assessment process has helped pupils to reinforce their learning by explaining ideas to others.  Furthermore, the peer assessment process has helped pupils to develop better diplomacy and oracy skills.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared its approach to AfL within their cluster of schools and with other staff and leaders visiting the schools as part of its ‘school to school’ programme.