Assessment without levels

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Background

National Curriculum levels were consigned to the history books last September or so was the intention of the government when it launched its new curriculum.  I’ve been in contact with science teachers all over the country and most are still gathering information about what assessment should look like and formulating a way forward.

I’ve attended CPD events and read articles and blog posts in an attempt to see what everyone else is planning and to make sure I’m on the right track.  The change is so fundamental to everything we do as science teachers that we want to make sure that we are on the right track.

We’ve known that levels have had their faults for years.   We know that schools place more emphasis on their worth than they should.  We know that they can stigmatise children who compare their levels to friends and family.  We know that progression doesn’t always happen in a linear way through the national curriculum levels (or through sub-levels if you use PIVATS and B-Squared in special schools).   Students are expected to make a certain number of levels of progress over a key stage and are tested over and over again (tracking and assessment windows anyone?) to make sure they are on target.

So what comes next?

We’ve been discussing quality assessment within our regional committee for the ASE for several months now.  Models used by members within the committee have a similar feel although the language differs between them.  Some schools have three tiers, some four etc which replace the old levels.  An example is given below

Competencies Embryonic/ Developing Achieving (expected) Exceeding
 
 

 

Other professionals use language like beginning, developing, enhancing crafting, crafting, perfecting, mastering and so on.

The idea is simple – you develop (although let us be honest, most schools will be looking for a system to adopt from outside) a system where for each topic/lesson teachers have identified what students will be expected to achieve and worked backwards/forwards from this point.  Of course having a set of statements is only the beginning of the journey, using them for formative and summative assessment will take a little more time to get right.

Sticking with the old national curriculum levels is fine for now but long term is likely to be considered bad practice.  They are likely to be a starting point in developing a new system that better reflects the new national curriculum.

As a school leader I have a new set of questions that come up every time I think of assessment.

Tracking over the key stage – will we expect set targets based on the targets (for example 80% of students reaching the expected standard).  Will we track individuals towards their target like we do now?  How will we track progress towards the target (hopefully sublevels are well and truly dead).

Comparability with other subjects – will we easily be able to compare science with other subjects to see how students are doing (or if we can’t do this does it matter that we can’t?)

Ofsted – what will they be expecting to see and will inspectors have been trained on the changes? I know some have been asking questions about assessment and levels since they stopped being statutory.

How will our system compare to mainstream schools – very few of our students may make expected progress and we don’t want to create a system that is as demotivating as what we have now.  It also needs to be appropriate for groups of students that span a wide range of levels under NC levels.

So where are we now?

I’m still gathering my thoughts and doing my research.  I know that Activate (the scheme of work I’ve bought in as a starting point) has started moving in the right direction but I’d be interested to hear from those that are further along the journey than I am.  Hopefully I’ll manage to get my head around assessment at KS3 before the changes to GCSE come in and that changes too!

a reminder: how to request your observation notes from Ofsted

I recently wrote some posts about requesting your evidence forms from Ofsted.  One of the benefits of being in special measures is that you get plenty of attention from Ofsted.

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Despite having been jointly observed and receiving feedback by my head, I still wanted to see my observation notes and what had been written about my lesson.  I’ve attached a copy of the feedback (part of a section 8 monitoring visit) so you can see what you get back.

S5 evidence form

All it takes is a quick email:

The address you need to use is ‘informationrequest@ofsted.gov.uk
The email I sent is below – I included a scanned copy of my driving licence
I would like to request a copy of the S5 evidence forms completed during the recent section 8 monitoring inspection of my school.  Hopefully the information below will help you to identify the forms in question.
Name:
Home address
Contact number
School
Date of lesson
Time of lesson
Year group
Name of inspector
Subject
Details of lesson content
I’d be interested to hear from other people that have requested their observation notes like me :)

 

Free science literacy resources from the author of William’s Words in Science

IWWcells‘ve written before about William’s Words in Science (here) and his resources for cells (here) and food/digestion (here).  While at was at the ASE annual conference last month I met the author, Dr William Hirst in person.  I was pleased to see him selling his excellent resources at his stand, and more importantly I was pleased to see other people buying them.  If you haven’t seen his resources, read my reviews linked above and visit William’s site (if you buy anything, be sure to tell him I sent you – note I don’t receive any commission or financial kickback, I just happen to rate his resources!)

More importantly while I was at his stand I discovered that William has many free resources that are available for any one to download from his site.  These resources showcase the strategies that are used in his books and can be used to drop into your lessons.  I would like to hope that some of my readers will try the resources and feed back to William (contact details are available on his site).

If you want an idea of what is available, William gave me permission to host a selection of these resources here – alternatively bookmark his site which will be updated more often than this blogpost.

Williams Word Games in Science

 

What Ofsted had to say about my lesson – how to get your observation notes from them

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A while ago I wrote about Ofsted observing my lesson and the lack of any way to improve to outstanding. While I received my feedback I saw that the HMI had made two sides of notes about my lesson and I wondered if there was anything on those notes that might indicate why the lesson was not outstanding.

I decided to request a copy of the S5 evidence forms that were written during my lesson after reading this blog here that gave instructions. The premise is simple, you make a data protection request to Ofsted providing as much information about the lesson as possible and a copy of your identification. Ofsted then confirm receipt of your application and have forty days to respond.

