by Sophie Chalmers, Geography Specialist
Throughout Key Stage 3, Geography students carry out a range of exciting and relevant formative assessments that focus on issues on both a local and global scale, and assess a variety of skills. These include examining sustainable sailing trips around the Great Barrier Reef; evaluating the impact of new MRT lines on Singapore's remaining primary rainforest; expeditions to extreme environments, and more. Each project aims not only to ignite students' passions and interests in the world around them, but also to develop critical and analytical thinking skills, knowledge and understanding that leads to greater independence. However, an unfortunate, yet common, theme across Years 7, 8 and 9 is the inherent anxiety that is caused by the word "assessment". I believe this fear stems partly from a lack of effective feedback and understanding of the assessment process itself.
What the research says
Feedback is most effective when students have a clear idea of the expected outcome of an assessment and know what they are working towards. Clarifying the success criteria gives learners a goal to work towards and gives them space to think, structure their ideas and demonstrate relevant skills in a more coherent way. Effective feedback also requires learners to be able to comprehend the feedback they receive, both throughout the learning process and at the end of the task. This allows them to adjust their work along the way, a process that encourages self-regulation and reflection, as well as develops an understanding of where their strengths and areas for improvement lie. Lastly, the teacher needs to be able to reflect on the effectiveness of the instructions given through discussions with students and colleagues, in order to make appropriate adjustments to the assessment and/or their delivery of it (Hattie, 2012). Processes such as these make thinking visible throughout the learning process, giving the teacher a clearer idea of what students understand and what they don't.
What I'm working on
Over the past two years, I have been working on integrating strategies into the classroom that help develop more effective feedback practices. These aim to take the fear of assessment and build up student confidence and independence in their approach to different formative projects. This has primarily been done through collaboratively unpacking the success criteria for different projects in class. Each project has a tailored rubric that outlines the specific tasks and the skills that they aim to assess. Students are encouraged to interpret each criteria and put it into their own words, ask questions, imagine what it would look like, and explore how they can demonstrate that criteria by sketching our plans and relevant diagrams.
Example of top success criteria being unpacked
This activity encourages greater interaction with the rubrics, and furthers self-regulation and reflection throughout the learning process. Students can use their ideas as a checklist to ensure that they have fully addressed each part of the task. At the end of the assessment, they can then compare their own interpretation of their success with the teacher's feedback and reflect on the outcome of the assessment more meaningfully.
Impact on learning
Developing an effective feedback strategy is an iterative process that can take time to develop. Each project sheds light on what can be done to further improve the feedback cycle through collaborative conversations with colleagues and interactions with students. Although a time-consuming process at first, the activity has proved to be incredibly valuable. Listening to conversations between students on the different success criteria was extremely useful as it highlighted specific issues with the rubrics that had previously been overlooked. For example, the initial rubric used some language that was inaccessible to students. They were also struggling to identify the key words in the success criteria, so certain words were highlighted to help with this. To avoid them focusing on a numerical result/quantifying their attainment, we used words as descriptions for each level (outstanding/excellent/good etc.) Building this activity into the assessment process has allowed students to develop a deeper understanding of what they need to do and set them clear goals to aim for when carrying out their work. It increases their independence as they approach subsequent assessments. KS3 teachers have observed that this activity has reduced the stress and fear that students associate with the assessment process and given them clear targets to work towards.
What I've noticed
Having carried this out with multiple classes, I have noticed that students are more willing to clarify their doubts and question the task that they need to complete. It has also allowed me to help guide students through the process more effectively by encouraging self-regulation through simple questioning in class and directing students back to the success criteria that they have spent time unpacking. Greater consideration has been put into how they demonstrate the skills they are being assessed on, as well as other transferrable skills such as the overall presentation of their work and referencing. Student reflections after the completion of the task have also been more insightful and have clearly highlighted the areas that they need to work on moving forward.
Seeing it in action
This strategy has been adopted by teachers of KS3 Geography. Not only has it provided clear aims for each formative assessment that uses a rubric, but it has also facilitated greater standardisation across classes with regards to expectations and outcomes.
Making thinking visible https://pz.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Chapter...
Know thy impact (Hattie, 2012) ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Know-Thy-Impact.aspx (abstract only)
Know thy impact: teaching, learning and leading thelearningexchange.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Know-Thy-Impact-Teaching-Learning-and-Leading.pdf