Making summative assessments formative

#15MinForum – 10/5/16

This week’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Nikki Cloudsdale (@NikkiCloudsdale), our Maths Subject Leader, with some suggestions for taking summative assessment tasks (tests, exam papers etc) and turning them into formative learning strategies (perfect timing, having just finished internal exams for year’s 7 and 9, and with exam groups in years 10-13 ploughing through past papers!)…

Teachers Marking
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In a webinar that I attended a couple of months ago (if one ‘attends’ a webinar?!), I listened to Terry Morgan and Beth Carr from the Learning Sciences Dylan Wiliam Center talk about ‘The Case for Short Cycle Formative Assessment‘. Much of the webinar, like the others in the series, revolved around unpacking the key dimensions of formative assessment (and the compelling evidence base that underpins it):

formative assessment overview

Credit ‘The Case for Short Cycle Formative Assessment

In this particular webinar, this was specifically set in the context of short-cycle formative assessment (i.e. the minute-by-minute processes) as opposed to medium- or long-cycles, which look at assessment between teaching units or across units and terms:short cycleCredit ‘The Case for Short Cycle Formative Assessment

Listening to Nikki talking through some of the strategies that the maths department are playing with at the moment, I was struck by the potential for some of the strategies to help tie the different ends of the cycles together, taking summative assessments completed to assess progress across entire units or even entire key stages, and then using them as the basis for learning activities rooted back in the short-cycle formative assessment processes.

Nikki started by outlining the journey that the Maths department has been on in the last 18 months with regards to assessment within the department, highlighting some of the features of their current approach, including tracking sheets that students keep in their exercise books on which they record progress in various tests alongside the key feedback from their teacher (in the form of WWW/EBI) for each key objective; formative assessment tasks and feedback as they move through a unit of work; then a final summative assessment which is graded. But, as Nikki herself put it, the grade is just one part of their feedback – the most important part comes next…

At the heart of the strategies listed below, is the idea that reviewing a summative assessment should only rarely (if ever?!) be about simply showing the students a mark scheme and talking through it. Rather, it should be about engaging the students in meaningful reflection – with them in the driver’s seat – on the hows, whys and wheres of their mistakes and misunderstandings in order to help them move their learning forwards.

Here are a few of the ideas:

  • Peer assessment of a selection of responses to a question: project photos of selected responses or share them on nearpod, and charge students with marking it (without looking at the mark scheme!) and then perfecting it. Round it off by asking students to suggest a suitable improvement target for this individual, forcing students to think about the skill, exam technique, or approach (metacognition!)
  • Champions of a question: identify areas of strength within the test and make every pupil a champion of some aspect of the assessment. Provide opportunity for students to move around to find the solution from the champion, or use a jigsaw seating approach to help structure the sharing and collaborating (activate students as resoures for each other!)
  • Develop a model solution/answer: working in small groups or pairs, task students with developing model solutions/answers for themselves (taking ownership of their own learning!) before then rearranging groups for peer-teaching (activating them as resources!)
  • And, of course, at the end, having used the assessment to identify priority areas (some sort of gap analysis), point students in the direction of specific resources that they can use to support them with these specific priority areas… and provide them with tme to actually do it!

I wonder if we might really get them thinking carefully if, when marking the work, we were to give the question a score, but not use any ticks to show which aspects of the answer gained the credit. The students are then tasked with devising their own mark scheme to work out for themselves specifically where they did and didn’t gain the marks…

In all of these strategies, we could argue that the teacher should be acting as a conductor rather than a controller, freeing them up to coach and probe students in the construction of their own understanding, rather than simply telling them what the mark scheme wanted them to write…

Doing so will surely encourage the students to be full involved in reflecting on the important part of any test: what it is that they need to attend to in order to move forward… (but then we all know that, according to John Hattie at least, the point of testing is not really about telling the students anything at all, but rather it is to find out what you as the teacher did well – who did you teach well and who not so well, what did you teach well and what not so well, and so on“………….)