I had forgotten about the request (it had taken them over a month to act upon it) and received a letter by special delivery (if you have ever used the special delivery service you will realise how expensive it is). Inside the envelope was a copy of the S5 forms and a covering letter. The S5 forms had a number of sections blanked out – these were passages that referred to the teaching assistant who was with the group for that lesson.

The lesson notes didn’t tell me anything new, my feedback apparently had been very comprehensive but at least I had evidence that my lesson was good. It was also useful to test the process of getting your data from Ofsted so that others will be able to do the same. Whilst you can’t use the evidence form to challenge the judgement with Ofsted, it does provide opportunity for reflection and also for bloggers to challenge the judgement on their blogs.

It would also be interesting to see what would happen if Ofsted had to do this for every teacher, perhaps they would introduce a charge since I don’t think they would be allowed to go bankrupt!

Let me know if you have requested a copy of your observation notes or if you plan to do so.

Stop and remember why you love teaching…

I work hard.  Very hard.  I’m at school for 10 hours a day and then I work at home several evenings and weekends too.  Sometimes, like all teachers, I wonder why on Earth do I bother?  With reports to write, data to enter into SIMS, IEPS to update, leadership reports, governors reports, lesson observations and so on, it can be easy to lose sight of our core purpose.

This week I was doing a levelled task with my KS3 classes.  This was a piece of work from one of my students.  Without giving too much information away, he is able but like many of my students he is hampered by his special needs.  You can see from the work that he struggles with literacy and writing.  I think he was as pleased as I was with his work – he even came back in his lunch break to add the extra information he thought he needed to put in to reach his level 5 (together with some fantastic answers in class).

We work on A4+ books which means they are larger than the scanning glass on the photocopier, however you get an idea of his achievement.

We all experience moments like this, when a student gets it or suddenly demonstrates real achievement.  Hang on to them this Friday and remember why you became a teacher – it really does help you get through the rest of the less desirable tasks that come with the job!

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#ASEchat summary – Food webs and chains

Summary of the #ASEchat held on Twitter on 04/02/13


Contributions from ASEchatters turned what could have been a dull and boring topic into a lively one with lots of practical ideas to use in the classroom.

The topic started with the concept of arrows on food chains – and @Viciascience asked if the direction of the arrow on a food chain was important to which the answer was a resounding YES. Many chatters went as far as to say that they would mark an answer wrong in which the arrow was pointing the right way. Several teachers pointed out that getting the arrow the wrong way round was a fairly common mistake. @Teachingofsci mischievously suggested that you could add a horse to a food web with an arrow pointing to a human to prompt discussion!

@teachingofsci intends using lego this year to show blocks being used the next level up. @MrsDrSarah referred to the ‘satsuma model’ in which you model plants as a bag of satsumas, passing one to a primary consumer, one to secondary consumer and squidging one to show energy loss. Post-It notes were also suggested to model, as was passing water or sand down a line.

Chatters pointed out links to nutrition and even sustainability that could be introduced with this topic. The topic moved onto pyramids of biomass/number and real life examples. Several chatters liked unusually shaped ‘pyramids’ such as aphids on an oak tree. The Minamata bay incident was discussed as being useful to share with students. A useful strategy suggested was making bar charts into pyramids of number to be used with SEN and lower attaining pupils.

@Mr_D_Cheng requested that we all get away from the common food chain of grass -> rabbit -> fox and others agreed. It was suggested that pupils construct their own from field work or real examples (e.g. Holly leaf miner). There were also a number of ways suggested to challenge more able students such as discussing island populations, making a closed ecosystem (with brine shrimp) and the introduction of carnivorous plants.

Top Tweets

@teachingofsci: For recent news relevance, add ‘horse’ to a food chain pointing at ‘human’. #asechat

@viciascience How important is the direction of arrows in a food chain diagram. Would you mark down for arrow direction wrong? #ASEChat

@Lethandrel #asechat I introduce food chains as grass going INTO a rabbit, rabbit going INTO a fox etc before introducing energy etc

@teachingofsci @Lethandrel i plan to make lego models this year, show blocks being used for next level up. Ideal would be stop motion. #asechat

Mr_D_Cheng Get a few pupils to stand in line, add coloured water, get them to pour a bit out when move, heat, excrete. Shows energy loss #asechat

@debrichmond @cleverfiend I get students to draw up bar charts then cut out bars and stick as pyramids. Good for lower ability. #asechat

@SAPS_News @hrogerson there are some fascinating things going on inside pitcher plants – great video here from our US colleagues. #asechat

Useful links

The Old Lady and the Fly http://t.co/XoBzfOXH

Simple food chain game: http://t.co/sjXn3Cmm

More complex food web game: http://t.co/oHxAjxGL

Why an understanding of food (chains) interdependence and recycling is important http://t.co/yPO6gWLl

It’s grass-rabbit-fox, but this is a great online game: http://t.co/QbUQWdxt

Take a virtual dive on the reef here http://t.co/a59I9jVl or explore via Google Earth and streetview http://t.co/rLWv3qyN

 

As usual the official ASE chat page can be found here

My downloaded copy of the Tweets (an archive of the conversation) can be downloaded here