The search for the holy grail… progress

    Published: 07 February 2018

    We’ve come to the end of our first round of delivering a new training course via a ‘cluster’ format, so it seems like a good time to reflect on how they went and what we explored.

    Given that a strength of our regular moderation cluster sessions is supporting inter-school professional dialogue, we thought it would be interesting to cascade other training in the same manner – an opportunity for local teachers to share their experiences and ideas, reflect on their pupils, and receive training input -  but with the focus being on ‘progress’ rather than moderation.

    Progress is a bit of a buzzword for schools at the moment. I’d hate to drop the ‘O’ word so early, but yes, it is a key priority for Ofsted, and so has gained prominence in schools. But let’s not make it all about them! Schools don’t only care about progress because the school will be judged on it: we also care because we are in the business of caring about the learning and development of our pupils, and focusing on progress means we are not just focusing on end results (attainment). It leads us to a more formative approach to using assessment information and feedback. It focuses on the learning journey, despite what a pupil’s start point is. (Just as a side note, there is a lovely part about this in James Nottingham’s TED Talk ‘Labels Limit Learning’.)

    We know we need to be able to identify and demonstrate progress, but sometimes it isn’t always clear what that ‘progress’ actually looks like. This became the basis of our plan for the session. We wanted to increase teachers’ confidence in identifying and demonstrating progress, but also, importantly, to explore ways to help pupils see and articulate their growth to assist with their development of self-efficacy and independence.

    The sessions were chunked into three sections:

    • different models of progress,
    • how feedback may be best used to encourage and support progress and independence in pupils,
    • how pre- and post- topic assessment can be used to build a picture of what is being learned and understood.

    When it comes to identifying progress and being able to demonstrate it, we explored a range of ways in which progress might appear and how it might be evident in books. Essentially we are looking for the pupil’s work being better than it was before, or demonstrating more depth or extra detail, or having fewer uncorrected (by the child) errors or repetitions of misconceptions, or showing new learning, or applying learning in a different context or more independently and so on. It’s so important to keep our lens wide when hunting for progress, because it will appear in different ways in different subjects and for different pupils at different points in their learning. Sometimes we will see a child making progress in a piece or series of pieces of work, especially if that’s about application or practice of a skill. Other times, we will be seeing the progress over a slightly longer period, such as 6 weeks, where it involves a growing of understanding or addressing of an issue, for example, with spelling or development of sentence construction. Or we may look far broader, at how the depth and consistency of application of learning develops over a term or year – we illustrated this with an example of Year 2 recount writing taken from three points in a year, clearly showing the progress of that child in that area.  

    What obviously enables most of this progress to take place is the quality of the feedback that the pupil receives - to encourage the inclusion of more detail, improved accuracy or correcting of misconceptions. We know that feedback is cited as one of the key factors contributing to progress. We wanted to facilitate a critical discussion of what quality feedback is, and identifying what types of feedback lead to the biggest progress gains. As always when discussing feedback, discussion naturally focused on teachers finding that when feedback is giving during a lesson, while the pupil is ‘mid-work’, it seems to have more immediate effect - at least on the working-memory for the rest of the lesson/piece of work.

    A shift towards whole-class feedback also seemed to be a popular idea – not least for its benefit of reducing teacher workload where we find ourselves writing the same comments again and again. Quite simply, it could be a sheet for putting under the visualiser or a powerpoint slide that captures key spellings, any common errors in punctuation/grammar, magpies some of the most interesting or effective phrases and outlines key successes and next steps. The children, in collaboration with talk partners, then review their work in light of the displayed feedback.  It was great to run into one of our KS1 delegates a week later at a moderation cluster and find that she had created her own version, suitable for her Year 2 children's needs.

    We’ve also had some really interesting discussions about the ways that pre-/post-topic assessment can be done, in particular about whether cold/hot tasks are always an effective way of demonstrating progress. Yet again, in this discussion it often came back to the question of who it is for. If a cold task is merely using lesson time to show that a child isn’t very good at this thing they haven’t yet been taught, then maybe that doesn’t really show anything that useful, and actually, perhaps is not an efficient use of our class time. However, if a ‘cold’ task is used as the basis for discussion, modelling, analysis and subsequent creation of success criteria then maybe it serves a more useful teaching purpose alongside the assessment one.

    As a team we’ve really enjoyed running these sessions – they felt really productive and bite-sized, and a nice change to the norm - plus it’s been great to read in the evaluations how many of our teachers felt that the session gave lots of practical ideas to take away.

    If you didn’t get a chance to attend one of the Spring Term sessions, worry not! We will be running a couple more on the 24th April at Hertfordshire Development Centre. Book online here (for morning session) or here (for afternoon).

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