HOT Hexagons…

#15MinForum – 19/4/16

Tuesday’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Simon Bromley (@RCGeography), our Geography Subect Leader, who shared a great technique to encourage pupils to develop their ideas by looking for and explaining links between them…

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Although this is a great strategy for giving groupwork the sort of structure it can often lack, the ultimate aim is to encourage and support higher order thinking…



In Geography, as in other subjects where students are asked to produce extended written pieces that ‘provide developed and linked answers, showing a full understanding’, a key challenge is stretching the pupils to extend their points, link them together (and back to the original question), and explore ideas in as deep a way as possible in order to show the interconnectedness of ideas and concepts. Anyone who teaches topics that look at competing issues and multiple viewpoints, or which require students to adopt a discursive, analytical or evaluative position where there may be multiple routes to a good answer rather than a single correct idea will appreciate the importance of ensuring students build their ideas and explain and justify them along the way!


There are all sorts of ways to encourage Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), but with HOT Hexagons it is all about the design of the resource. At first glance, HOT Hexagons are just cards with statements printed on them… sounds just like a card sort, right? The simple but important difference is in the shape: rather than the linear sequences that card sorts typically lend themselves to, the hexagons make it easier to turn the task into an exploration of multiple links…

An example inquiry question:


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Some of the cards that go with the task:

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And some examples of student work:

There is clearly an investment of time in preparing the resource, but if it can be used by several staff across a department and returned in schemes of learning each year, then it is an investment worth making. There is a nifty hexagon generator here on Pam Hook’s (@arti-choke) website that might help (or create a blockbuster board in powerpoint!)

Things to think about to support and extend students…

  • Make it an expectation that every contribution a student makes to their group’s hexagon ‘sprawl’ is met with the question ‘why’ from the rest of the group – the aim should be for students to build upon or challenge each other’s ideas.
  • Vary the text amount – reducing the literacy demand can make the task more accessible for younger/less able.
  • Provide students with a starting point and/or a mid-point, or provide them with some links to get them started by modelling.
  • Decide the groups in advance to ensure you’ve got the balance you want (be that to spread out ‘characters’ or to ensure particular combinations of students in order for them to support and challenge each other).
  • Include blank hexagons which students can use to add their own ideas or to create categories or to explain their links.
  • Have students take a gallery walk to look at the work of other groups (make sure one member of each group remains behind as the curator to justify the work of their group!), or just have a single envoy from each group visit other groups, or a couple of roving reporters who can summarise the work of the whole class.

Moving towards a written task:

Use additional hexagons, whiteboard pens directly on the table (keep the babywipes handy!) or simply transition onto paper to identify the key themes/concepts based on the final layout of the hexagon strands. Use these key concepts/themes as a skeleton structure for the paragraphs of an essay, before then moving to a full essay plan full of well-developed and linked ideas!


Where to next?

The HOT Hexagons link very neatly with Biggs and Collis’ (1982) Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy, which is well worth taking some time to look at and think about. The taxonomy describes the stages of a student’s understanding in five steps of increasing complexity, from ‘pre-structural’ to’extended abstract:


credit here


Read a little more here about SOLO and see here for some compelling reasons why it should be our taxonomy of choice over Bloom’s!

David Didau’s post here, and this one from Damian Clark give a little more insight into the power of HOT Hexagons and SOLO.

This page of Pam Hook’s, here, is another one worth a few minutes of your time…

Expand your horizons with HOT Hexagons!

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Takeaway Homework…

#15MinForum – 8/3/16

Homework has been a topic of discussion for us over the last year or so, at least to the extent where we have clarified the expectation of our staff in relation to the setting of homework to make sure it is set at the right time for the right reasons, rather than setting banal tasks just because the homework schedule says a teacher should set it every Tuesday for a particular group. Making sure that homework embeds or extends learning is surely the key to making it worthwhile…

My own personal interest in homework over the last couple of years has been about encouraging a shift in student mindset from one where they think they are doing homework for me because I asked them to do it, towards a mindset where they are choosing to do homework for themselves because they recognise the value in the process… no small task!

The idea of takeaway homework is an idea that I think could really support this shift, partly because of the owernship it gives to the students and partly because of the fact that it forces a teacher to put together a medium-term plan of home-learning tasks that nest within the bigger scheme of learning for a unit of work (rather than, as we are probably occasionally guilty of, grabbing a random worksheet or giving them a page number to answer a few questions from in the closing minutes of a lesson without as much consideration as you might like!)


