Aniela Zylinski is a freelance piano teacher, SLE music consultant, writer, and performer based in Wiltshire. Having taught Music for 15 years and a head of Music/Performing Arts/Humanities in local Secondary schools for the past 10 years, Aniela continues to be a keen and passionate collaborator, researcher and advocate of innovative and creative strategies in teaching, learning, and developing musicianship in a wide range of learning environments.
When planning for assessment, these are arguably the top three priorities to consider - regardless of the subject/age/ability we teach:
Of course, it goes without saying that I’m not writing this to teach anyone to suck eggs, but this article is designed to serve as a supportive reminder of the basics of effective planning for effective assessment (both formative and summative) - when we might be feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by it all, even when the term has just started!
1. Knowing the success criteria: KIS(s) = Keep It Simple!
It sounds very obvious, but the students need to be totally clear on what the success criteria actually is. In order for them to understand it, make sure you know what it is too. The ‘best’ success criteria are:
What might this look like?
Don’t forget the difference between WALT & WILF:
WALT: We Are Learning To = learning objective, based on the skill being learnt.
WILF: What I Am Looking For = success criteria: what are your expectations for methodology/approach? What does a successful end product/result/piece of work look like?
And remember to check with the students that they understand the success criteria. The best/quickest way? Ask them! However, do bear in mind that asking an open-ended question and getting students to write/talk amongst themselves may well get you a more accurate view of their understanding than a yes/no reply.
2. Keeping students engaged: autonomy, ownership, and independence
Again, another basic one, but as we all well know, it is paramount to get and keep students ‘on side’ and ensure momentum (pace) in our lessons. It involves having a wide range of assessment strategies in our repertoire or toolkit. Effective strategies include:
What might this look like?
With regard to format - it doesn’t have to be complicated, but the success criteria should be clearly implicit, the success measurable, and there needs to be sufficient space for the students to write in their feedback. Something like this would suffice:
Alternatively, why not get a small group of students to design a format themselves, as a form of differentiation? As long as it doesn’t interfere with their own learning, this is an effective way of giving students autonomy and ownership over the format of assessment. Using traffic light RAG rating works well for low-literacy students, as do smiley faces/sad faces for students to give their feedback. Remember too that some SEND students may have problems reading certain fonts / font sizes, so it’s important to ask them if they can read whatever you give them legibly.
Although the terms ‘starter’ and ‘plenary’ are slowly being phased out, it is still important to plan for short and snappy activities not only at the start/end of the lesson, but also a couple of times within the main part of the lesson itself. I call these points ‘progress checks’ whereby I check the progress of the learning/understanding. This can easily be done simply with a show of hands, or perhaps by enlisting the help of a student who could count up the numbers of students who have reached different points in their progress, and then keep a tally on the board. Other ideas could include the use of Post-it notes, traffic light flashcards, smiley/sad faces, mini-whiteboards. Why not get the students to choose the method of feeding back to you?
Having a wide variety of assessment strategies which are used very regularly is crucial in encouraging a classroom culture in which assessment is ‘the norm’. Often, the ideal assessment is done when the students don’t realise they are being assessed at all (formative assessment; thereby giving you, the teacher, a realistic view of where the students are at in their learning) - I like to call this ‘stealth assessment’! Experiment with avoiding the use of terminology such as ‘test’, ‘assessment’, or ‘exam’ for a few lessons and see what the impact is. Perhaps use the phrase ‘feedback on learning’ or ‘seeing where you’re at’ instead. This is supportive especially for students who suffer anxiety surrounding tests and exams.
3. Top tips for facilitating effective learning whilst minimising your own workload:
What might this look like?
Essentially, these tips and ideas serve as a reminder to us all about how much we really need to have clear, and effective, formative assessment / Assessment for Learning strategies at the forefront of our minds when planning teaching and learning. Summative assessment has its place, of course, but in order to be raising standards of attainment, we need to be placing much more consistent emphasis on the role formative assessment / Assessment for Learning has in schools in a holistic and supportive way.
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I am constantly fascinated to read new reports on how music is so good for us all! I love to read about how music helps all sorts of aspects of our lives – from improving our coordination to developing our memory, to helping us to relax and lower our blood pressure to encouraging our imagination and creativity, to help us focus and to improve our literacy and numeracy. Music is such a crucial, essential part of learning, not just for youngsters, but actually for us all.