Engaging Disaffected Learners (3)

An Action Research project by Megan Dunsby

Project overview

Working with two other members of the department (Anna Watkins and Hannah Gale), we established the following aims:

  • To develop our pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection;
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners;
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence.

These give an overview of our foci, and from here we endeavoured to use different strategies to engage disaffected learners. We decided to all concentrate on year 10 students and boys in particular. Having a shared year group meant that we were able to support each other and help each other to develop strategies.

There are a myriad of reasons why students become disaffected, but in the experiences that we had had in our year 10 classrooms we felt that these were the central reasons why:

  • Disaffection hides a literacy weakness;
  • Pressure of year 10 GCSE (especially with current changes);
  • English is compulsory and relevance isn’t obvious to all.

Initial Research

The National Literacy Trust had the following to say on boy’s literacy levels:

  • “Research consistently shows a gender gap in children’s reading. Boys’ attitudes towards reading and writing, the amount of time they spend reading and their achievement in literacy are all poorer than those of girls.”
  • “Unfortunately it is those boys who are least likely to be socially mobile who are often most vulnerable to these triggers. For example, white working-class boys are one of the groups with lowest achievement in literacy”.
  • By GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, the changes to the examination system at GCSE mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Caroline Bentley-Davies suggests that a teacher must “signal exactly why you are doing something” (2010, p.165) when improving standards of boys.

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

My personal project overview

After a number of discussions with Anna and Hannah, I decided that I would look at ways in which it is possible to re-engage students through tasks that are influenced by a project based pedagogy.

The literature surrounding project based learning regularly demonstrates its effectiveness at embedding skills and knowledge in a way that all students engage with on a meaningful level. Polman sings its praises stating that, ‘the most significant contributions of PBL have been in schools languishing in poverty stricken areas; when students take responsibility, or ownership, for their learning, their self-esteem soars. It also helps to create better work habits and attitudes toward learning. In standardized tests, languishing schools have been able to raise their testing grades a full level by implementing Project Based Learning (PBL), (2000).

Initial research undertaken indicates that boys who are ‘less socially mobile’, (The National Literacy Trust), are likely to be amongst the lowest literacy levels compared to their socially mobile peers. Patton’s research seems to indicate that it is this demographic of students who are likely to benefit from the autonomy and ownership of PBL experiences.

However the beneficial effect of PBL is certainly not limited only to these students, autonomy is a powerful motivator for all learners, according to Rowe et al, ‘in order to feel any intrinsic motivation whatsoever, students mist feel a sense of autonomy, like thy are in control of an element of their learning’. On boys literacy they comment that ‘In the early years of secondary schooling boys constitute 75 – 85% of students identified at risk of poor achievement progress in literacy. Of some concern is the flattening out of boys’ literacy achievements from year 4 to year 9,’ (Rowe et al).

When reading this research I began to investigate whether this ‘flattening out’ was a feature of my most disengaged year 10 student, Richard. After looking at his spotlight assessments from year 7 to 10, he was a perfect example of the pattern that Rowe et al discuss. After having taught Richard for six months I could see that his dis-engagement came from his belief that he could not achieve in English, together with the fact that he felt the subject was completely irrelevant for him. I began to focus on how I could create a project that would make learning the skills he required to pass English, obvious and attainable.

Spotlight entry 7.1 7.3 7.6 8.1 8.3 8.6 9.1 9.3 9.6
APP Level 4b 4b 5c 4a 5b 5b 5b 5b 5a

(Richard’s Spotlight assessments from Years 7-9)

I began looking at what constituted a project, and Thomas in PBL; A Handbook, (2000) provided a very helpful five point checklist for educators designing projects. He instructs that projects must be:

  • Central not peripheral to the curriculum:
  • Central concept and principle of a discipline
  • Projects include constructive investigation
  • Projects are usually, but not always, cross curricular
  • Projects are realistic, not ‘school like

Thomas’ pointers focussed my creation of a project, but also provided realisation that projects were a time consuming endeavour. Further research acknowledges this as one of the main pitfalls of such learning. Wethers et al have found that, ‘subject orientated secondary teachers have been less inclined to embrace cross disciplinary curriculum, in the form of projects or a more traditional approach, despite it being proven successful in reengaging previously disengaged secondary students, (2012).’ Hope goes on to explain that even though teachers are, ‘frustrated by national standardised tests that are a primary reason for disengaging boys from their learning’ (2010) PBL takes time and commitment that the majority of secondary schools simply don’t have. Wethers surmises that a lack of resources (time and financial) are a ‘fundamental reason that PBL is not a regular feature of the secondary school classroom, (2012).

Despite this, all of these articles unanimously measure a greater level of success from students in all walks of life when given the opportunity to learn in a project based environment. I became interested in investigating whether the disengaged students in my year 10 class, particularly Richard, could benefit from a version of PBL that I was able to facilitate with a deficiency in time and financial resources.

My project in the classroom

Hi Tech High, California became my next area of investigation. This American High School facilitates an entirely project based curriculum and 94% of their students in 2014 went onto college and university. I decided to replicate a project that they call the visual essay for my year 10 English students.

