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Putting the spotlight back on AfL

I have always been a great fan of Dylan Wiliam, it is now over 14 years ago that I read some of his original work and 10 years ago that I attended a really useful conference he was leading.

Over the half term break, I read one of his latest books called ‘Leadership for Teacher learning’. It was an incredibly timely read and has made me reflect on a number of elements of our work here at DC. Wiliam holds a similar belief to us here at Darton, ‘that every teacher can improve… and that every teacher must improve’.

Within the book he explores the very real challenges associated with determining teacher quality, linked to data and learner outcomes. He argues that any reliable judgements need to take into account a number of years worth of data. He presents a number of useful reflection points reinforcing the disproportionately positive impact of effective teaching on younger learners and those that are identified as lower ability as well as the importance of both subject and pedagogical knowledge in Secondary schools, both things I have previously blogged about. However the most significant ‘light bulb’ moment for me came with his discussion on the importance of using/developing effective Assessment for Learning in our classrooms. Nothing new but a timely reminder.

Wiliam identifies 5 key strategies that encompass the terrain of assessment for learning or formative assessment.

   clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success

   engineering effective classroom discussions, questions and tasks that elicit evidence of learning

   providing feedback that moves learners forward

   activating students as instructional resources for each other, and

   activating students as owners of their own learning

Wiliam also makes a clear distinction between Assessment of Learning and Assessment for Learning;

‘The distinction between assessment of learning and assessment for learning is basically about the intention behind the assessment.  So, if you’re assessing in order to help you teach better, that’s assessment for learning, and if you’re assessing in order to grade students, to rank them or to give them a score on a test, then that’s assessment of learning.’

Wiliam – Assessment for Learning: why, what and how* 

Wiliam argues that if schools got this right instead of looking for the next ‘big thing’ learner outcomes will  improve.

His argument made me reflect on the tools we have developed at Darton to support teacher development, our teacher lenses and the focus of teacher development over the past 2 ½ years. The rubrics created in conjunction with Jamie Portman and the then Pedagogy Leads is good work and has offered a great basis to develop a shared understanding and common language amongst our staff here at DC but I’m left wondering if a ‘floodlight’ on 7 lenses has detracted from us putting a ‘spotlight’ on Assessment and AfL. The other lenses and their content is, in my view critical in developing effective teachers, but the biggest gains are to be made if we get AfL right. This area isn’t totally underdeveloped, as a  school we have put a lot of energy into developing effective feedback, the creation and use of assessment matrices and rubrics and there is some strong practice across our school. Our work with PiXL and the development of clearer intervention plans and question level analysis, based on the Smith pro forma are other significant developments, but the embedding of effective AfL must continue to be a key priority as we move forward.

A critical part of this work will be for us to revisit our teacher lenses, increase the ‘spotlight’ on AfL as part of teacher professional development, but also ensuring that as a team, we work really closely to develop a shared understanding of what data we collect and why. In addition to this we must develop systems and strategies that support teachers to engage in AfL on a day to day basis in the classroom and over longer periods of time e.g. Fortnightly, half termly.

The premise of good teaching is knowing where learners are, providing opportunities to fill the gap to get them where we want them to be and then checking that they’re there. What could be simpler?

Kate Davies

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