The Education Insider: Assessment for non-core subjects

In her latest post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez shares some brilliant ideas for assessing non-core subjects, such as Art and Languages.

If you are a primary school teacher/leader and I mention assessment, your first thoughts are likely to jump straight to English and Maths. Effective assessment is important in all subjects, however, despite the lack of comparable standardised testing, and without all those league tables!

So how do we, without national statutory tests to compare with or against, ensure our assessment is effective across all subjects? Well, certain assessment standards go without saying (but I will anyway just in case!). What we need to know, in order to gauge effectiveness of teaching and learning, is what a child knows, what they don’t know, and how we can get them to know the things they don’t know. Then we need to know if how we taught them worked. At a whole school level you need to know what children knew, what they know now, and what still needs to be taught.

There are two main methods used for assessment and these are summative (a snapshot in time, often involving a test or single piece of work, usually undertaken at regular intervals to gauge and track progress) and formative (a focus on small steps and abilities usually using informal observations in class or through marking books which are then tracked either as small steps or a cumulative score of some sort.) Either way to assess and track progress is valid, no matter which subject we speak about, but the frequency and task may vary from subject to subject. So let’s look at a couple of examples of ways we could choose to assess in the non-core subjects.

Art: this is a notoriously difficult subject for many non-specialist primary teachers to feel they can assess in objectively. Art is, by its very nature, a subjective matter. However, one of the benefits to the very stripped back curriculum for Art is that you can assess without worrying too much about your own art appreciation. The National Curriculum for Key Stage One states that “Pupils should be taught to develop a wide range of art and design techniques in using colour, pattern, texture, line, shape, form and space.”

You may, for one term, be focusing on use of patterns and textures. So you could start the term by giving students free rein to make a picture using a range of media and resources offered. You could then tick off very bluntly how many patterns and textures they used. At the end of the term, however, it will be even more interesting to set the same task again and then directly compare the two pieces of work next to each other so that you, and the student, can gauge how much progress they have made. This could be recorded as a discussion either 1:1 between student and teacher, to provide further evidence, not just of how many textures and patterns are used, but of the confidence with which the student can discuss their work and their choice. Such direct comparison will easily highlight progress made against the objectives. The physical work and voice or video recordings will all be strong evidence for showing the impact of teaching and learning that term. The added bonus is a termly display of work comparisons which is sure to delight any visitors and the school community!

Languages: The National Curriculum for Key Stage Two requires pupils to “listen attentively to spoken language and show understanding by joining in and responding.”

Languages are tricky to assess at the beginning of a topic, as in all likelihood, they will have no prior knowledge of a particular set of vocabulary or grammar terms. Even if some do, it is hard to test their speaking without putting stress on students who struggle with languages, so you may choose a totally different method of assessing and tracking. With this objective, it is quite open for you to give pupils a range of ways in which to respond. This allows for every pupil to start with simple responses and move on through to more confident full responses.

Putting this into practice in, for example, teaching modes of transport, I might have flash cards (physical or on the interactive white board) and start by repeating the vocabulary over and over. I would then ask pupils to repeat them back to me as a whole class, then ask for volunteers who wish to go through any individually. I can use a simple tick sheet that only I see during the lesson which would highlight those who were confident to volunteer early on. Any students who showed they were unable to join in might be given options which do not include them speaking the language out loud. For example, I may ask a student to point at the picture of the car (using the target language) to show they understand and have learnt the word even if they are unable to respond verbally yet. Again I am noting this down on my tick sheet. I am basically working through the skills needed in language – to listen, understand, read, speak, write – and ticking off where each student is on the continuum for that particular vocabulary set. This way. I can spot when a child is stuck and where a more confident student may be ready to use the vocabulary in sentences etc. Some may find saying the words aloud easy but struggle to write them, for example. Some may be happy to write them or join in whole class speaking but not ready to speak aloud on their own. In terms of the example objective, I only require a response of some kind; I do not yet have to force one type of response in particular, but my assessment allows me to adapt my teaching to give every pupil the chance to work to the best of their ability and gives support where needed.

Hopefully these ideas are useful. Do share with us any others you use which you are happy for others to borrow from you!

Jodie is an award winning ex-primary teacher who now works as a Freelance Edtech Consultant. Her interest in using technology in education has led to her working with a number of educational technology businesses since leaving the classroom. Most recently she has been Head of Education for an assessment system provider and has specialised in helping schools to transition to the new curriculum and leaving levels behind. Follow her on Twitter here.

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