By considering a knowledge, process product model for differentiation I examined my current pedagogy for teaching essay writing skills to boys with low literacy.

md-diag-1a

By investigating what I actually meant by ‘learn how to write an essay’ I automatically referred back to the exam boards assessment objectives. In Hi Tech High’s case, they take to raw knowledge and work out a way of presenting it in an informative and engaging way that is open to the public. I decided that my raw knowledge would be my assessment objectives.

md-diag-2a

Richard decided that he would focus on the subject terminology knowledge, and created a glossary to put on the essay.

md-essay

Strategies and an evaluation of their efficacy

What worked about the task:

Richard was engaged in the task and through assessment it became clear that Richard knew a number of subject terms that he did not before. Richard also felt a sense of achievement at having completed his section of the task and became aware of a crucial element of the success criteria. Richard stated, ‘It was a good task because I just got on with it. I didn’t have to write loads’ and ‘I got to choose what I wanted to do and just focussed on one bit’

What needed improvement:

On reflection I decided that the project was too ‘school-like’ and it didn’t really hit the real world criteria set out by Thomas. Ways to overcome this might include an open evening where parents come to see a display of a series of visual essays or a competition. Once Richard had decided how to incorporate his subject terminology he did not constructively solve much of a problem; this was another of Thomas’ project criteria and time limitations prevented this from becoming a reality.

Conclusion

The most valuable element of this research for me was to fully recognise the power of and potential of allowing students to be creative, curious, problem solving and autonomous. Whilst there are time restrictions placed on us as teachers, I will endeavour to create as many opportunities for students to practise being these things as possible. I fully agree with Sir Ken Robinson, who advocates that, ‘designing your curriculum around project-based learning is a dynamic way of engaging learners and of cultivating their powers of imagination, creativity and enquiry, (Robinson, K. 2011).

References

Bentley-Davies, C. (2010) How to be an Amazing Teacher. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.

National Literacy Trust (2012) Boys’ Reading Commission. All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission.

Patton, M. (2012) Subject to Change, New thinking of the curriculum ATL The Education Union.

Polman, JL (2000) Project Based Learning in the Secondary School Classroom, a constructive approach Cambridge Journal of Education, (46) 4. pg 12-26.

Thomas, B (2012) Work that matters; a teacher’s guide to project based learning, London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Hope, S (2006) The Constructive Classroom, Journal of Problem Based Learning in Higher Education, (6) 34. Pg 76-90.

Engaging Disaffected Learners (2)

(Featured image: ‘untitled’ by stupidmommy is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Engaging Disaffected Learners

An Action Research Project by Hannah Gale

Objectives

  • To develop my pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection, particularly in Year 10 boys.
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners.
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence in my students.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, Changes to the examination system at GCSE, mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Jim Smith suggests that one of the most effective ways to establish engagement is to give learning purpose and to show its relevance to students (2010).

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

Context

The focus for this action research project has been disaffected boys in my Year 10 GCSE groups, with a view to achieving the following aims:

  • To increase engagement in lessons;
  • To promote a resilient and problem-solving attitude among my most disaffected learners;
  • To use the coaching style as a means of building relationships.  

I have focused on three learners in particular: Andrew, James and Peter.

Background Reading and Research

This project began after my first-hand experience of Coaching with my NQT mentor. In the education sector, coaching is a mentoring technique used in a 1:1 setting to enable a colleague to combat a problem or concern that they are facing. It involves the mentor giving no advice at all, but simply asking probing questions that encourage the mentee to take an independent approach to the problem and to discover their own solutions. This made me consider how the technique might be adapted for students, particularly those who are so disaffected that they lose a desire and/or ability to combat their difficulties. I know that I have very often defaulted to giving answers to my most disaffected learners, never considering that asking them the right questions could prompt them into helping themselves. As Carol Dweck, establishes, learning will happen when students start to ask “What can I learn from this? What will I do next time I’m in this situation?” (2015). Of course, it’s easy to go to a default ‘OK, I’ll explain it again or I’ll help you with that’. What we should be doing is encouraging students to elicit their own solutions and/or to at least pinpoint their own difficulties.

If my mentor could influence me to become more problem-solving and resilient in my approach to difficulties, could I establish that in my students too? I began by reading up on the coaching technique and reading Carol Dweck’s, ‘Growth Mindset’.

According to The MRT Group, these are the benefits of coaching upon an individual:

  • improvement in individual’s performance, targets and goals
  • increased openness to personal learning and development
  • increased ability to identify solutions to specific work-related issues
  • greater ownership and responsibility
  • development of self-awareness
  • improvement of specific skills or behaviour
  • greater clarity in roles and objectives
  • the opportunity to correct behaviour/performance difficulties  

Actions and Results

I tried two different strategies in order to meet my aims and explore a range of techniques to re-engage these students and promote resilience and confidence. Firstly, I used coaching style questioning within my Year 10 lessons. For example, during one lesson observation I combated one statement of disaffection (‘I always fail’), with ‘What could you do next time to help you succeed at this?’ which allowed the student to focus on the solution and not the problem.

In addition I trialled a 1:1 coaching conversation, to see what results this would glean. I chose Andrew for this individual study because I wanted to build a more supportive relationship with him in particular, as well as allow him to identify his own barriers to learning in English and elicit his own solutions for overcoming them.

I was astounded with the result: Andrew spoke eloquently and specifically about his difficulties and was able to arrive at his own solutions. Here are some snippets from our dialogue:

What can help you to be in the right frame of mind for learning?

‘It depends what kind of day I’ve had. If it’s been really boring and I’ve had to do loads of writing throughout the day, then I probably won’t be bothered to do English when I arrive.’

‘If I know I’m gonna be doing something creative where I can let my imagination go then I’ll want to do it.’

What helps you to learn best? (Andrew particularly dislikes analysing texts, which we do a lot of in English. When asked what might help him to engage in the task of analysing a poem, he said):

‘I find thinking of ideas hard, so I think I’d find it easier if you kind of gave me the answers and then I had to find where that was happening in the poem. I think I’d be pretty good at that actually.’  

