Adventures in AfL: Piecemeal Assessment

I decided to try something new with year 9 assessment this term. We study World War One, this term, with the question, “Why did men stand and fight in the First World War?” I gave them the assessment sheet, that I use to mark the end product, in the first lesson and we spent a little time planning how we could answer the question and they went through what evidence they would need. I tweaked my lessons accordingly, so that I covered the breadth and depth they were looking for.

As the lessons passed, they built up a paragraph here and there that slotted neatly into their final essay. I did quite a lot of on-the-spot marking as per our new school policy (blog post pending on that) and then at the end of the unit, I went through the paragraphs and gave them an expected level and some advice on how to improve. I then set a homework to write or type up the paragraphs with an overall conclusion, acting on the advice I had given.

This seemed like it should be foolproof! But, of course, it wasn’t quite as perfect as I had hoped. Here are the best bits:

  • Students were working towards the success criteria for the essay from the very first lesson, so that every piece of information had a purpose, which I hoped made the study more meaningful.
  • I was able to intervene to tweak things like spelling and little factual inaccuracies, and also to see my feedback on how to improve acted on, rather than just fading away.
  • It has had a significant impact on students’ ability to express change over time – in this case, that soldiers volunteered to begin with and then needed to be conscripted. I don’t know why; I guess this is a particularly difficult concept for them to grasp and revisiting it helped them to improve their explanation.
  • It meant I didn’t need to spend an hour growling at a class as they wrote in silence, at the end of the unit.

Here are the not-so-good bits:

  • It was quite common for my feedback not to be acted upon. In one case, a girl carefully transcribed her original paragraphs to the point where she included spelling mistakes, even though I had corrected them on the original! Simply copying work seems like a complete waste of time to me and I am amazed so many of them did it, so pliantly – it is worrying to think that this is so normal to them that they didn’t see anything wrong with it.
  • Very few had added a conclusion, even though this was part of the HW and clearly stated on the success criteria.
  • The essay planning lesson was hard. It was a test of my questioning skills and I had to do a lot of teasing out.

I think the final problem could be solved with practice, and the middle problem solved with a 10 minute conclusion-discussing-or-writing plenary on the day the HW is set – or the more draconian returning-essays-without-conclusions approach. I’m not sure about the first problem. I suppose that draconian approach would work here, too, but I would prefer not to have to do this. I could write to parents and ask them to spend some time going over my feedback and the child’s finished essay, but I’m not convinced they would all do this, nor that they should have to.

I’m lucky with my year 9 class and they are a lovely bunch, so I think I might just ask them when I return their essays this week. They almost all made progress – some significant – against their levels from the end of Y8, but it wasn’t quite the breakthrough I had been hoping for. Though, arguably, a better understanding of change over time will be extremely helpful in the future when they’re doing their GCSE Crime and Punishment study.

I’m not sure when I’ll try this again because our next History assessment (we’re doing Geography at the moment, thanks to an adjustment in the way we approach the teaching of Y9 in Humanities this year) is a choice between verbal and written, so it doesn’t really lend itself. I might try it with year 8, doing the English Civil War.

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