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The Forum…

Dan Toomey (@MrDToomey, our KS4 Science Coordinator and Teacher i/c Physics) opened his session with the preface “Just to be clear, this is not my idea – I saw Lucy McDonald [one of our wonderful geographers] using it, and there are loads of versions floating around on twitter”… a magpie indeed!

The idea is fairly simple: students are given choice and encouraged to be creative by providing them with a range of homework tasks to select from – a recipe for students taking ownership of the homework tasks. Whatsmore, the choices given to the students can be easily differentiated. Dan’s version, based on an idea that seems to have come originally from @ItsNads88, uses the Nando’s menu:

Takeaway Homework Magnetism_ Higher

One difference between the way that Dan is using it in comparison to the way some of the other versions seem to be used, is that each column on the menu represents a task that is expected at different points across the unit. So the ‘starter’ (first column) encourages students to select a task that must be completed within the first few lessons of the unit and the ‘dessert’ (final column) offers a selection of revision tasks. The ‘main’ (middle column) is (or at least contributes to) the main assessed task for that unit of work. In science, this is typically a task that is the focus of our formative assessment policy (i.e. it will have explicit success criteria, involve a round or two of peer and self-assessment, a bit of DIRT, and then teacher assessment with formative marking (WWW/EBI).

With students from a single class working on a range of different tasks, it presents some exciting opportunities for a bit of jigsawing with the seating plan to get students assessing the work of others who did the same task, but also looking at the work of those who did a different task…

menu and workmenus

The whole menu is shared at the start of the unit and due dates are attached for each column, though students can work on tasks as and when they see fit and submit work at any point before the due date. Dan also indicated that there may sometimes be a bit of smoke and mirrors with regards to which tasks are the easiest and which are the hardest if there are students who seem to be opting for the easiest tasks (the lemon and herb option!) or who are jumping into the top one (the extra hot) when they aren’t quite ready…

Have a go… and then share it on #TakeAwayHmk!!

Interested in a little more reading?

  • See more about Takeaway Homework from @TeacherToolkit in his blog-post here
  • See some more general musing from Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner) on the value of homework in his blog-post here
  • See Tom Sherrington’s (@HeadGuruTeacher) discussion of some of the research on homework in his blog-post here.




Intervention in the Classroom…

#15MinForum – 23/2/16

With less than 10 weeks of teaching until the first of the GCSE exams (gulp), this morning’s 15 Minute Forum focussed on exploring a range of strategies that might conceivably be classed as ‘intervention’ in the classroom to support those individuals whose  data (from assessments/ monitoring/ marking etc) suggests they might need an exra nudge…

Sands of Time

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The idea of ‘intervention in the classroom’ is neither a new idea, nor one that should really be seen as something special that is rolled-out at certain times of the year. Rather it is a way of thinking about high-quality, inclusive classroom practice, sharply focussed on meeting all pupils’ needs, including targeted provision, within lessons, for individuals/ groups when necessary1. Clearly this has particular relevance for our exam groups in the run-up to their public exams, but the strategies discussed in the forum are really just about making sure our teaching approaches are highly effective at supporting the progress of all students in all classes across the whole school.

intervention toolbox

At the start of the session, I presented 6 strategies that could be used as a tool for targeting individuals:

  1. Targeted questioning (within a no hands-up classroom!)
  2. Additional/differentiated tasks
  3. Create opportunities within the lesson to engage with key individuals/ groups
  4. Peer scaffolding/ differentiated seating plan(s)
  5. Activating students as resources for each other
  6. Carefully considered deployment of support staff

Each group of staff was given an A3 sheet with one strategy on  and tasked with discussing that strategy in relation to 4 key questions:

  • What does the strategy actually ‘look like’? what is it?
  • Why might this strategy work as a form of intervention?
  • How might you actually do it?
  • What else needs considering?

After a minute or so, each group passes its sheet to the next group (we went clockwise, but whatevs) and reviews what the previous group had written and seeks to add to it. After another minute, the sheets are passed on again and this is repeated until each group recieves the sheet they started with (which should be, by now, full of ideas from all other groups in the room… I’m sure someone somewhere has given this technique a name, but I think of it as snowballing – works well for generating ideas and sharing them around the room).

By the end of the session, we had begun (and it isn’t a finished product!) to explore each of the strategies – the sheets have now been pinned-up in our Learning & Development Room for staff to review, reflect, modify over the coming weeks as part of a working-wall of ideas.

