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Using Assessment and Feedback to Enable Learning

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Many of my lessons involve embedding literacy into a topic so it is more meaningful for the learners. There are various ways of assessing work which are used. One method that is used is initial assessment, where the learners at the beginning of their induction into our pre-16 program do an online BSKB initial assessment in Maths, English and ICT. This is to ensure that the learner is at the right level of learning. These tests are formative and convergent where choices of multiple choice questions give indications of gaps in the learner’s knowledge. Once the learner has completed an initial assessment they are then given the diagnostic BSKB assessment to see what subject strengths and weaknesses they have. These learners tend not to have attended much school therefore it is difficult to assess the work they produce as very often little or no work is achieved. Assessment is about making a judgment to make sure that learning is taking place. It is about identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the learner so that the learner is progressing with the work that is set.

Assessment in all forms that involve making a judgment and it includes an element of subjectivity by me. It should be objective, fair and transparent. It plays an important role in the education process as it determines the work students undertake and affects their approach to learning. There are varying degrees of assessment that are designed primarily to serve the purposes of accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence. However, an assessment activity can help learning if it provides information that I can use and can give students feedback. Feedback can be used to modify teaching and learning activities in which the learners are engaged in. Such assessment becomes formative when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs. Much of what teachers and learners do in the classroom is assessment based. Tasks and questions prompt learners to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. How the learners respond and interpret this can give indications of how their learning can be improved.

Verbal feedback and discussion tends to be the main method that I use where opinions can be discussed and attainment of knowledge can be assessed during lessons. This is classed as affective learning where topics can gain an emotional response or a tone of interest/values that the learner may have prior knowledge or experience. These types of responses are usually focused on the learner’s feelings, and they are often difficult to measure in quantifiable terms. However, in my classroom, I want the learners to feel that their work is valued and that the effort has been worthwhile. During lessons, informal assessment is the preferred choice for me and my pre-16 colleague as students are wary of tests or exams. The reason for this maybe the learner’s previous experience of learning or the fact that they feel vulnerable when the word test, exam or assessment occurs within the learning environment. Informal assessment is easily incorporated into classroom routines and learning activities. It can be used at any time without interfering with teaching.

The results give indication of the learner’s performance on the skill or subject of interest. However, it is not intended to give a broader view of the learner’s ability apart from the lesson that took place. This is not to say that informal assessment is spontaneous or absent from accuracy. Formal tests assume a single set of expectations for all students and come with prescribed criteria for scoring and interpretation. Informal assessment, on the other hand, requires a clear understanding of the levels of ability the students bring with them. Only then may assessment activities be selected that students can attempt reasonably. Measuring the validity and reliability of informal assessments is achieved by expected goals and objectives outcomes. Once the work is completed, I assess the knowledge that the learners have gained by their attempted completion of the tasks. Scoring procedures can be used to measure progress and achievement in content areas and literacy skills can be measured by oral, reading and written work.

Reliability is a statistical measure of which we can trust the results of a given writing test. Reliability estimations and their interpretations will vary according to particular assessment contexts and purposes. In real practice, high score reliability is indeed necessary and feasible in large-scale assessment, where the actual tests are the main source of interpretable information. In more local contexts (e.g. classrooms), reliability measurements are to a great extent unfeasible and, simultaneously, other sources for qualitative evaluation are available. The work that the learners produced enabled me to assess their level of understanding and also their literacy progress. Feedback was given in written format on the activity worksheet, to identify strengths and weaknesses of each individual learner. All the learners attempted the worksheet and I gave feedback in the format of Petty (2004) medals and missions. Medals (sometimes called positive reinforcement) are given when the learner has done something well, such as spellings or written something in their own words although most of the learners just wrote down what was on the computer screen.

This was what I commented on as missions where the learners need to improve, correct or work upon. Written tasks, alongside oral questioning, should encourage students to develop and show understanding of the key features of what they have learned. Opportunities are given during lessons for the learners to respond to comments made about their work and advice is given on what areas they are struggling on. The key point to feedback is for it to be effective and for the learners to think about the good and bad points in their work and that clear goals can be achieved. The negative aspect of feedback for disaffected learners is that low self-esteem influences their reaction to feedback. Building self-esteem and confidence is one of the main aspects in my classroom. Low self-esteem can knock confidence and ability and their previous experiences of learning can have a considerable impact on their academic ability. In this environment learners are in a vulnerable position and in some cases their low esteem can be forgotten by teachers due to distractions and challenging behaviour.

The comments I make have to be sensitive and constructive so that the comments do not impact on the learner’s self-esteem and confidence. The comments are to be constructive and build on their learning capabilities. When I ask the learners whether or not they understood the feedback given regarding their work, the learners give the appearance that they are not bothered about the feedback or acted disinterested. Students find the feedback messages hard to understand and complex in their meaning especially in the written form. However, when feedback is used as dialogue within the lesson it provides opportunities for feedback and feedforward. This is a good scenario as the learner responds to initial feedback with their opinions. This gives the chance for the teacher to help the learners develop their understanding and has an instant response in correcting misunderstandings.

Although, the response to verbal feedback regarding the learners knowledge, skills and understanding is feasible in the classroom, further development of feedback and feedforward is required so that the student can improve and grow in their understanding of the subject and true learning has taken place. When I assess a learner this has an impact on my teaching. The feedback I get from the students gives me the opportunity to reflect on my practices and adjust accordingly so that the learners are engaged, focused and completing the tasks given during lessons. However, learners’ indifference to learning and feedback can cloud my judgement about what I am doing right or wrong. In my sessions I need to develop the dual narrative where the learners work together as a group but also there are one to one opportunities. This would work towards full differentiation where students are working independently but within a whole group setting.

This has been difficult to achieve yet it is possible; progress has been made with the learners providing work that can be assessed verbally or written. However, it has taken six months to gain trust, confidence and self-esteem of the learners to provide any work at all. Nonetheless, with a longer time restraint development of feedback and feedforward can be achieved. The learners need to see feedback as a reflection on their work not that it’s personal to them, the problem these learners face is to understand what feedback is and what its intentions are. The trouble is that once the disaffected learners arrive at Rathbone they already feel that school as failed them therefore feel disengaged with the learning environment. This can be a contributing factor to the way they feel towards assessments.

The attitude towards motivating and engaging the learners towards learning objectives is a more social context. Therefore, the attitude of Rathbone and its staff is to gain confidence, trust and self-esteem so that learning is more enjoyable to them. This then becomes a platform for the learners to want to learn post 16. As their teacher, the environment is complex and challenging however I feel that the learners are starting to become aware of what is required of them in the classroom. This means that I am doing something right and that my assessments, judgement and feedback are starting to be acknowledged.

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