Assessment without levels – update

In August last year I wrote about the proposed assessment without levels model that we were going to try within the department. This post is an update.

The scoring system in the original post was dropped pretty much immediately as it was felt it was a replication of levels which we wanted to try and move away from. The focus became about the joint creation of four targets with our students. One for each of the four domains of learning: the physical, social, cognitive and affective. These areas were explained to students in their first lesson of the year and they were asked to self reflect and set their targets. Students were guided through this and targets changed if inappropriate. The initial targets were transferred to google sheets. Then through appsheets, a free tool that can convert google sheets data to an application on mobile devices, access to these targets were available within lessons. The final result is this:

 

At any time, in any lesson, I know what my students targets are and I can engage them in a dialogue about them. This has fundamentally changed the dynamic within my lessons and the rest of the post will focus on this. Lets take ‘Albie’ in Year 7 as a case study. In the first lesson of the year I explained to Albie’s class about the four learning domains and asked them, after some self reflection, to set a target in each that they would like to achieve. This was Albie’s response:

Physical Affective Social Cognitive
I would like to become stronger. This would help me in badminton with clears and smashes. I don’t like making mistakes.

 

I don’t like it when others make mistakes.

 

I would like to get a better understanding of team sports like rugby and football.

Usually the first lessons of the year are taken up with testing different components of health and skill related fitness to ensure we can give an ‘accurate’ base line level to every student. What those lessons wouldn’t have told me about Albie is:

  • He is active outside of school
  • He plays club badminton as he uses correct terminology
  • He is a perfectionist – hard on himself and others
  • He hasn’t got much experience of invasion games (this maybe linked to his perfectionism)

It also gave me a way of making a connection with him immediately. I could speak to him about his badminton and link what we were doing that term in rugby, gymnastics and dance to make it more meaningful and individual for him. We spoke about how gymnastics requires balance and muscular strength and how developing this could help with his badminton. He worked extremely hard on improving his weight on hands and was able to perform a cartwheel successfully for the first time. In his first rugby lesson he got very upset with himself when he dropped a pass, so much so he wouldn’t join back in with his team. Through the course of the term we worked together to come up with a system of counting and breathing exercises to help him calm down when mistakes were made and reengage with rugby as quickly as possible after making a mistake. We discussed how making mistakes were an essential part of learning and if you weren’t making them you went really learning. This took time to develop, but by Christmas there were very few instances of Albie getting upset. This gave him the confidence to try out for the school football team the following term. He made the B team and he told me it was the first time he had ever played for a school team as he always preferred activities he did by himself.

At anytime a student can asked to be assessed on the targets they set, they don’t have to wait for the standard end of unit assessment lesson that is typical of most PE programmes I have been in. If both the student and I feel that the target has been met, then together we set a new one. If not we talk about what needs to be done to achieve it. For example with Albie he had set a social target of not getting upset with others when they made mistakes. He was as hard on his peers as he was himself. However the calming techniques we discussed seemed to be working for him when in group work. Albie came to me one lesson and asked me to assess him on how he worked with his peers. We agreed at the end of the lesson that he had made lots of progress on achieving that target. Together we agreed that the next social target he would actively go out this way to encourage and support his peers, which is what he is currently working on in lessons. Once I have agreed targets have been met with the student and new ones agreed, I update this on the app.

 

This process of assessment is very different that what I am used to. Before it would be teach an activity. Assess the students performance in that activity, usually through an assessment lesson at the end of that unit. Assign each student a number  based on a rubric, entering that number on a spread sheet for tracking and reporting purposes and to demonstrate progress. Never really to use that number again once the report is completed. It was time consuming. The data became irrelevant (the student and I could never remember what a Level 4 in football from last year actually meant for this year). Students were either making expected progress or not based on targets set by their previous test results in Maths and English. It really didn’t mean anything to anyone apart from feeding the spreadsheet.

Whilst this current system has a number of significant flaws that need to be rectified in the future (such as improved students goal setting,  students can’t access data without teacher, relies heavily on the teacher to remind pupils of targets, doesn’t fit with whole school reporting system etc.). What it appears to do for both the student and I is build a narrative around learning. It becomes a tool that focuses on the holistic teaching and learning within PE. It allows for the non-linearity of learning with its peaks, dips and plateaus. Targets that we agreed that have been previously met, can be reset if needed, or more time can be taken to meet them. The learning isn’t activity by activity (although this still occurs), not to be touched upon till the following year when that activity is done again, but continuously throughout all activities and the whole of the curriculum from Year 7 to Year 11. As there are four targets, there is always at least one if not more that can be developed through the activity the student is learning. There is no level, no number, no grade, no label. There is only data that for me drives the conversation about improvement and learning, which can’t ever be distilled into a simple number within PE. Over the course of Year 7 to 11 we hopefully will be able to track the individual learning of each student within PE and build on their strengths and interests whilst at the same time supporting the gaps of own their physical education.