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I wouldn’t suggest these ideas are new to staff, but I know that I find taking the opportunity to sit and think and talk about these things has the effect of freshening them up in my mind… Now I’m off to reorganise my seating plans for my year 11 group…

Coincidentally, @Shaun_Allison posted this fantastic list of suggestions for what to do with y11 just yesterday – I’d like to think our posts complement each other nicely!

1Some of the language here is rehashed from old National Strategies materials (like this), which promoted the idea of a model of intervention to support progress based on waves (where Wave 1 was about classroom practice), built upon upon in more recent DCSF guidance about Personalised Learning and Quality First Teaching (have a look at these webinar slides from @NataliePacker for a little more on QFT and the SEND Code of Practice).

For a few more thoughts on Quality First Teaching, see this post from @TeacherToolkit



Scaffolding talk for learning

#15MinForum – 9/2/16

15 minute forum 9-2-16This week’s 15 Minute Forum, delivered by Emily Johnson (our Teacher i/c KS3 English), focussed on a lovely little strategy for scaffolding discussion. Emily shared an approach that she has been using with her sixth-form English Literature students, but it is easy to see how this might be (or perhaps ‘should be’, given the importance of talk for learning)  successfully used across key stages 3-5 in a range of subject areas…

Why should we care about the quality of student talk?

Emily and I have talked and shared some interesting reading recently about the importance of developing oracy and placing value on the process of talk, and Emily gave a short summary of this to set the context to the session. In part, this is about recognising the critical role of ‘talk’ in the relationship between language, learning, thinking and understanding, and in part it is about helping to bridge the gap (or, for some students, the chasm) between thinking and writing by forcing students to articulate, organise and develop their thoughts coherently in verbal expression before committing them to paper.

Abstract speaker silhouette with bubbles

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These points are hugely important for students across the spectrum – from those whose written work is routinely disordered or underdeveloped through to the most literate and able students (some of whose writing can be unnecessarily overwrought, pretentious or perhaps just plain waffly – forcing them to first discuss their ideas (using a framework that supports but doesn’t restrict) can often be helpful in forcing them to frame their ideas in a more succinct format).

Moreover, the way we structure, manage and model talk, dialogue and discussion should strive to ensure that students not only reap the benefits of talking themselves, but also that they listen, really think about and engage with the things they hear, and support others with their thinking (inluding a respect for alternative positions).

How do talk cards work?

The cards themselves each contain a  statement/ instruction/ assessment criterion taken, in this case, from the marking scheme or assessment objectives of the specification. For example, the English Literature cards that Emily shared included statements like ‘support your statement with a quote’, ‘suggest an alternative interpretation’, ‘make a link to the typical features of the genre’ etc.

Talk cards

When writing the cards, it would seem desirable to emphasise more than just brief factual recall, focussing instead on the narrating, explaining, analysing, speculating, imagining, exploring, evaluating, discussing, arguing, justifying and questioning that Robin Alexander refers to as the repertoire of ‘learning talk’ in his work on dialogic teaching.

Running the activity:

  • A question is posed to the whole class (for example ‘How does a Hardy present Tess and Angel’s relationship?’), and students are given thinking time (5-10 minutes) during which they individually start pulling-together various sources of information from previous lessons/ homework tasks (having already spent time reading articles and completing close analysis work)
  • Students distribute the cards in their groups (4-5 students). If you have colour-coded the cards to indicate the level of challenge associated with each one, students might be asked to ensure an even spread to each member of the group, or alternatively you might differentiate them yourself by distributing the cards yourself while the students are still pulling together their sources of information, giving some students more of the high challenge cards.
  • Students start playing their cards! As a student plays their card, they make their contribution to the discussion, agreeing with,  buildling upon, or challenging the previous contribution, or taking the discussion off in a new direction.

The process could continue indefinitely with card replenishment, or it becomes a simple competition: the first student to get rid of all their cards is the winner! Encouraging competition encourages students to self-regulate: if they, collectively, think someone has played a card and not actually contributed a suitably pertinent or robust point, they reject it. This in itself encourages students to engage thoughtfully with other people’s ideas.


