Do Less, But Better: A Mantra for Teaching (and Testing)

Thank you to Michael Tidd for this insightful article. 

I have something of a mantra in teaching: Do Less, But Better. I try to do less marking, but make it of higher quality; I spend less time on planning pro formas but plan better sequences of lessons; often I ask children to write less in their books, but make each sentence better.

Testing is no exception: less testing, but better. The slight twist here is that less testing, for me, means more tests. It sounds paradoxical at first, but it’s an important differentiation. Testing can be long-winded and onerous, while achieving little. I can’t be alone in having spent hours marking multiple test papers only to come up with a sub-level that I could have guessed for myself. The old ways of testing were too driven by numbers.

Now I probably use tests more than ever, but the key is in selecting tests purposefully and keeping them as tight as possible. No longer do we run through past papers in full depth. Instead, I choose the right questions to match the key points I’ve been teaching, and use as short a test as possible to achieve the understanding I need. We know, too, from wide-ranging research, that the ‘testing effect’ can actually help children to secure the learning they’ve undertaken as the retrieval of that knowledge or skill can help to cement the understanding. Continue reading →

Can uncertainty be liberating when it comes to primary assessment?

With thanks to Deputy Head Michael Tidd for this thought-provoking article.

They say that ignorance is bliss, and the past few years have provided us with a whole host of unknowns to add to our blissful state!

Except, when you’re a teacher on whom the education of 30+ pupils depend, working in a system of strong accountability and high stakes, the unknowns are often simply unnerving. I sometimes feel like I’m trying to second-guess what’s in the mind of the Department for Education and trying to work out what ‘expected’ looks like.

All of which would be easier if it was fixed in stone well in advance. We’ve already seen in the past year how tweaks are still being made to the system. Last summer, I can’t have been alone in worrying about the outcomes for my pupils on the Optional Tests. Now as we approach the first set of statutory tests, we know that things are perhaps not quite as bad as they first seemed.

The test frameworks were republished in July, and changes contained within them suggest a slightly less frightening expectation for the forthcoming tests. But we have to come to terms with the fact that for a year or two yet, we just won’t be able to say with certainty how many marks will be needed to reach ‘the expected standard’.

Once you accept that, it can actually be quite liberating. Instead of worrying about the individual points and the tallies on test results, we can instead look at what children can and can’t do, and explore ways of helping all children to make better progress. Continue reading →

Writing exemplification materials and the implications for teaching

Thank you to Maddy Barnes for this article. 

As English lead at a one form entry primary school and LA moderator in Manchester, I have eagerly awaited the writing exemplification materials. Like many, I have spent time analysing what the main implications for teaching will be in order to ensure that as many of our pupils achieve at least the expected standard at KS1 and KS2.

These are my main findings:

I was very reassured to see within the annotated materials the section that references the commentary of the piece as a whole, its overall composition in terms of appropriateness to purpose and audience, its organization and cohesion and any edits made during the process. This confirmed that although purpose and audience are not explicitly referred to in the interim framework statements, they are considered as part of the assessment. I will be re-enforcing the message in my setting that in order for our pupils to write at their best, we must provide a high quality stimulus (picture book, extract, object, text, film clip, picture etc.…) and analyse the purpose of the writing and the nature of the audience.

It also pleased me to find that the large majority of pieces of writing included at both KS1 and at KS2 were writing activities related to a text – Anne Fine, Shakespeare, Julia Donaldson, Gareth Edwards, Philippa Pearce, C.S. Lewis and Michael Morpurgo are some listed. As we are a school that teach English around a book, I feel that we are indeed ‘doing things right.’ Pupils are emerged in a high quality text, they read and analyse the language before planning a piece of writing that they will later edit and proof read. Continue reading →

Is the new standard for writing equivalent to Level 5?

Shareen Mayers reveals why the new writing standard might not be as scary as we had expected …

After much anticipation, the long-awaited writing exemplification materials were published a few weeks ago. For some, the expectation of the materials seemed more like the equivalent of the old Level 5, and many teachers (but not all) were very anxious about this. I am hoping to put you at ease by demonstrating that the new standard might not be as high as Level 5. While the use of punctuation (e.g. semi-colons, brackets, etc) and some sentence structures are clearly Level 5, pupils need to use semi-colons in a list and not for two independent clauses to be at the expected standard. I am pleased about this because teaching the wider usage of semi-colons and expecting all pupils to use this in their writing is a real challenge.