After this conversation, I put into practice Andrew’s suggestions and saw a new determination in him across a number of English lessons. It is apparent that “self-awareness and confidence are internal processes essential to ongoing growth and development” (‘Why Coaching?’, Wales, 2002). Indeed, when Andrew believed he’d found the solution to his barrier to learning, he was so much more engaged and willing to overcome his difficulties. I believe that the Coaching process can empower disaffected students to take responsibility for their learning and realise that they can make a change.

Sources/Links/References

Dweck, Carol (2015). ‘Growth Mindset’.

National Literacy Trust. ‘Boys’ Reading Commission’. https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

Wales, Suzy (2002). ‘Why Coaching?’ http://contextcoaching.com.au/Suzy%20Wales%20(2002)%20Why%20Coaching%20EBC.pdf

Smith, Jim (2010). ‘The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’

Engaging Disaffected Learners (1)

(Featured image: ‘English Dictionaries’ by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

An Action Research project by Anna Watkins

Project overview

Working with two other members of the department (Hannah Gale and Megan Dunsby), we established the following aims:

  • To develop our pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection;
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners;
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence.

These give an overview of our foci, and from here we endeavoured to use different strategies to engage disaffected learners. We decided to all concentrate on year 10 students and boys in particular. Having a shared year group meant that we were able to support each other and help each other to develop strategies.

There are a myriad of reasons why students become disaffected, but in the experiences that we had had in our year 10 classrooms we felt that these were the central reasons why:

  • Disaffection hides a literacy weakness;
  • Pressure of year 10 GCSE (especially with current changes);
  • English is compulsory and relevance isn’t obvious to all.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, the changes to the examination system at GCSE mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Caroline Bentley-Davies suggests that a teacher must “signal exactly why you are doing something” (2010, p.165) when improving standards of boys.

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

My personal project overview

After a number of discussions with Megan and Hannah, I decided that I would look at ways in which it is possible to re-engage students through marking strategies. After reading David Didau’s comment that ‘“…apparently, 70% of all feedback given by teachers to pupils falls on stony soil,” I knew that I had to do something different and adapt my normal marking style. Therefore, my aims for this were:

  • To make DIRT more effective with my year 10 boys who initially rejected it;
  • To challenge them through my marking and feedback to ensure progress;
  • To use marking as a means of building relationships.

I had two year 10 classes and therefore used boys from both classes, who were clearly disengaged, to try different strategies with. Recent research points clearly to the importance of valuable feedback as shown in the diagram beneath:

According to Hattie and Timperley (2007) feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.

In a recent paper on formative assessment, Dylan Williams (2014) suggests that:

“Indeed, assessment can be thought of as the bridge between teaching and learning—only through some kind of assessment process can we decide whether instruction has had its intended effect.”

The idea of assessment being a ‘bridge’ between teaching and learning struck a chord with me, and it was from this research that I based my project. In the same paper, Williams also advocates the idea that marking and assessment should be a process which ‘activates students as owners of their own learning’. I decided that I wanted my year 10 students to feel more in charge of their learning, and I planned that my marking would be the means by which I would try this.

Strategies tried and an evaluation of their efficacy

I decided that throughout the year I would try different strategies to re-engage some year 10 students. In fact, these evolved and developed as I got to know my students better, and as I learned what did and didn’t work. Here are the three most prominent techniques I tried:

  1. Highlighting WWW (a department initiative) and providing a code based on a clear success criteria.
  2. Providing regular feedback (in lesson and through marking).
  3. Giving clear tasks or questions of what I wanted them to do to improve, and using this as a form of differentiation.

I soon realised that the first strategy did not have the intended effect I had hoped for. My hope was that if the students could see precisely where they had got it right, they would be clear as to how they could improve. However, I made the common mistake of trying to provide both summative and formative feedback, resulting too often in a disengaged attitude towards marking. The boys who I was targeting also did not appreciate that they had to copy down the highlighted code from the Interactive White Board, and this actually caused a lot more hassle than it was worth. This is an example of a disengaged student’s response to my marking:

aw-ys1

And so I realised that the ‘little and often’ approach was necessary for these boys, and I endeavoured to provide them with feedback as much as I could. This was both throughout the lesson and after during marking time. I wanted them to recognise that I valued their written work, especially extended responses and I tried to mark their work as quickly as possible. This definitely helped to improve engagement, and a more positive relationship was created based on their work.

The final strategy that I developed (born out of the failure and success of the previous two) was to provide very specific feedback on what exactly needed to be done to improve. I realised that these boys needed to feel a sense of success, and it was only once I had really got to know them that I could do this accurately. I learned that my marking needed to be a balance of stretching these students enough, without making them feel like they couldn’t do the work. This really helped me to form relationships as they became much more engaged in both the lesson and their own progress. Here are two examples of particularly great work:

aw-ys2

aw-ys3

Conclusion

The most valuable element of this research for me was to fully recognise the power of feedback in establishing high expectations and good progress. It was through developing good relationships with these students that I was able to understand their strengths and areas for development, and I then used this knowledge to inform my marking. By allowing these students to feel like they can succeed in English, I believe that their engagement in the subject has improved.

References

Bentley-Davies, C. (2010) How to be an Amazing Teacher. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.

Didau, D. (2015) The Learning Spy. Website: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/

Hattie, J and Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research 2007 77: 81

National Literacy Trust (2012) Boys’ Reading Commission. All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission.

Williams, D. (2014) Formative assessment and contingency in the regulation of learning processes. Institute of Education, University of London.

Life without levels: The Development of assessment and reporting in the curriculum

Life without levels: The Development of assessment and reporting in the curriculum

An Action Research project by Ed Walker

Synopsis: In the context of the DFE’s recent decision to remove the requirement to use KS3 levels and alongside this introduce a new KS4. This action research paper seeks to outline the necessary changes and the approach that will be taken to aspects of grading, assessment, reporting and the curriculum at St. Bernadette School.

