Thinking about assessment from Year 7 to support students through to the new GCSEs
‘Showing progress’ has been a phrase that I’ve heard a lot over the last year. The word ‘showing’ is perhaps not the best choice, because it can be interpreted too literally; teachers end up feeling very pressured into having relentless physical evidence of their students’ progress, be it heavily marked books, endless data, personal learning checklists etc. etc.
Marking and feedback, including reflection and improvement is vital for students to progress (obviously), but there is a lot outside of this that teachers do that deserves to be considered and rewarded as well. I once heard an Ofsted inspector remark that progress was not wholly evident from observing a teacher and students in one lesson. It is such a challenge to show progress in one lesson; the bigger picture must be scrutinised:
The key elements that have emerged from the case studies and related research are:
- A classroom culture that encourages familiarity with assessment skills
- Clear sense of movement towards learning goals
- A variety of activities and teaching practises to suit individual needs
- Varied, but consistent approach to assessment
- Feedback, reflection and improvement on student work
- Active and reflective involvement of students in the lessons
Evidently, this is a process which cannot be fulfilled in one lesson, but is essential in truly ‘showing progress’ over time. Students leaving a lesson knowing more about the Industrial Revolution is not progress, it’s (likely temporary) retainment of content.
Students taking the new GCSEs will be under a lot of pressure to remember content, which is a shame because it is not a memory game. The new examinations have skills at their heart and have been designed so that students who are actively building their understanding of new concepts and ideas and have developed a range of strategies to deal with new material will succeed. These are strategies and skills that as teachers we can cultivate from Year 7.
I have seen many comments on Twitter and from listening to conversations at teachmeets and CPD sessions about whether or not to teach GCSE texts in KS3 – it is indeed tempting to do so and in my opinion it’s fine to approach this idea as long as it’s not as a ‘back up’ because of fear they will forget. For example, exploring some of the poems from the anthology prior to Year 10, or perhaps looking at a different Shakespeare play is no bad thing. If you have a thoughtful and well-structured curriculum plan for KS3 that fuses with KS4 and has core skills at its heart, then you are giving your students every opportunity to succeed.
Allowing students to judge their own work against their peers’ work and against well written and defined examples and criteria creates a strong foundation that will allow them to have the confidence to consider new material as they move through the learning process. This doesn’t mean giving them exam assessment objectives in Year 7, but it might mean that all objectives at GCSE are boiled down. For example, AO2: Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views may instead be ‘reference and analysis’ where at the lowest level, a Year 7 may ‘make some comments that include reference to the text but are not always relevant’ and ‘comment on a word that is important but not explain why’ and at the higher end, be able to ‘Use a range of relevant quotations to illustrate focussed interpretations; analyses and explanation of the effects of the writer’s choices and show clear and sustained understanding of language and some structural features’.
Looking at the (AQA) skills required at GCSE, it is evident that they cover the 5 reading and 2 writing skills noted below:
- Reference and analysis
- Comprehension and explanation
- Understanding how context shapes meaning
- Comparison and synthesis
- Writing with accuracy
- Writing for impact
Each of these skills can be achieved across 9 levels of proficiency and linked explicitly to GCSE. If through topics and texts these core reading and writing skills are taught from Year 7, students should feel comfortable in approaching the new GCSEs. Below shows a very basic progression outline. Once a grade is achieved in Year 7, the aim is to maintain it or push higher. In each year group, the challenge gets tougher.
Naturally, there are some students who will not be able to access the exams, which is where Step Up to English is a possibility:
Thank you for reading.