Key issue

Within the writing exemplification collection of work, there are two examples of writing at the expected standard – Morgan and Leigh. The examples from Leigh have caused the most controversy because Leigh is clearly a borderline pupil. Leigh is using some aspects of the ‘greater depth’ standard but has too many gaps to be given that standard. However, Morgan isn’t working at the greater depth standard at all but is still being given exactly the same standard as Leigh. It is like comparing a good school and a good school with outstanding features – both are still ‘good’ schools. Continue reading →

Useful links

Useful links and websites for assessment information and support:

Department for Education
Schools Week
The Key

Useful documents:

The Commission on Assessment Without Levels Report

Exemplification materials from the DfE:

Blogs about primary assessment:

Micheal Tidd’s Ramblings of  Teacher 

Peter Richardson

KS1 & KS2 tests – videos for parents by Michael Tidd

This post has been shared from Michael Tidd’s blog which you can find at: www.michaelt1979.wordpress.com

At my school we’re increasingly using the school website and Facebook pages to communicate with families, particularly aiming to reach those who are not so easily able to attend after-school meetings and events.

I also sometimes wonder if parents meetings don’t end up being overly long-winded because we feel that if we’ve dragged parents into school then we ought to make it worth their while coming; nobody wants to travel 20 minutes each way for a 5-minute meeting. But sometimes, 5 minutes is enough.

I have updated the videos I made last year to explain the KS1 and KS2 tests to parents. As there is an option about using Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling tests in primary schools, there are now two versions of the video for KS1 (one with, one without the GPS tests).

Please feel free to use these videos on your school’s website or social media channels, or in parent meetings etc. There are MP4 versions available to download. Continue reading →

A White-Knuckle Ride in the Changing Face of Primary Curriculum and Assessment

At this year’s BETT Show Peter Richardson, Assistant Head teacher at Walton-le-Dale Primary School, gave an insightful talk about his school’s journey through the new curriculum and changes in primary assessment. Here’s a quick summary from Peter.

  • When developing a system to measure progress against the new curriculum, avoid trying to recreate another flawed system of levels. This is an opportunity to create something better!
  • We find that having one assessment system that can be used by teachers andsubject leaders as a ‘one stop shop’ for assessment data really works.
  • The new curriculum has brought with it brand new challenges, but there are free tools available to help in terms of new curriculum content and demand. The Rising Stars Progression Frameworkswhich support teachers by breaking down the curriculum into meaningful statements with guidance on what to look for in a child who is meeting expectations, have given teachers more confidence with the new curriculum and have led to more accurate and robust teacher assessments.
  • There are tools out there that can save schools time, but these must support teacher judgement. We’ve chosen to use Classroom Monitor because it’s easy-to-use, time-efficient, provides high-quality analysis and uses the Rising Stars Progression Frameworks.
  • Test results should be used as one piece of evidence to support teacher judgements. We choose to use Rising Stars Assessment Progress Testsas they inform our teacher assessments and we trust their results. They also inform our teachers’ planning and direction to take learning without resorting to ‘teaching to the test’.
  • We choose to invest in resources from companies that we can trust, like Rising Stars.  We believe they are a company who produce expertly-written, easy-to-use resources that fit the needs of our school and ultimately, have the interests of improving learning for children at their core. Continue reading →

It’s time to leave your old curriculum questions behind

Thanks to our guest blogger and Deputy Head teacher Michael Tidd for the following article.

Where do you keep yours? We all have them somewhere, often hidden out of view, but ready to be pulled out and used at any moment.

I’m talking, of course, of old test papers. They’re usually stacked in a cupboard somewhere, often in increasingly-tatty boxes with hastily-scrawled labels on them. In many cases, there are papers there that are older than the children in our classrooms. Chances are, there’ll be at least one for which the mark scheme has long since disappeared.

It’s time to let go. It’s hard, but necessary. Clear the shelf-space, fill the recycling bin, and enter the brave new world. They’re redundant, like it or not, and their time has passed. If it helps, keep a copy of each for posterity. After all, it seems harsh to discard Evelyn Glennie and Sharon Brown the lorry driver entirely.

Why am I urging the previously unthinkable? Because the new curriculum is here, the new tests are on the horizon, and assessment needs to change. We know that the tests are now useless as a predictor of success in the new tests: for a start, a level is meaningless in the new word of scaled scores. More importantly, the tests no longer assess the content we are required to teach.

There’ll be those who argue that sitting a test is still good practice. And I agree. But there are new tests that match the new curriculum that serve this need more effectively. Others will say that the questions are still a good assessment tool, and there I agree again. But sitting three maths test papers for the benefit of a handful of diagnostic points is overkill. Why make children sit through papers with questions on probability and modal averages that they’ll not need to reach the expected standard for at the end of the Key Stage? Continue reading →