This is an edited extract from the book, School and College Curriculum Design 3: Impact. For more information on this book and the first two in the series, as well as to access a raft of free curriculum resources, visit our Curriculum Central page.
This is the second post exploring what is meant by curriculum impact…
As well as using assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of our curriculum planning – or intent – we should also learn from our impact assessments how well the curriculum is translated into practice in the classroom – in other words, its implementation.
Assessment is an integral – indeed, one might argue, an essential – component of effective teaching and learning.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which the outcomes of an assessment can be used: summatively – the focus of which is on what a pupil has achieved at the end of a unit, year or course; and formatively – the focus of which is on diagnosing a pupil’s next steps.
Summative assessment usually takes the form of high-stakes tests; formative assessment can take many forms including class discussions, multiple-choice quizzes, peer-teaching and so forth.
Whereas summative assessment is the assessment of learning, formative assessment is often referred to as ‘assessment for learning’ (or AfL for short) because it’s a way of providing pupils with feedback about the progress they’ve made thus far and about what they need to do next to make further such progress.
But I would argue that formative assessment is not solely assessment for learning, it’s also assessment as learning and indeed assessment as teaching…
Why ‘assessment as learning’? Well, formative assessment is a means by which pupils actually learn, not just a guide to future learning. For example, by engaging in classroom discussions and questioning (one of the five key formative assessment strategies expounded by Marnie Thompson and Dylan Wiliam in 2007, on which more later), pupils deepen their knowledge and understanding and therefore learn.
Why ‘assessment as teaching’? Well, formative assessment is not only a method of providing information to pupils on which they can act, or indeed a means through which pupils can actually learn; it’s also a mechanism for providing information to the teacher on which they too can act – after all, teachers use the outcomes of formative assessment to guide their planning and teaching; formative assessment tells them what pupils know and can do and what they do not yet know and cannot yet do, and therefore, at its simplest, proffers intelligence about whether to re-teach, recap or move on.
We should therefore use our impact assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of our teaching. To achieve this aim, it might help to ask the following questions:
Do teachers have expert knowledge of the subjects they teach? If not, are they being supported to address gaps in their knowledge so that pupils are not disadvantaged by ineffective teaching? Does the school support an effective programme of subject-specific professional development as well as training on generic pedagogy? Do the teachers assigned to each cohort, each year group and each level and type of qualification have the knowledge and experience to teach it well? Thus: is timetabling as effectiveness as it could be?
Do teachers enable pupils to understand key concepts, presenting information clearly? Are teacher explanations effective – for example, do they make use of dual coding? Do teachers also model thinking aloud for pupils to make the invisible visible and the implicit explicit? Do they explicitly teach the language – including tier 2 and 3 vocabulary – that pupils need in order to understand the curriculum?
Do teachers articulate clear learning outcomes and make explicit what pupils should know and be able to do at the end of each sequence of lessons? Do teachers establish routines for classroom discussions so that all pupils contribute fairly and in order that debate deepens pupils’ understanding?
Do teachers make use of ‘live’ low-stakes assessment practices such as hinge questions and exit tickets to assess pupils’ understanding and to identify the gaps in their knowledge and skills, as well as their misunderstandings? Do they use these assessments to inform their planning and teaching so that lesson planning is fluid and responsive, rather than something to stick to religiously?
Do teachers ensure that pupils embed key concepts in their long-term memory and apply them fluently? Is the subject curriculum taught in such a way that helps pupils to transfer key knowledge to long-term memory?
Do teachers gain the active attention of pupils’ working memories and make them think hard but efficiently about curriculum content? Once encoded into long-term memory, do teachers provide plenty of opportunities for retrieval practice to ensure the knowledge in long-term memory is brought back into the working memory so that it remains accessible, and so as to encourage pupils to apply that knowledge in different contexts? Is prior learning linked to new learning, so that what is taught today builds upon what was taught yesterday and so forth?
Are explicit links made between different parts of the curriculum and indeed across curriculum areas to help make knowledge transferable and useable? Is teaching sequenced in practice not just in lesson plans so that pupils acquire the knowledge and skills needed to complete each task before they are asked to complete it, and so that new knowledge and skills logically build on what has been taught before enabling pupils to make progress towards clearly defined end points?
Do teachers use formative assessment to check pupils’ understanding in order to inform their planning and their teaching, and to help pupils embed and use knowledge fluently and develop their understanding? Do all these assessments have a clear purpose? Do they provide valid data on which the teacher can and does act? Is the feedback garnered from assessments meaningful and motivating to pupils? Does it help them to close the gap between their current performance and their desired performance? Is time set aside every time feedback is given to pupils so that they can process it, question it if needed, and act upon it in class whilst the teacher is present to provide support, challenge and encouragement?
In evaluating the effectiveness of the way in which the curriculum is taught, we would do well to consider the question, ‘What is learning?’ If we define the complex process of learning as an alteration in long-term memory, as do many cognitive scientists and educational psychologists, then we might conclude that if nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.
However, transfer to long-term memory depends on a number of factors. In order to develop understanding, pupils must connect new knowledge with existing knowledge. Pupils must also develop fluency and unconsciously apply their knowledge as skills. This process must not be reduced to, or confused with, simply memorising lists of facts. Rather, learning has to be meaningful, which is to say both useful and usable.
So, in addition to the above, I would suggest you also ask yourselves: how do we assess the effectiveness of the way in which our curriculum is taught so that pupils transfer key concepts into long-term memory and can apply them fluently and what do we do with the findings?
Now visit our Curriculum Central page for more curriculum resources including a preview of Book Three.