KS3 – SoW and Assessment Strategy

I’ve noticed a lot of chatter on Facebook lately about assessment at KS3 and about what to put into schemes of work / schemes of learning.

Since my department and I have spent a lot (a LOT!) of time over the last couple of years completely reworking all of the above I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to share it. It’s a team effort and includes some fantastic ideas and units for which I can take no credit at all. No warranty is given or implied and your mileage may vary!

If you want the resources with none of the reasoning or justification then just head on over to pi.mwclarkson.co.uk and download away. If you DO care about the justification (which I think it quite important, as it goes), then read on.

Thematic Units

For a long time we used to teach a half-term on spreadsheets, a half-term on databases, a half-term on image editing, etc. And the visit each topic again in maybe a year, maybe 18 months. This meant we could spend a good chunk of time focusing on one area, but the retention was poor.

We decided a little while ago to try more thematic units – so we have a unit about my Aunt Mabel who bought a zoo on a whim. She needs a spreadsheet to find out if she can afford to feed the animals, some image editing to create a gift voucher, a database for annual membership, etc.

When specifying the equipment needed for a new youth club the students design a floorplan, create a spreadsheet to track and adjust costs, write to their local MP, learn about networking and create a slideshow to convince the PTA to help fund it.

And so on – the key phrase for me is ‘little and often’. The disadvantage is that students don’t spend a big block of time looking deeply at the skills, so you need to remember to make sure to teach about slideshows and DTP skills, not just expect students to ‘know’ what good design looks like and what specific skills to use.

We’ve also gone for an approach that includes a fair bit of computer science (programming, binary, logic gates, algorithms) but also a lot of multimedia topics (mind maps, storyboards, image editing, comics, video editing, audio editing) and ‘traditional’ IT (spreadsheets, databases, posters and PowerPoints). This is partly because we have 3 routes at KS4 – GCSE CS, Cambridge Nationals Creative iMedia and GCSE ICT / vocational ICT to come, and also partly because we think (as a department) that our job is to help prepare students for life and for their future, not just an optional GCSE that not all will pursue.

Online vs Dead Tree submissions

Being a massive Moodler I’ve been an evangelist for online assessment for years. We’ve tried online discussions, wikis, self-marking quizzes, ePortfolios and much more. And, honestly, we never got it right.

When it comes to work scrutinies I was often tempted to drop a URL off in each box when SLT wanted the books, but ultimately I had to cave. And I admit it – the books are a better solution.

Each student gets an A4+ sized exercise book and they sometimes do work in there, but more often print off an assessed piece of work. It’s not ideal for animations, but you can include a screengrab which is usually enough to trigger a memory from circulating during the lessons and you can also encourage students to annotate or justify their work, demonstrating knowledge as well as skills. In addition, the kids can find their work and refer back to it easily. Having to negotiate a VLE once a week and expecting the kids to really understand the underlying structure isn’t as realistic as it might sound to those of us who use these systems multiple times a day and might well have computing / IT degrees.

It’s not perfect, but honestly I feel the books are the best solution I’ve used so far.

Regular Assessment / Deep Marking / WINS

The policy at my school is that we do a solid bit of marking every 5 lessons / 5 hours. This means that we don’t have to mark every piece of work, but that students are getting regular feedback throughout their studies.

The structure of the feedback has to be in the WINS format (What was good, Improved if, Next steps and then a Student response). I’ve heard of PENS in a number of schools which is very similar (Positives, Even better if, Next steps, Student response).

We also have a grading system that goes MEP – EP – BEP – UP (More than Expected Progress, Expected Progress, Below Expected Progress, UnderPerforming). This is printed on and highlighted.

Given that one of my colleagues will have 330 KS3 pupils next year we had to make the marking manageable – so we’ve produced one pre-populated WINS sheet for each unit with all of the likely comments written in and 3 differentiated questions for students to tackle that are designed to make students reflect on their work at different levels (think Bloom’s).

I wanted to avoid having students working on something for 5 lessons, then getting some feedback, then spending another lesson making improvements and resubmitting it. You end up in ever decreasing circles and lose valuable time for moving on – and with the ‘little and often’ curriculum we’ll be coming back to those skills again soon enough.

Tracking Progress / Assessment Without Levels

In order to better track progress all of the subject leaders at my place were tasked with describing the knowledge, skills and application that students would be expected to gain each term, all without using levels. These AWoL sheets are heavily skills focused for us and are broken down into the three strands of IT, Media and Computer Science. They relate directly to the unit WINS sheets and are easily attacked with a highlighter once a term.

In addition we have an overall tracking sheet with the 3 strands, each split into 2 (so IT has data handling and presenting information, Media has creativity and planning, CS has programming and technical understanding). By highlighting these at the same time as the termly sheets we can show overall progress.

It costs a bit in highlighters but saves a lot in blue, black, red, green and purple pen!

I’m not promising it’s perfect, and I would never claim this is the ‘right way to do it’ – but it’s what we’re doing and you’re welcome to use it.

If you do decide to adapt and improve it, please consider sharing and please give some credit to the team that helped put it together (Egglescliffe School Computing & ICT department, past and present).

