Assessment FOR learning

Assessment is feedback on how well you are learning and the difference between one’s own achievement and what is possible. ‘Assessment’ is such a formal word that it immediately makes you think of tests, but every little bit of praise and every question about why you did things as you did is assessment. It gives you an idea of what others think of what you do. And when those others are people you respect and care about - like friends and family and teachers you respect - it makes you want to do better. Just about everyone wants to look good in the eyes of the others who matter to them.

One of the key indicators that a school is transforming its educational offering to its pupils is the visibility of what achievement in learning and effective learning are. If children don’t know how high they might reach they are much less likely to try. And if the expectations that they will achieve are made very clear, then most will. Many Belgian children speak three languages fluently, and most European children speak English as well as their own language. This is not because they are more intelligent than English children. It is because it is a natural and normal achievement for all in their country. Their parents and most other adults do; why shouldn’t they?

Displays of pupils’ work in schools has always been rather problematical. The more visual work can be displayed on noticeboards, though at the cost of teacher or assistant time to put it there. Things pupils write or make are much harder to display; writing cannot be easily seen unless looked at closely and 3D objects or transient creations could not previously be captured to display on walls.

How different the world is now. The methods available to display what pupils create have multiplied many-fold with computers, compared to what was possible without them. Most adults and many pupils now constantly carry a digital still and video camera, and a voice recorder. And wall space for display in the digital environment is effectively limitless. And not only can work be displayed; others can be asked for their opinions too, through voting or comments.

In the past, because space was limited, because the walls of corridors and classrooms are highly visible to all in the school and to visitors, and because work had to be prepared suitably to be displayed, it was teachers who decided what should be displayed. The digital environment can be publicly visible or only accessible to defined groups. There is no necessity to mount work or to worry about how securely it is affixed to the noticeboard - you just upload a file. The school and the teachers need only worry about the public displays. Pupils can be allowed to upload their own work to class and year displays.

This all sounds such a very good idea it is amazing it is not happening in every school. Children knowing their work will be on display, to colleagues and parents as well as their teacher, is a very strong incentive for better work. So what are the inhibitors?

i) Most parents and children can access the Internet from home. This is already not a problem in many schools and the country cannot afford to have more than a tiny minority of its citizens not connected to digital information and services. It is wrong to use the excuse that some pupils and families cannot access the Internet as a reason to delay displaying work in online platforms. At the very least the work will be visible in school and the fact that it is online will act as another incentive for parents to get online, if only in the local library or at friends houses.

ii) Schools need a digital environment. This is not hard to achieve if the Head makes it a priority. It costs some money but less than 1% of the school budget for simple online systems. There are even some schools using free online systems. The question to ask is whether doing this could increase effort and achievement by more than 1%. If you imagine all the teachers, all the pupils, and all the parents engaging in providing feedback to learners on the quality of their work and offering praise and constructive criticism - is there anything else a school could spend 1% of its budget on that would have this level of impact? There is surely a severe lack of imagination if school leaders don’t believe an online platform can have a major improving impact on achievement.

iii) Staff and parents will need to be given access to the online systems. This is more a matter of careful preparation and planning than of lots of work. And once good systems are in place to do this the work to maintain them is relatively small.

iii) The children’s work will need to be put up in the class areas or galleries in the online systems. There are schools where very young children regularly record themselves talking about their work and use a visualiser to capture images or video of their work - and post the digital files to areas that their teacher can see, and make public to their peers and their parents. The school can control access and progressively widen it as a culture of ensuring the quality of work put up develops amongst the pupils.

The ‘bottom line’ is that there is absolutely nothing to stop all schools starting down this route.

However these words are unlikely to persuade some Headteachers or classteachers that they should make the effort to do this. Logical arguments don’t work well to stimulate the use of ICT in education. It is too disruptive a force for change. Unless you are forced to use computers and online systems you need emotional reasons to do so.

For primary schools, those emotional reasons will come from the personal thanks from parents to teachers, for being able to see what their child is doing in school. And from the delight that the children show in the interest and praise their family have shown in their work. When this upward spiral of pupil success and parental engagement starts, then there will be an un-avoidable imperative for primary schools and all primary teachers to use online platforms.