Introduction

With the introduction of new GCSEs, the removal of requirements for levels at KS3, and the emphasis on a knowledge based curriculum there is a need to adjust our curriculum, assessment, reporting and levelling system throughout the school. Over the past three years the first decision has had to be when will the new levelling system be put into place? The decision to delay the implementation of a new levelling system until the 2016/17 academic year was taken to ensure that the creation of new assessments and grading throughout the school was in line with a closer understanding of precisely the form that levels would take in the majority of subjects based on new GCSE criteria. This delay has allowed for a coherent package could be developed that includes assessment, reporting and the new grading system.

Why move away from the current system?

The Final report of the Commission on Assessment without levels (DFE, 2015), led by John McIntosh, set out a very clear rationale for the abolition of key stage levels in schools. The DFE reports its concern that as the levels were so complex in the national curriculum that the application of best fit criteria often led to serious gaps in students’ knowledge. The report also highlighted that often this meant that it was not clear to parents and teachers where the gaps in students’ knowledge were.  The DFE was also concerned by the lack of depth in students’ learning that emerged from the use of national curriculum levels as mere thresholds for students to achieve that did not secure students’ understanding.

The DFE report was clear that the Government have ‘not sought to prescribe any specific model of assessment.’ In summary, the report highlighted that a move from the current system is necessary, yet there is not any one solution that they favour. Instead of issuing a clear recommendation the report asks schools to consider the following three points; ‘why pupils are being assessed, what the assessment is intended to achieve and how the assessment information will be used.’ The development of our own assessment system had begun prior to the publication of this report, as had been the case in many schools. However, the timing of the report was extremely useful in driving the detailed guidance that has been developed in the 2016/17 academic year.

The decision to use any grading system

An argument can be made on analysis of the 2015 DFE paper that the use of any type of grading system may not be the correct decision. Indeed some schools have moved to a system without any school wide levels or grades whatsoever. These schools instead prefer to use the above, at or below expected progress model. Such a system was considered. The main reasons for deciding not to run with such a system in our school’s context are as follows; 1. We have a successful raising achievement programme without the use of any sort of grades the intervention mechanisms would become unnecessarily complicated. 2. The need for a structure, aims and a focus in the steps that students need to make throughout the school we believe will give students, parents and teachers clarification as to the required standard that was broadly expected of students at various points in the year, although we cannot definitely determine the required stage for students to have reached we can at least give them some structure and targets, this is shown to be important later in this paper. 3. Systems that use above, at or below expected progress end up using the same descriptors simply without the grade attached, again without the link to gradings this can become too abstract for children (Pollock, 1994). Finally, there is a lot of confusion around the educational world regarding the setting of grades at GCSE (NAHT, 2016). We are fully aware that we will not be able to definitively provide accurate definitions, however by preparing our grades in such a way that we are teaching to the top and giving students clear targets we will at least remove any ambiguity in our system. Some educational blogs have misunderstood the new GCSE grading system, believing it to be a norm referenced based system; they imply rather than state this. However, the September 2014 ‘Board paper for new GCSEs published by Ofqual [1] (Ofqual, 2014) illustrates that it is neither a purely norm referenced based system, nor a purely criteria based system, rather a combination of the two. As norm-based systems do not reliably lead to grade descriptors we have decided to use a criteria based system that takes note of the exam board comments and the grade 3,5 and 7 grade descriptors provided but does not solely rely on these, that is flexible and will need to be adjusted periodically. Ultimately the 1-9 system that we have produced gives an indication of the final GCSE grade we believe students will achieve but is not purely driven by this, but rather by our own standards of excellence.

Deciding upon a new grading and assessment system.

The approach that the school has taken is one of criteria referenced testing. Criteria referenced test is the process of evaluating and grading the learning of students against a set of pre-specified criteria (Brown 2003).  This was felt to be the most natural approach for the school to take in light of the national approach being taken with the 1-9 grading system at KS4. The reasons for this decision are set out in this document by exploring some of the alternative systems used as well as the rationale and supporting evidence for the use of the system we have decided upon.  It was clear that we should not be aiming for a simple recreation of key stage three levels, the DFE paper notes that they ‘have been concerned by evidence that some schools are trying to recreate Key Stage 3 levels based on the new national curriculum.’   (DFE, 2015)

There have been a variety of different approaches taken by schools to the new levelling system. The first approach that we considered was that taken by the ‘school A’ chain of schools. The approach taken by ‘school A’ has been to set the criteria reference in each year group for every subject; this is one version of what is commonly referred to as an age independent model (Green, 2002). In their system a student who achieves a grade 5 in Year 7 will be predicted to achieve a grade 5 by the end of Year 11. The grade 5 standard therefore changes in every year group, getting progressively more challenging as students move through the school. There are advantages to such a system. There is a clear path of progression throughout the school. Parents and students, assuming successful explanation, will be able to clearly understand the grade that students are predicted to achieve at the end of their time in the school. However, there were several reasons that we decided that the age independent model would not be the one that we use at St. Bernadette School.

Firstly, the work of Dweck (1986) has illustrated that achieving the same grade at ages 11,14 and 16 can have a negative effect on self-esteem and motivation. This is as students can feel that their ability is fixed over time.

The second reason is the ability of students to feel that they have progressed over a period of time. This can lead to increased levels of motivation as students see their grade improving each year as they work towards an end grade (William, 2001).