Re-finding my teaching mojo

Back to School – Bluesquarething

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a blog post. But this year I am determined to find the time for self-reflection that I missed out on last year – and forcing myself to blog at least once a fortnight should help me do that.

The return to school after such a long break is always a funny one, and this year I’ve felt less organised than ever. Partly I think I overworked myself last year and really needed a long break, meaning that I didn’t even do the token 3 or 4 days in the run up to starting this year.

And yet, it really doesn’t take long to get back into it. This morning I felt quite disillusioned arriving at school. The same corridors, the same room, the same tip that I didn’t tidy properly at the end of term… and the same requirements to be excellent, to be outstanding, to have engaging, entertaining lessons. I really didn’t think I had the energy for it any more when I rolled up at 8am.

By third lesson I’d spent two hours with my new form, taught a tutorial lesson that didn’t result in me wanting to bang my head against a wall and was starting to take some shiny new Y7s through the intricacies of logging on. I didn’t have time be tired, found myself making jokes the kids didn’t get (is it just me that does this?) and just generally felt quite at home.

This afternoon I met both of my new Y10 classes and was impressed by their work ethic, their ability and my planning (I might be one-sided but I genuinely thought they both lessons were well paced, included varied activities and both actually had a plenary!).

So, while it seemed a dispiriting moment to be heading back to the front lines, it’s actually reminded me of all the things I love about teaching. Interactions with enthusiastic kids, being helpful and supportive, seeing people make progress on a minute by minute basis and all that stuff.

We’ll see how it goes in week two once they’ve gotten a little more comfortable 😀

Slow and steady wins the race

I was really excited last week. I had planned a Round Robin lesson for my Y10s. They got themselves into small groups and there were 5 tasks around for them for them to partake, each one providing a different problem and a different kind of problem solving technique.

I thought the lesson sounded great – lots of energy, lots of challenge, group work, multiple mini-plenaries – surely it couldn’t fail.

Well, of course, it did. It wasn’t a total disaster but I learned some significant lessons of my own. The tasks were not equal in the time they took to complete. The leap frog game took significantly less time than the battleships game. The treasure chest riddle was also much quicker than the banana eating camel puzzle. This meant that some students ended up sat twiddling their thumbs whilst others were being hurried and harassed, preventing them from taking the time necessary to reflect on their responses.

Part of each task was to write down how they had solved it, and while anyone who has successfully mastered the Tower of Hanoi can *see* the solution, it’s not necessarily easy to describe. Especially if you’re a 14 year old boy and the whole point of the lesson is to introduce you to the concept of problem solving.

At the opposite end I ran another lesson today with a single problem – that of how to describe the drawing of a shape accurately and unambiguously. The students had far more fun trying not to be outdone as I deliberately and hilariously misinterpreted their instructions (one lad was appalled that when he told me to draw a diamond, I did – complete with ring and even a dainty finger) and they got the point much more clearly today than they would have done from a dozen too-hectic round robin lessons.

There was some leading from the front, but also individual learning, group work, challenge, competition, mini plenaries and more. The pace was at least sufficient and progress was good. So slow and steady CAN win the race.

It’s just a shame that I can’t claim the lesson plan or resources as my own – but I’d rather pinch an excellent lesson from somewhere else than teach a dodgy one of my own devising!


Image attribution: Boston – Copley Square: The Tortoise and the Hare Originally uploaded by wallyg

TMNE10: Objectivity

The Game

Context: Teachmeet Northeast took place on Thursday 9th December. Each day I’m blogging about one thing I learned at the event.

I didn’t catch the name of the presenter for this one, but we had a 2 minute nano presentation on learning objectives and the idea that we really do it back to front. My learning objectives are always written;

  • What:
  • How:
  • Why:

This, to me, has made sense. It’s not had the jargon factor with WILTS and other acronyms and it is simple to put together when planning a lesson.

It’s an interesting thought, though, that I might have it bass ackwards. I taught a lesson today in which I used the same headings but in reverse.

First, I considered WHY we were doing this lesson. Why had I built the lesson plan the way I had? What was the point? In this case it was because problem solving in a fun way leads us nicely into thinking about algorithms and how to program computers, but that’s almost incidental to the blog post.

Next, I wrote down HOW we were going to do it. By what mechanism. This answer was very similar to the ‘how’ had I written the objectives the other way around – by using a game called Light Bot 2.

Finally I wrote WHAT we were going to do – in this case solving problems using loops.

It took me a while to appreciate this way of thinking. It’s easy to simply write the objectives as normal and then flip them, but that kind of misses the point. The point is to think about WHY you’re doing the lesson. This lesson. Right now. That should be the fundamental crux of the lesson. You build the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ around that. If you start with the ‘what’ at the centre then you’re not teaching skills, you’re just completing an activity. Tail wagging the dog. You can pick your own cliché.

Equally I think this is important for the students. They will often turn up and ask ‘What are we doing today?’. Really they should be asking ‘Why are we doing this lesson?’ and only then trying to work out how to get there.

I think there’s a pretty strong argument in there. And I might try rewriting my objectives this way round for every lesson in the future.

Image attribution: The Game Originally uploaded by v@lentina