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Evaluate and improve upon wider practice Essay

Assignment discussing key principles of effective assessment with reference to your own specialist area and suggesting areas for improvement.

In the following assignment I will be discussing the key principles of effective assessment, with specific links to teaching English and suggesting areas for improvement.

Bell and Harris (2013: p 98) state that “when deciding upon assessment techniques, an appropriate starting point is to consider two questions: what are the overall purposes, or aims, of assessing? Who is the audience for the results of assessing?” Assessment is present in a number of different types of strategy. These types of assessment each contribute to measuring student performance in different ways. Ann Gravells (2011:p91) outlines assessment as “the initial assessment, assessment planning, assessment activity, assessment decision and feedback and finally, review of progress”.

Initial assessment is a strategy which is used to measure student ability at the beginning of a course and can assist the learning practitioner determine goals for the student to achieve. Initial assessment is a vital form of assessment as it is used to meet the learning needs of the student and helps the teacher design a programme that can improve student’s weaknesses.

Formative assessments are used to give feedback on progress and effectiveness of learning within the classroom. This form of assessment is utilised in a number of ways in order to monitor progress through the learning programme, with feedback allowing the learning practitioner to make changes to learning if needed. These changes are important as they can improve the learning of the students and identify any areas of the programme a student is struggling with. Summative assessment is a strategy used to measure achievement on a programme.

The classic summative assessment takes the form of an examination. In terms of my specialist area (English), this takes place using a language paper, literature paper and a speaking and listening exercise. However, summative assessment also takes place during the course in the form of quizzes and creative writing. The advantage of summative assessment is that it allows the teacher to assess how much the student has learnt over the course of a programme.

Assessment can take place in a formal and informal manner. Formal assessment is evident in the form of essays and written examinations, which measure the progress made by students. Formal assessment has the advantage of being a reliable and measurable form of monitoring student performance. In relation to teaching English, I use formal assessments frequently in order to test student knowledge. For example, in an English Literature class, I use past papers regularly to test student knowledge as well as ensure the students are familiar with the examination paper. Informal assessments are used to monitor performance in the classroom without the need for examination conditions. These can range from quizzes, debates, mind map activates amongst others. I utilise informal assessment frequently at the beginning of lessons in the form of blockbuster quizzes. This activity tests student knowledge, but in a manner which is enjoyable for the class.

Added to these forms of assessment are others, which are vital in ensuring good teaching practice. Norm and criterion referencing are useful assessment tools that can be used in the classroom. Norm referenced assessments are used to compare a student’s individual score to that of others. These assessments are used to gauge the effectiveness of a teaching programmer and helps identify any weaknesses. However, norm referenced assessments don’t specifically look at the individual, only the collective. Criterion referenced assessments is where student performance is marked against pre-determined criteria.

This is the preferred form of assessment in my own practice, particularly in Functional Skills English. This course features learners operating at different levels, therefore the course is tailored for the individual learner. The advantage of using criterion referenced assessments is that students are only compared to themselves, not others. This assessment tool is also idea for assisting students with specific learning needs, a lot of whom are on the course. As well as this, criterion referenced assessments allow the teacher to identify areas of student weakness and work upon them.

However, the issue with norm and criterion referenced marking is that they are similar in the way the work is marked. These could be improved by marking criterion referenced assessments in a way which a student’s work can be compared to their previous work and then the final mark can be based on whether improvements have been made or e-assessment can play an important role in the classroom, especially as technology advances. My own practice utilises e-assessment frequently by using the BBC Skillswise website in conjunction with my adult class.

This provides students with small, formative assessments which test students knowledge of what they leant. This has proved to be a success as it allows the students to have a change from traditional teaching and assessment in the classroom. e-assessment also has the advantage of providing instant feedback to students and allows the students to study outside of the classroom.

However, it can be argued that e-assessment lacks reliability, especially with technology not working efficiently all the time and not all students may not have access to technology, and thereby isolate their learning. Peer and self assessment can also be an effective learning tool within the classroom. Self assessment allows students to identify strengths and weaknesses and then work with the teacher to improve. Peer assessment allows students to assess others’ work. This has the advantage of encouraging student involvement and responsibility within the classroom. However, it can be argued that peer assessment should be used sparingly, otherwise students may discriminate against others and affect the confidence of others.