Thirdly, there is a real danger that in different year groups teachers end up not effectively referencing against the soon to be established 1-9 criteria, but instead by developing what becomes effectively a separate system for different year groups that in practice is norm referencing against the other students in that particular year. As a school we have an intake that changes in terms of prior ability a relatively large amount each year,[2] the quality and accuracy of the grading would be reduced.  Pollitt (1994) states “We are in danger of implementing a system of tests that behave like thermometers, all pretending to measure on the Celsius scale, but which actually each have their own freezing point and each their own idea of what constitutes a nice summer’s day.”

Finally, as an age independent model often gives extremely detailed criteria to define assessment levels and the progress that had taken place it can be extremely time-consuming to both design and implement. Such a system has been accused of being too mechanistic and over complicating the grading process (Hall, 2002). Like the DFE Life without levels paper (2015) over complication, time consumption and being too specific within the grades are seen as not creating the best environment for successful assessment and therefore teaching and learning.

Locally, School ‘B’ have also adopted an approach that is also based upon the age independent model yet is different to that of ‘school A’. This model provides ‘School B’ levels (see the table below)   that seeks to set a threshold standard each year if students are considered to have ‘passed’ the year.  This removes the concern of students being ‘stuck’ at the same grade each year, however this adds a separate concern that there is no overt link with the 1-9 grading and hence preparation for KS4.  Although, as this system was launched before the grading 1-9 were in place one would imagine that it will now be updated to reflect these changes. However, this will mean a considerable further investment in time and possible confusion as to the required standard.

ed-baseline

The work of School ‘B’ and St Bernadette has been in part based upon that of Shaun Allison and Dan Brinton. Allison recommends allowing teachers to set the standard of excellence that they want their students to achieve and that we be selective about what they assess in order to prepare them successfully for GCSE. The difference between the School ‘B’ and our approach has been that although both systems allow teachers to set the standard of excellence we have linked this far more explicitly to the GCSE criteria and build back down age related thresholds to meet that change the definitions of the final GCSE grading.

To return to the questions posed by the DFE in their 2015 report; ‘why pupils are being assessed, what the assessment is intended to achieve and how the assessment information will be used.’ Firstly, we set out to ensure that students deepen their knowledge and understanding and precisely what they need to do to make progress. The assessments will also be used so that teachers can see how their groups are progressing in comparison to other groups and provide useful benchmarks to national progress and expectations. This in turn will allow best practice to be shared and provide a basis for interventions to be made to boost academic performance. It will also enable us to compare the progress that groups are making and develop strategies to improve academic performance. To ensure that these aims would be met we felt we should consider the following when developing the new grading and assessment system:

  1. Set standards of excellence that prepares students effectively for their GCSE examinations.
  2. Allow students to clearly understand the level that they are working at and how they can make progress.
  3. Be succinct for teachers that will allow them to clearly identify and moderate the grades that they are awarding within the assessments covered.

In summary, at St. Bernadette we have decided to use a criteria based system that uses one key set of 1-9 criteria for each subject throughout Years 7 to 11. The main aim of this is to ensure that students are able to best make progress from KS2 to KS4 and that the steps are made clear to all learners as to what they need to do at each step. All faculties have been encouraged to base these levels upon the new 1-9 GCSE criteria for their subject area. This criterion emphasises a link to GCSE expectations throughout the school.  We will analyse over the next three academic years the success and appropriateness of this link.

To help to ensure that students both clearly understand the grade that they are working at and that teachers are able to clearly identify the progress that students are making we need a blend of both summative and formative assessments in place. We therefore have had to ensure that the criterion based reference system that we have developed is flexible enough to take account of ongoing changes and formative progress in class. The system must also be able to make summative judgements about the grade that the student is currently working at.

When developing the structure of the 1-9 grading criterion we decided that this should not be as prescriptive as that set out by Allison (2014), he suggests insisting that all faculties have clearly defined a rigid knowledge and skills set of definitions to the thresholds that they expect students to meet each year, each with their own year by year subject definitions in the knowledge and skills required.

We have considered using only the distinction between skills and knowledge. In some subject areas, History for example a skills versus knowledge approach has been taken, see appendix 1. Other subjects such as MFL and English have focused on skills driven areas to assess with knowledge used within, for example by using productive and receptive skills, see appendix 2. At St Bernadette we have felt that this flexibility is important to ensure that subject areas are not forced to use broad headings that are not appropriate to their faculty area. By taking this approach we hope faculties more able to create assessments that are more closely linked to the demands of their individual curriculums.

The closer linking to the curriculum of the grades is designed to help students understand exactly where they are each year in relation to the progress that they need to make. The need for a close link to subject curriculums is highlighted by the DFE 2015 report ‘The new national curriculum puts greater emphasis on the specific knowledge pupils should acquire by the end of each key stage and requires greater depth and detail of learning.’ Therefore, ‘removing levels encourages schools to develop approaches to in-school assessment which are better tied to curriculum content’ (DFE, 2015).

Both ‘School C’ and ‘School D’[3] use a similar system to the one that we will be using. However, when analysing their systems we felt that in places it was unclear as to how much understanding and certainty students would have in each year at deciding whether or not they were making progress. We have still needed, as commented upon by Sizmuir and Sainsbury (1997), to use some form of ‘descriptors… as a means of imposing coherence on diverse elements of attainment.’ To help to clarify where we expect students to be without developing a different set of assessment criteria for every year group, as the other models we have considered have done, we have developed with faculties the steps at the end of each year group we would expect students would have reached to secure a particular grade. It is important to note that these use the same descriptors as the generic criteria but also have specific content areas that students would have covered in each year group.  It is important, so as to avoid simply recreating a version of the national curriculum, that these grades are viewed holistically and do not offer specific steps to reach various sub-levels within the grades.  Instead that through module sheets/PLCs that students are clear as to the next steps that they need to take to improve their learning in line with the curriculum that they are studying.