A little more reading (about talking)…

In this short article from Robin Alexander on the essentials of Dialogic Teaching, he summarises key features of scaffolded dialogue, amongst which he includes:

  • interactions which encourage children to think, and to think in different ways
  • questions which require much more than simple recall
  • answers which are followed up and built on rather than merely received
  • feedback which informs and leads thinking forward as well as encourages
  • contributions which are extended rather than fragmented
  • exchanges which chain together into coherent and deepening lines of enquiry
  • classroom organisation, climate and relationships which make all this possible

There isn’t much in this list that the talk cards won’t help us to start exploring and embedding. He goes on to suggest that…

These forms and dynamics of talk contribute to:

  • uptake (one person responding to and taking forward the ideas of another)
  • scaffolding (providing the child with an appropriate linguistic and/or conceptual tool to bridge the gap between present and intended understanding)
  • handover (successful transfer of what is to be learned and assimilation of new learning to existing knowledge and understanding)

It strikes me that this activity, and others like it (which we can hopefully explore moving forwards), could go a long way towards embedding some of these features and ideals!

For a more detailed overview of Dialogic Teaching than the short pdf linked above, I would thoroughly recommend Robin Alexander’s book (well, more of a pamphlet really) Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk. An insightful and very accessible entry into thinking critically about student and teacher talk in classrooms…

#15MinForum 26/1/16

Our first 15 minute forum took place earlier this week, kicked off by Gabby Veglio (Yr9 Year Leader and whole-school numeracy coordinator) leading a session on ‘Top Tips for Positive and Assertive Classroom Management’.15 minute forum

The Context

Although as a school I don’t think we would recognise ourselves as being part of the bigger picture presented in the media of ever-declining standards in student behaviour (and I certainly don’t think our students experience anywhere close to the supposed ‘average’ of 38 lost days of learning each year due to low level disruption (as reported last summer in this article)), that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of students who, on their day (and possibly most days!), can present challenges.

At the other end of the spectrum, I would even dare to suggest that a great many of our students are so compliant, that it means we as teachers can get away without deploying (and thereby refining) our full armoury of strategies that force us as teachers to think carefully about what we say (or don’t say), how we say it, where we are in the room, etc…

And so this was a session which had a little something for everyone, be they individuals who recognise that there are classes who aren’t quite where we want them, or staff who feel proficient based on the fact that they ‘don’t get any hassle’ but who want to take the opportunity to reflect on the language they use and the steps they follow (and then consider how these factors contribute not just to behaviour, but to the general ‘climate’ of the classroom).

The Forum

Gabby led us through her top tips – Positivity, Prevention, Deal with the Low Level, Consequences, and Lesson Planning – before we then had chance to unpack some of them further in groups. Gabby’s resource slides can be seen in full further down (and are well worth a look!), but here are some of the highlights in a more ‘stream of consciousness’ format…

