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 😀

Assessment and Feedback in ICT


Originally uploaded by Pkabz

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, but real life has been taking over of late.

Thankfully, I was emailed today asking about how I deal with assessment at KS3 so I can kill two birds with one stone.

The email wasn’t so much what or how I assess, but how do I communicate this with the students and how do they respond to it. In many subjects a stuck in sheet at the front of the book serves to maintain a persistent and consistent platform for feedback and responses – but in ICT lessons we don’t use exercise books, and I’m loathe to start just for that reason.

We could always give students pieces of paper, or have them filed in the room, but this seems similarly arbitrary and far from ideal.

We did try using Moodle for a good few years, with a course set aside just for assessed pieces of work to be uploaded and feedback given. It required one upload assignment for each assessed unit and while the feedback was persistent (students could always go back and look at it) it was still very unidirectional.

Since about the middle of last year we’ve been using the Moodle Dialogue Module. While I was loathe to start adding non-core modules because of the hassles involved in upgrading further down the line, the functionality really couldn’t be found any other way.

Installation and setup is simple, although it’s virtually essential to be using groups*. I find it easiest to get the students to initiate the dialogue (you need to be enrolled as a teacher for the students to see you) although you can start a dialogue with an entire group at a time.

Both sides can write messages and upload files and the conversation is private between you and the student. This way the student can upload their work with a brief self-assessment, you can leave detailed feedback and they can respond. Every 3 or 4 lessons we bring the students back to the dialogue and look at what their specific targets are and can measure their own progress.

We’re also in the process of designing some large display boards with level descriptors so students can refer to these as they go.

It’s not perfect, and one of the bugbears is that impatient students will hit the submit button 3 or 4 times, creating 3 or 4 entries that can’t be edited or removed after the 30 minute grace period.

On the whole, though, it’s working very well and in the whole discussions and working parties on assessment and feedback our system has been praised by SLT – so it can’t be that bad!

* Top tip: Set up the groups before you enrol the students and give each group a unique enrolment key. Put a different enrolment key on the course and when students sign up with their class’ enrolment key they automatically appear in the right group.

What ‘progress’ looks like

11/02/2007 (Day 73) – Evolution

Originally uploaded by Kaptain Kobold

I mentioned previously that there is a big push on “Learning and Progress” at the moment in school. Much discussion has been had and a colleague (we’ll call him Steve) and I sat down for a full PD Day to thrash out what a “learning lesson” looks like.

We both wrote lesson plans, observed lessons and ultimately I nicked most of Steve’s ideas. The emphasis, really, is on checking in with students during the lesson to see how they’re getting on. Sounds pretty simple, really, but without a bit of conscious effort it’s easily missed.

So here is the “learning lesson” I ran with a Y9 class this week:

We are part way through a unit of work on a Grand Designs topic – designing houses, creating them in Sketchup, tweaking a model to make the most profit, etc. We are now on to the promotional part of the unit and we need to start selling some houses.

As students enter they each find a mini-whiteboard at their desks, complete with a pen and eraser. On the main whiteboard is an instruction to write down 3 adjectives to describe the students’ houses.

This actually sparked some debate as to what an adjective is, so I’ve already learned something about the students’ level of understanding in terms of the literacy aspect.

After a minute or two the students held their whiteboards up and we quickly looked at what worked well (e.g. elegant, spacious, etc.) and what didn’t (e.g. big, cheap, almost finished).

We looked at a couple of estate agent web pages to see what language is used (interestingly spotting an apartment that was described as ‘spacious’ despite being smaller that the classroom we were using) and students then used a word processor to write a paragraph to describe/promote each of their houses (a starter home, bungalow and mansion).

I circulated to give tips and feedback – then the learning checkpoint. Three volunteers came out to be given a whiteboard and pen each. Three more volunteers read out one of the paragraphs they had written. In between each one we had a “Strictly” like judging moment complete with scores (someone always chooses “SEVEN!”) and feedback.

Although we didn’t read out every paragraph, every student was involved and engaged – and they were all comparing what others had written with their own. A couple more minutes to tweak what they had written, then save and change again.