The success of the new grading system will in large part be determined by the accuracy of the assessment that takes place. Faculties have developed their own criteria for success in assessments based upon the GCSE grading criteria. It is of great importance over future years, and as the GCSE grading progresses that the moderation process is robust and looks beyond using only the grade descriptors but also seeks to work with other schools and institutions to create ‘a common yardstick’, (Sainsbury and Sizmur, 1998). For formative assessment teachers must not become fixated with using the 1-9 assessment in the classroom as this may distort effective feedback. However, if it us useful and aids understanding for students to develop it should not be deliberately avoided, professional judgement remains important.

What will become increasing important is, as suggested by Hall (2002), that ‘teachers need to interpret loosely framed level descriptions through a well-defined community of practice.’ To help to ensure the accuracy in this new system, alongside moderation, a new approach has also been developed to the analysis of results. In 2016/17 results will be carefully compared and detailed breakdowns given to faculties that consider accuracy of predictions at various grade boundaries. There is also the opportunity to join external moderation activities such as Pixl Curve, which seek to give nationwide security to the grades given. The national moderation process that will take place with 1-9 grades also ensures stability in the system that we have created as this relative grade certainty in Year 11 will trickle down to other year groups.

Updating reporting practices

The DFE’s Workload Challenge (2015) highlighted that many teachers found the data entry and data management ‘burdensome.’ The change to a new levelling system has allowed us to reconsider the value of the reporting system that we have had in place, particularly the impact that this has had on teaching and learning and raising achievement in the classroom. The same report also reminds us that ‘Ofsted does not require progress to be recorded with any particular frequency.’ Research from the DFE (2011) has also shown that in their survey of teachers that according to 77% of staff surveyed there needs to be more involvement from staff in the use of data, and that according to 84% of those surveyed felt data is often felt not to successfully impact on the development of teaching and learning.

We have when reviewing the operation of the reporting system considered three main areas: How will we collect the data that we collect to raise achievement and improve teaching and learning? How much time will the collection and analysis of this data add to teacher workload? How accurate is the information received?

Targeted Progress Points[4]

The 2015 DFE report suggests that targets are not always helpful as they guide teachers to simply meet certain thresholds. However, the report also states ‘pupils should develop a better understanding of how they are doing and where they need to target their efforts to progress in order to foster a sense of responsibility for their own learning.’ Hence to ensure that there is clarity in the progress that students will need to make from various starting points new transition points of targeted progress points have been developed as shown below. This is supported by Professor Cox (1995) ‘difficulties can arise when descriptions do not give clear definitions of progress or do not relate to realistic progression.’ There will be a main target level for all students. The term ‘minimum target’ will no longer be used.  For level 3, level 4 or below a score of 107 on entry this will be a minimum of 3 grades of progress. For disadvantaged and level 5 or above 107 on entry   the target grade will be 4 grades of progress. When students reach KS4 we will also give them a target Attainment 8 grade.[5] Challenge targets will also be set for students; these will always be one whole level above their target level.  Target levels are suitably challenging for the majority of students. There is an expectation that challenge targets will be used when the target level is not challenging enough for individual students.  Heads of learning and class teachers are responsible for when challenge targets are to be used in their classes and faculty areas.  It is anticipated that the challenge target will be most frequently used for more able students to stretch them towards grades 8 and 9.  There is a challenge, particularly in KS3, that these targets do not become the main focus of the classroom teacher, but rather that the knowledge and skills that students need to develop to progress are emphasised and the target grades are used to accurately reflect this progress.

Where students are significantly below their targeted grade this will be highlighted in spotlight reports as below targeted grade (over one whole grade behind), where they are at their minimum progress point this will be highlighted as minimum expected progress (between one sub level and three sub levels behind), where they are at their targeted grade this will be highlighted as good progress, where they are above their targeted grade this will be highlighted as excellent progress.

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Average grades and target setting for subjects in all year groups.

It is imperative that ‘descriptions are written with reference to empirical data on pupil performance, to avoid the danger that unrealistic standards will be set.’ (Green, 2002). As such we know that broad targets for faculties based on three levels of progress in the past have been unhelpful and demotivating to teachers. Therefore the average grades in target setting will be based on a calculation using the national transition matrices, national attainment data and considering the numbers of students from each starting point in each year group for all of the measures used to allow for ambitious and realistic targets.  These may be updated each year as more accurate data becomes available, particularly in the light of new GCSEs.

For average grades there will then be a calculation made that sets an appropriate average grade for the stage that the students are working at. This will use the same step up points as those used for progress step ups. Therefore, if a final Year 11 average grade of 7+ is set for a faculty area this will be grade 6= at the end of Year 9. For options subjects these will be recalculated, as the composition of these groups changes from Year 9 to Year 10.

The average grades measure will continue to be used alongside the number of students on track for a ‘good’ grade at GCSE in KS4, the % of students on track for targeted progress and those students above targeted progress.

It is important that as part of this process we ensure that all teachers and Heads of Learning are aware that such a system is used to highlight trends that occur and is not a driving factor in performance management. This emphasis should help teachers not to merely push their students towards meeting a particular threshold, as the DFE warn against.

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Conclusions and next steps

Research from the DFE and a range of academics has emphasised the need for a flexible system yet one that still allows all stakeholders to understand precisely the progress that students have made.  There are a variety of approaches that have been taken nationally that have taken various positions on this scale, these are largely all based around criterion based referencing. The in school summative system that we are seeking to develop is informed by national standardised summative assessment in our 1-9 system. We are confident in the new levelling system that we have developed for our context. However, there are a number of key next steps that must be considered over the coming academic years if this system is to be deemed a success.  The timeline in appendix 7 gives an overview of how we will address these challenges in the coming academic year.

