If you are reading this blog post, I am absolutely that like me, you did a little dance and leap for joy when the demise of National Standards was announced.
If you have been reading my blog for a while you will be well aware of my views on assessment or to be more specific 'testing'. I talk about this a bit in my latest book as well.
In my opinion assessment has taken over many schools, it has made the teachers role one of box ticking and created stress for children and adults alike. It has taken a way a lot of the freedom and innovation and led us to believe that there is no other way.
I won't go much further into this, because this blog post is not intended to be full of my opinion, but to share what we are doing and where we are up to at the moment.
I did however want to share with you a little story that made me cringe...I am still hearing too often about visual assessment on classroom walls. A recent story I heard talked about a display that pitted children against each other in a race to be reading at a certain level. This kind of practice breaks my heart. I don't for a moment think that these teachers are doing this to hurt children, but I don't think they have taken time to think about how the children feel. How does this shape their view of what reading is or even learning is? How does it promote a culture of shared learning and journey? How does it speak to these children about failure and mistakes?
Would we as adults like to be pitted against each other in this way? What would it do to our staff culture if we were pitted against each other in this type of competition?
Food for thought.
Ok, back to the point of this post. It is really just a follow up, because I have blogged about this before and a lot of the info in here will be the same. I have had many asking however about new entrant assessment and my opinions on readiness, so I thought I would create an updated post to cover off these questions.
Firstly my opinion on new entrant assessment....for some of you this will be quite confronting, but it is my intention to challenge current practice, just as I have challenged my own over the last few years.
I do not think that there is any place for academic (cognitive based) assessment of children on school entry. I do not believe we should be doing a traditional SEA, testing children on aspects of learning that most are not cognitively ready for. All this does is create anxiety in children right from the outset. I also do not believe there should be a rigorous timeline that we stick to in terms of assessment. No reports at certain times, none of that. Assessment should be seen as part of the learning process and particularly for our youngest children needs to be governed by an individual timeline of development. Take age off the table and think about developmental stage.
Why would you assess children on something they have no idea about, just to prove they have no idea? Surely you could learn more by playing alongside and talking to the child? What an earth is it that we are trying to achieve or prove. There are other ways to show progress, that are far less damaging.
Yes, I said damaging, these practices are damaging, we need to own it, and we need to change it. The growth in the level of anxiety can in the opinion of Peter Gray be related to the decline in play and the feeling of 'being out of control' for children. I believe that the over emphasis on testing also contributes to this anxiety in children. Children in traditional environments have limited control over what they are being 'tested' on. They have no role to play in this, other than by being measured. I believe we can still get good information on progress, while still allowing children to feel in control of their learning and involved in the process.
Ok, obviously I have strong opinions on this. Obviously these are my opinions, but I have lived this change and observed the differences it has made first hand. I know more about my children in my class now, then I ever did when I was using traditional new entrant assessments like observation surveys. Children engage happily in the process of working through their developmental goals (which they are given after a month or two at school) and approach this process with a growth mindset and understanding that they are not being tested.
So what is it that we do?
Well we use this as our framework for how we approach each individuals journey. This framework has been based on the development of the brain and allows us to engage with a child from the point they are up to.
From that framework we use this goal sheet that children work through with us as and when they are ready.
This framework and goal sheet is used as long as needed and you will notice that after working memory development, it starts to become more cognitive. Age is not a factor here, the focus is on development and a child in Year 2 or 3 may still be working on developmental goals if that is where they are up to.
We also use this writing chart to track progress...taking a writing sample each term as needed.
You will notice that we do not read with children straight away, and our children read interest books, rather than traditional readers.
We use learning stories, at least two a term for each child. These show the progression from a learning story more based on dispositions, urges and stages of play, transitioning as the child develops to a more cognitive focused one that is based on the curriculum. These learning stories are kept in each child's assessment journal and are shared on seesaw.
We also use seesaw to focus in on dispositions and keep a class learning story scrapbook in class which children and parents can access.
In maths I use a lot of observational assessments through agents, but we do give children knowledge based goals to work on and track them ourselves through the stages. We use JAM if we feel they are stage 4 and we need to know more about what they are doing strategy wise.
Dispositions form a huge part of our assessment of children along with stages of play and urges. These are kept anecdotally in each child's assessment journal (we have one for each child.)
In practical terms we check in with each child once a week on whatever goals they are up to and full in their journal accordingly.
I hope that paints a clear picture of where we are up to and what we are doing. Have we got it completely right...no probably not. I think we are always on a journey and things change accordingly, but if we always have children's needs at heart I think we will always go forward with the best of intentions.