It is important when giving assessments to students to ensure that the following strategies are met: Validity, reliability, currency, sufficiency and fairness. Validity as an assessment strategy is important as it means that the assessment given by the teacher must meet the standards set by the examining body. For example, when marking pieces of English coursework, I will ask colleagues in the department to mark the work as well. Colleagues will use the same criteria given by the examining body as me to ensure that the final grade is valid. It is vitally important that formal assessments must be validated by a mark scheme and not solely be based on the teacher’s opinion.

Reliability as an assessment strategy links in with validity and refers to the fact that when marking an assessment, the learning practitioner must ensure that the marks given comply with professional standards. The reliable assessment is one that if a student were to do it again, then they would gain a similar mark. In regards to my own professional practice for an assessment to be 100% reliable, I ensure that all are consistent and meet the criteria that is set by the examination board.

Fairness as an assessment strategy dictates that assessment given to students must be objective and that the teacher must ensure that the assessment adheres to the standards set by the awarding body. It is vital that an assessment ensures that all students have an equal chance of passing. I ensure that fairness is met in my own practice in the way that through the initial assessment, I am able to assess what level individual students would be able to achieve in the final exam. This ensures that all students have a fair and equal chance of obtaining a pass mark in the final assessment.

The importance of effective feedback cannot be understated. In particular, feedback is extremely important to the formative assessment process. Brookhart (2008: p 3) states: “Good feedback gives students information they need so they can understand where they are in their learning and what to do next”. Pickford and Race (2007: p 110) agree, noting that “it is through the associated feedback that we can attempt to improve the nature of quality of that learning”.

In my practice, I ensure that I give quality feedback that is constructive and always has a positive element to it regardless of the grade (see Appendix). I believe that by including detailed comments instead of brief ones such as “needs more detail” or “see me”, then the students will act upon these more positively. Specific feedback allows the student to recognise how they can improve instead of having a negative effect. As well as this, I often utilise peer assessment in some activities. Black (2003: p 43) recognises that “students rarely read comments, preferring to compare marks with peers as their first reaction on getting work back”.

This can occur during my practice when students are given an email writing task. The students compose the email on a computer (incorporating ICT), and then send it to another student who then marks it. This creates a positive atmosphere and allows for shared learning in the classroom. Petty agrees, explaining that “students greatly enjoy this method, and both ‘helpers’ and ‘helped’ learn if they support each other constructively”.

In my own placement, I often utilise Petty’s theory of medals and missions. Petty(http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/feedback-and-questions/) describes the medal as ” information about what a student has done well, e.g. ‘Your paragraphs and punctuation are good’ or ‘That’s good evidence’ written in the margin next to a well made point by the student.” This links in to my earlier point about giving constructive feedback on homework. Missions are outlined by Petty as ” information about what the student needs to improve, correct, or work on”. As stated before, I achieve this in my own practice by holding one to one sessions with students, working with them to recognise faults and set targets for improvement.

I could improve feedback in my own practice in a number of ways. Self-assessment in the written comments I make on work could be utilised more. Bell and Harris (2013: p 108) reflect on this, stating: “Self-assessment questions embedded in learning material, or at the end of the section, can usefully cause the learner to reflect and self-assess”. An area I could improve on in my practice regarding feedback would be to use less grading. Although high marks can have a positive effect on a student, likewise a low mark has shown to have a negative effect.

Petty has outlined the disadvantage of grading, highlighting that “grades are consistently found to demotivate low attainers. They also fail to challenge high attainers, often making them complacent”. As well as this Pickford and Race (2007: p 128) suggest using feedback sheets, stating that they will “continue to be good evidence of your teaching practices”. Using feedback sheets would allow myself and the students to monitor progress and see how they have developed.

In conclusion, there are a number of assessment strategies that can be utilised in the classroom, each with advantages and disadvantages. It can be argued that some are more effective for certain subject areas than others.
As a learning practitioner, I use numerous strategies and recognise the importance of using them effectively, which have been outlined in the above piece. These strategies are constantly evaluated and modified in order to improve the learning of the students.

References:

Bell, C and Harris, D. (2013) Evaluating and Assessing for Learning. Routledge.

Black, P (2003). Assessment for Learning: Putting it into practice. Open University Press.

Brookhart, S. (2008) How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. ASCD.

Gravells, A. (2011) Principles and Practice of Assessment in the Lifelong Learning Sector. SAGE.

Petty, G (2014) Feedback: Medals and Missions. Retrieved May 20th 2014 from http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/feedback-and-questions/

Race, P & Pickford R. (2007) Making Teaching Work: Teaching Smarter in Post-Compulsory Education. SAGE.

Appendix

Piece of student work featuring positive feedback.


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