  • Launching and explaining the new 1-9 system to students, teachers and parents.
  • Ensure that the 1-9 system encourages effective formative assessment rather than restrict it. As an approach to developing formative assessment teaching and learning should explore the benefits of mastery in enhancing students’ knowledge and understanding.
  • The moderation process of grades and links to final GCSE moderation is crucial to the accuracy of the grading process. (Appendix 5)
  • The key steps taken in each year group for students will be important in helping students understand how they are progressing and how they can improve the standard of their work.
  • We should avoid building a too detailed version of the grade descriptors to avoid recreating the complex national curriculum. However we should further link the curriculum provision in subject areas more closely to assessment systems. Building a clear body of assessment in each subject that links to the 1-9 system whilst offering clear steps for precisely what students need to do to improve. This process has begun in 2015/16.
  • Review the terminology used for the 1-9 system in KS3.
  • Further develop assessment systems to support SEND students.
  • Review faculty base line tests for diagnosing ways in which students need to improve and consolidate their learning.
  • The descriptors should be closely linked to the excellence we expect of students at St. Bernadette School without becoming too prescriptive.

Bibliography

  • Green, S CRITERION REFERENCED ASSESSMENT AS A GUIDE TO LEARNING – THE IMPORTANCE OF PROGRESSION AND RELIABILITY (Cambridge, 2002)
  • Angoff, W.H. (1974) Criterion referencing, norm referencing and the SAT, College Board Review, 92, pp. 2-5.
  • Brown, S. (1988) ‘Criterion referenced assessment: what role for research?’ in Black, H.D. and Dockerell, W.D., New developments in educational assessment, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Monograph series no. 3, pp. 1-14.
  • Cox, B. (1995) The Battle for the English Curriculum London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Dearing, R. (1993) The National Curriculum and its Assessment: interim report London: National Curriculum Council and Schools Examinations and Assessment Council.
  • Dweck, C.S. (1986) Motivational processes affecting learning, American Psychologist (special issue: Psychological science and education), 41 (10), pp. 1040-1048.
  • DFE (2015). Final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels. Chaired by John McIntosh CBE
  • DFE (2014) Report into the use of data within state schools in England and Wales.
  • Hall, K. and Harding, A. (2002) Level descriptions and teacher assessment in England: Towards a community of assessment practice. Forthcoming article, Educational Research.
  • O’Neil, J. (1994) Aiming for new outcomes: The promise and the reality, Educational Leadership, 5, March.
  • Pollitt, A. (1994) ‘Measuring and evaluating reliability in national curriculum assessments’ in Hutchinson, D. and Schagen, I. eds, (1994) How reliable is national curriculum assessment? London: NFER.
  • Popham, W.J. (1980) ‘Domain specification strategies’ in Berk, R.A. ed, (1980) Criterion referenced measurement: the state of the art, pp. 15-31. Baltimore and London: John .Hopkins University Press.
  • Sainsbury, M. and Sizmur, S. (1998) Level descriptions in the National Curriculum: What kind of criterion-referencing is this? Oxford Review of Education, 24.2, pp. 181-193.
  • Sizmur, S. and Sainsbury, M. (1997) Criterion referencing and level descriptions in National Curriculum assessment, British Journal of Curriculum and Assessment, 7.1, pp. 9-11.
  • Wiliam, D. (1993) Validity, dependability and reliability in National Curriculum assessment, The Curriculum Journal, 4.3, pp. 335-350.Appendix 1

Appendix 1

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Appendix 2

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Appendix 3

Assessment and curriculum 2016/17 (Version A)

Subject area: ____________________

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Notes: Students that fail to achieve their targeted grade will be required to re-sit the assessment later in the school year.

Appendix 4

Curriculum and assessment points 2016/17 (Version B)

Subject area:________________

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Appendix 5

Sample moderation top sheet 2016/2017

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Appendix 6

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Appendix 7

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[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/377771/2014-09-12-board-paper-for-new-gcses-in.pdf

[2] From 2011 to 2015 there has been a 20% increase in the number of level 5 students on entry.

[3] As recommended as examples in the 2014 DFE report into life without levels.

[4] As is currently the case this will be different for disadvantaged students, by one level. Challenge targets are always one whole level above the targeted level.

[5] For Year 10 2016/17 this will not be available until February 2017.

Stretching and Challenging Pupils

As teachers, we know it is not enough for our pupils to coast through lessons. We want the very best for all of our pupils. We want them to love learning, to be stimulated by the lessons we teach and to develop intellectually.  So it is vital that we strive to stretch and challenge them.  This is true for all but of particular importance for more able pupils.

Ideally, we should be aiming to deliver lessons that take pupils just beyond the point they have already reached – something just at the edge of their capabilities. This idea comes from Lev Vygotsky’s notion of the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BX2ynEqLL41). This is the essence of education, where pupils are put in a position that enables them to move beyond their existing knowledge and understanding. This is the point at which challenge excites interest without the difficulty of a task overwhelming a willingness to engage.

Never underestimate the importance of having high expectations of all pupils. We know that every pupil can make progress, given the right set of circumstances (including a great teacher) but equally we must always seek to ensure that our most able pupils are being stretched.

There are a number of ways in which we can convey high expectations and raise the level of challenge in our lessons:

Reasoning

When pupils share their opinion during discussion, push them to explain what underpins that opinion. Do not let unsupported assertions escape without asking “Why?”, “What reasons do you have for thinking that?” You can even train your pupils to start asking these questions of each other.

Product

Plan your lessons so that pupils are building up to creating some kind of product – an essay, perhaps, an extended piece of drama or a presentation. This will imbue your lessons with purpose and show them that you believe they can create significant pieces of work.