  • Use the non-verbal cues. Eye contact and long pauses – don’t fill the silences! Own the classroom and consider your position in it. Just changing where you are standing can modify the behaviour of individuals (and if it doesn’t, you are well placed to quietly redirect them)…
  • State what you want, don’t just label the behaviours you can see that you don’t want. This means phrasing things wherever possible (is it ever impossible?) in the positive: rather than “stop talking”, try “I’m expecting you to be listening, thanks” (using “thanks” rather than “please” changes what you are seeing from being a plea to an expectation of compliance)…
  • Public praise – catch them being good. Use this to highlight what you are looking for – identifying these role models publicly allows you to reinforce what you are expecting students to do without simply restating the original instructions…
  • Give students choice. Here we are aiming to be assertive without bullying. “Richard, you can work sensibly with Adam as I’ve asked, or you can work at the back on your own”, or “Michael, you can come back into the classroom and complete the task in the way I’ve asked, or you can choose to go and work on the safety net. Going to the safety net obviously means it will need to be followed up with a further sanction, but it is your choice to make”…
  • Avoid humiliation and confrontation. There may be a place for carefully-deployed sarcasm, but rarely is that place classroom/ behaviour management!
  • Avoid escalation and confrontation by acting ‘casually’ – “Steven, can I borrow you for a minute for a quick word” is less likely to cause a scene than launching into Steven in front of his peers…
  • Avoid unnecessary dialogue. This is partly about non-verbal cues, partly about diverting attention away from someone who may be looking for it, and partly about avoiding escalation: remember who is the adult and who is responsible for modelling the behaviours! We don’t always have to have the last word (but we do have to reinforce what we want and round off with a statement of expectation (i.e. “thanks” rather than “please”) – “but Sir, I wasn’t talking I was just borrowing his ruler” might be better handled, despite the fact that the student was clearly talking, with “ok, well now you’ve got the ruler you can carry on with the task without discussing it”…
  • Separate the person and the behaviour. De-personalise it, then emphasise that the behaviour is something the student is ‘choosing’…
  • Make decisions and follow them through! Never threaten something that you won’t/can’t follow through on…
  • Follow department/ school procedures. We each have our own approaches before we get to the formal heirarchy. It matters less what your own steps are before you get to the ‘formal procedures’ (i.e. how many verbal warnings you give, whether you use ‘good learning/ poor learning’ on the board etc) as long as you use the same ones all the time (it is shared) and you apply it in the same way each time (it is consistent). Linked to the earlier idea of ‘choice’, it is invariably a good thing to let students know what the next step will be (be explicit about expectations and where this is heading if expectations aren’t met)…
  • Routines, routines, routines. At the start of the lesson, at transitions between tasks, at the end of the lessons. Mek them explicit, reinforce them continually and ensure students understand the conditions under which tasks are being completed. One suggestion is to start the task, watch for a few minutes and observe, freeze the class, feedback on what is being done well and where (by way of clarifying and exemplifying expectations), then set them off again…
  • Use the seating pan (and vary it, if you there is a need to prevent students feeling that they, rather than you, ‘own’ a particular space)…

What next?

For those of you interested in some additional reading/ ideas/ support, here are my three top recommendations:


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Twilight INSET 19/1/16 – next steps with observations…

Having experienced generally very positive feedback from staff about the first round of observations that took place over the Autumn term (our first without grades and using our own Challoner 10 as the framework for discussion, rather than Ofsted criteria), we are now keen to get moving on the next round. And so, at the start of a twilight intended for developmental work in departments, we brought all teaching staff together to outline how the next round will work.

The general principles are the same as for the first round: the observations will be developmental (i.e. they won’t be graded and discussion after the observations will be focussed on reflective questioning and dialogue rather than ‘feedback’ per se) and we want to support teachers with everyday practice rather than one-off showpiece teaching.

At the same time as this, we want to create the opportunity for Subject Leaders to take some ownership over the process in terms of setting the agenda, in order to try and find opportunities for the observations to support departmental development priorities as well as the priorities of each individual teacher. Furthermore, we want to involve staff at all levels of the schools with the actual visiting of each others’ classrooms.

In order to do this, we are setting out to observe a department at time, seeing each member of the team on several occasions for 15-25 minutes at a time, as part of a series of Learning Walks, rather than observing each teacher once for a full lesson. The hope is to be able to schedule the Learning Walks to ensure that each team member is seen once with a priority group (the priority having been determined by the Subject Leader and their team), as well as visiting each teacher on a further couple of occasions on a more ‘impromptu’ basis. Each Learning Walk will be led by a member of the L&T team plus another member of the department.

In addition to identifying themes to be discussed with each class teacher at the end of the cycle, the intention is also to use the opportunity to develop the co-observer, partly in terms of their own noticing skills, but also in terms of their career development. For example, if I conduct a Learning Walk of a department and take the Subject Leader (or someone who is realistically aspiring to middle leadership) with me to co-observe, then the discussion with that person might probe their thoughts about what to raise in discussion with the class teacher afterwards, and how to go about doing so in order to stimulate a reflective dialogue (rather than just a retelling of events observed with some sort of judgement placed on it). If the co-observer who is on the Learning Walk with me is a newly- or recently-qualified teacher, the discussion may revolve more tightly around what we are seeing and the merits of the approaches being observed.

It seems like a good model to run with having already observed everyone once formally (and alongside regularly seeing staff across the school on the occasional whole-school Learning Walks and on our SLT Tours (which all of SLT are scheduled to do weekly, but which are more about showing interest in what the students are doing, showing support for staff where necesssary, generally ‘checking the temperature’…)), but it is going to be a big challenge logistically…

Twilight 19-01-16