As always any feedback would be most welcome.

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17 thoughts on “Assessment without levels – update

  1. This is incredibly powerful – the insight you have gained from this process and the resultant progress the student had because of this personalised approach is brilliant. Having just spent the week fitness testing middle school students to see who would earn the Presidential Fitness Award (85 percentile or greater on 5 fitness tests), and being annoyed at the backwards way we approached this (should have been working with students towards this end all year), reading about your journey really resonates with me. Goal setting is one of the grade level outcomes in the national standards in the US – the approach you took asking students to set a goal for each domain is so fitting. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to write this up – I plan to use this approach next year.

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    1. Hi Jo. Thanks for the comments. I do feel this has been a step forward, but I’m concerned that it is very subjective and there is no clear outcomes in place. Perhaps I need to review the content of our curriculum and make sure that this is a little clearer, at least to the teachers. Also perhaps some non-negotiables, things that all pupils should achieve as a minimum between Year 7 and 11 might give it a bit more structure. Finally I think I need to be a little bit more explicit on my target setting and perhaps spend some time teaching the pupils how to effectively target set. I’d be very keen to hear about your journey on implementing this system into your PE programme and would be happy to share ideas and thoughts in making it better.

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  2. This is really interesting – and timely for me, as I have been thinking about what evaluation components to use in my (non-PE) classes next year. I notice that the examples of targets are generalized, e.g. improve strength, better understanding of certain sports. Do students ever set specific targets for themselves, e.g. run one second faster in 100-metre dash? Or do you encourage more general goals so as to avoid “failure” if the student doesn’t achieve that goal (even if they improved greatly in the effort)?

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    1. Fiona, your point about target setting is insightful. This is one area that I think can be improved upon and actually have an impact on the whole system. I have wrongly assumed that students are able to set meaningful targets to work upon and improve. In the the future I will look to spend time on explicitly teaching how to set targets or goals so this can become more effective. Thank you for your comment.

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  3. I really like this form of assessment. It’s such a shame that these assessments have to fit schools reporting systems. It should be that the reporting systems fit the assessments. Love the dialogue it creates between teacher and pupils and also the self-reflection and emphasis it places on the pupils to reflect on their own learning.

    How do pupils set write the targets in lessons? Do they have access to computers or is it totally teacher input?
    Great work!

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    1. Hi Mark.

      Firstly there initial targets are written in the first lesson of the year. I then manually entered them. I’m sure there is a much quicker way, through google docs for example, but that is something I need to work on. The new targets are set in lessons, through conversation with the student, I then type them directly into the app. It could be much more user friendly If I’m honest and this is something I need to improve upon. Also I’m not happy about the quality of the targets set. I have assumed that the children I teach can set appropriate targets. I think perhaps some time within class teaching them how to target set properly might be beneficial, not just for PE but beyond it. In the end I would like the students to be able to access and review their targets away from lessons, to help with the process of self reflection, but that might be a few years down the line, once we’ve got some consistency within the department.

      Any advice you have would always be very appreciated.

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  4. […] In August last year I wrote about the proposed assessment without levels model that we were going to try within the department. This post is an update. The scoring system in the original post was dropped pretty much immediately as it was felt it was a replication of levels which we wanted to try and…  […]

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  5. This is very insightful and a really pupil centric approach.
    Levels can become meaningless whole school data can make the students needs almost redundant.
    Could you utilise this through project work? Let the pupils use the same system and then share the results via a drop box or shared drive?
    Just spit balling.

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    1. Hi Dan. Thanks for the comment. I think for the moment I need to just get some consistency within the department, give it a further year of using it and then get staff and pupils to feedback on where the problems might be in the system.

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  6. I’m really taken with this idea. I’m currently on a journey to develop our departments assessments and ways of assessment (for, as, of learning).
    I love the 4 domain approach, as just through the process of a discussion at the start of the year allows students to better understand ‘what PE is’ and allows them to see beyond the ‘physical’.
    I can envisage a fusion with curriculum outcomes (without losing student driven goals) that will create excellent formative assessment data that can influence future learning and be used to report on. I can also see SOLO taxonomy or a similar (eg working towards, working at, working beyond) self reflection system blending nicely with this.
    You’ve really got me thinking, so thanks.

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    1. Hi James. Thanks for your comments. The point you make about curriculum outcomes is something both myself and my department feel is lacking from our current system. Whilst we like the shared narrative style of the framework and feel it mimics how we see movement and physical activity in life beyond schools, we have a bit too much freedom there. We are working on some essential agreements, things we as a department feel that we can aim for and meet. This can then help as a guide to both us and the students when goal setting and working towards betterment. I would be very interested to hear how you journey is going so please drop me a line once you have got somewhere. Good luck.

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