Success criteria

Make sure that every pupil knows what the success criteria are for each major piece of work you ask them to do, and that it is possible for everybody to attain them. In a positive classroom, pupils will be more likely to push themselves to excel.

Socratic questioning

Socrates, an Athenian philosopher born in 469BC, appears in the dialogues of ­ Plato interrogating his fellow citizens to draw out the assumptions, errors and misconceptions in their thinking. We can use Socrates’ methods in the classroom to challenge the thinking of all pupils – particularly the most able.

There are four roles that Socrates takes on when asking questions: the gadfly, the stingray, the midwife and the ignoramus. Teachers can move between these in order to question the views, opinions and judgements held by more able pupils.

  • The gadfly: Mimic the practice of the gadfly, which nips away at larger animals. This involves asking lots of little questions intended to push thinking and avoid sloppiness: “What do you mean by that?”; “But, what if…?”; “What evidence do you have?”; “Does that always apply?”; “How can you be certain that is true?”
  • The stingray: Administer a shock to ­pupils’ traditional way of thinking in the same way a stingray unleashes its sting: “Imagine if X was not the case, what then?”; “What if everything you’ve said was turned on its head?”; “What if a great change happened?”
  • The midwife: Ask questions that help give birth to ideas: “That’s an interesting idea; could you explain it a bit more?”; “How might that affect things?”; “What made you think of that idea?”
  • The ignoramus: Emulate a character who has never encountered the topic you are discussing and play dumb to encourage explanation: “What does that mean?”; “I don’t understand – can you start from the beginning?”; “So, do you mean that…?”
  •  

Evaluation:

This is all about making judgements: “What do you think and why?”; “Is this better than that, or vice versa?”; “Which option should we go for and what reasons do you have to support your choice?”

Really good evaluation demonstrates a mastery of the topic. Pupils will be able to highlight the strengths and limitations of the issue before making a judgement about what ought to be done or what they believe is the best perspective on an issue.

Nearly every activity you undertake in the classroom can be supplemented by an evaluation task, directly or tangentially associated with the topic.

Use evaluation command words – appraise, argue, assess, critique, defend, evaluate, judge, justify and value – to frame questions and tasks for pupils who finish ahead of their peers.

2Mike Gershon, Elongate their learning: http://mikegershon.com/elongate-their-learning/

Working at the next level up:

Choosing a task from a higher level of study can be a productive way to both stretch and motivate more able pupils. Choosing a GCSE question for a Year 9 class to answer or giving an A level question to the most able Year 11 pupils can be an effective strategy.  It may be appropriate to provide support with critical research, resources and planning for the task but as a means of getting the best from a more able pupils and stimulating interest in higher level study in your subject it has a lot to commend it.

To achieve all of the above we need practical ideas that can be incorporated into our lessons, whether as planned activities or as strategies that we can adopt mid-lesson to provide challenge when and where it is needed.

The following are a range of such ideas:

Starters

  • Get an able pupil(s) to recap on the previous lesson’s learning
  • If your starter activity requires students to find examples set able pupils a higher target e.g. level 5 students find 5 examples, level 7 students find 10 examples
  • Learning logs can be used with all pupils as a plenary or a starter (to review the previous lesson)

Main tasks

  • If you are taking feedback during the lesson, enlist an able pupil to record the ideas on the board
  • Get more able pupils to TEACH their peers
  • Use an able pupil(s) to model their writing or thinking, by explaining their answer/ solution to a task to a neighbour
  • Ask the school librarian to produce a reading list of texts and electronic resources to encourage wider reading or research around a class topic
  • Set an independent task, such as a further investigation in maths or science, or a different class reader from a selected list and invite pupils to decide how they would like to demonstrate their learning to you or the rest of the class after an agreed length of time
  • Use GCSE questions with able Year 9 pupils
  • Provide opportunities for pupils to respond in ways other than writing: display work, role play, short video films etc.
  • Remember that ‘less is more’ is some cases. Prescribe the number of words to be used to make more able students think hard before they write, and make every word count
  • Ascribe the role of chair-person or lead-learner to able students who will then take on the mantle of responsibility and help maintain momentum and focus during tasks
  • Get able pupils to summarise instructions to the whole class
  • All pupils have a red and green card. If they do not understand the content of the lesson or want the teacher to slow down they show their red card, if they are following the lesson they show their green card. If you see a red card you stop the lesson to find out what the problem is. You then select a student who is showing a green card to respond to the issue that has been raised. Plan your groups carefully. Sometimes able students learn most productively together, sharing and extending their more developed thinking; sometimes it is helpful to allow them to advise a less able pupil and have to work harder to successfully articulate their ideas
  • Often, questions arise in the classroom that cannot be answered straight away. These can be valuable learning opportunities, yet are often not revisited. Children could be encouraged to write these on a sticky note and put them onto a laminated picture of a light bulb in your room. At a spare moment in your lesson, or at home, able students can be asked to research the question and report back to the rest of the class. This helps to create an atmosphere of self-motivation and self-challenge

Plenaries

  • Alert an able pupil(s) at the start of the lesson to be ready to summarise the content of the lesson at the end
  • Ask an able pupil(s) to come up with questions at the end of the lesson to test other pupil’s understanding of the lesson
  • At the end of the lesson pose a question which is based on next lesson’s work. All students have to write a response to the question on a piece of A6 card and hand it in on the way out. You use the pupils’ responses to inform your next lesson and as a result of this give able students a more demanding task

References and Links

1Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BX2ynEqLL4

2Mike Gershon, Elongate their learning: http://mikegershon.com/elongate-their-learning/