The next task was to capture some images of the houses we had created in Sketchup. We discussed artistic style and 3-point perspective (contextual curriculum link with Art) before taking screengrabs from different angles and also a couple of fly-through animations.

To finish up students opened their Open Office Impress (think PowerPoint) slideshow (we’ve been spending 5-10 minutes on this each lesson), imported a screengrab from the last section and wrote about both what we had done and why we had done it.

Next lesson we’re using iWeb to create a website to promote the houses – using the paragraphs and images collected this week.

The only real differences between this lesson and how I would have tackled it last year is that I would have put less emphasis on the use of language and been less considerate in the way I check to see how well students are doing. Learning and progress is NOT about recording and assessing formally every 20 minutes. It’s about making sure that students are actually… making progress! If they already know it at the start then there’s no point, if they haven’t twigged part-way through then you’re doing it wrong and if they don’t know something new by the end then you’ve just wasted one of only 30-odd lessons you’ll get with them.

That’s a pretty long post, and pretty wordy. Promise the next one will be a little shorter.

Learning and Progress

je dois apprendre aux curieux

Education seems to go in cycles. For the last 5 years there has been a whole school push towards chunked, fast paced lessons. The theory behind this was (to simplify and generalise massively) that by keeping the lesson moving you prevent the pupils stagnating mid-lesson, getting distracted and losing focus.

This was by-and-large a good idea (IMO) and led to pretty much the objectives outlined above. The downside, however, is that students ended up being a bit too reliant on teacher intervention in order to keep that pace going. Students aren’t allowed enough time to think, to reflect, to try and solve problems themselves. As a result I think that we, as a staff, got better at teaching, but the students didn’t necessarily get any better at learning.

A new whole school initiative has begun this term, focussing not on Teaching and Learning, but instead on Learning and Progress. Now at first that sounds like a sound bite and potentially quite hollow. In fact my first response was to ask if that means we no longer have to teach. With a bit of thought, though, it seems quite clear to me that this is actually a pretty sound idea.

An example we were given was of a DT teacher getting his Y7s to make key fobs. When asked about the learning he said that students had learned how to cut acrylic, file it and drill a hole through. In the next lesson his Y9s were making clock faces. They cut some acrylic, filed it and drilled a hole for the hands. The question was asked, “Where is the progress?”. The answer? “It’s a bigger piece of acrylic”.

There is a real danger, especially in ICT, that tasks simply become repetitive. The spreadsheet task in Y9 – is it really different to the spreadsheet task in Y7? Or is it just bigger? On a smaller scale, if you tell pupils what a row is, a column, an absolute or relative cell reference – do they really understand it? Do they really learn it? How do you know?

The emphasis here is not (again, IMO) how can you prove it – but how do you know it? And this is another stumbling block. It’s easy to see this as a millstone, as a burden to provide evidence – but it’s also an opportunity if you take it in the right way.

I’ve just planned a lesson for Y9. We’re in the middle of a term-long project and they need to create a website for their “Grand Designs” company (having designed houses in Google Sketchup).

  • For starters they get mini-whiteboards and have to write down their idea of a purpose for the site.
  • Having discussed the purpose they draw a mind-map or other plan for the site.
  • Having knocked up a quick page they do a very quick peer review (3 stars and a wish).
  • At the end of the lesson they screengrab their page into a project diary and write about what they have done, and why.

The idea is not necessarily that I have written proof to document their progress over the lesson but I can make a judgement based on their whiteboard answers at the start, their drawn plans, their peer reviews and their project diary as to just how much they have understood about audience and purpose (which is the aim of the lesson).

Only the final part of the lesson is kept for posterity, and that is so that I can use their project diary as a tool to assess their work at the end of the unit – but during the lesson I can see how they are doing, I can see whether the message is sinking in and I can adapt, or add extra lessons, to make sure that the students do get the chance to learn the thing that I want them to.

So, yeah. I think Learning and Progress is probably a good idea and I think that by thinking about it I might do a better job at helping my students to learn. Which isn’t the same thing as teaching – although it is pretty close.