Pig weighing, Archaeological discoveries, and more. In this episode, Andy and Robin are joined again by Rosie Ross to discuss assessment in school. What is the goal for schools when assessing? How has assessment changed over the years? Plus, Rosie speaks on the value of sharing assessment data from Insights with parents.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
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Welcome back everyone to another episode of The School of School podcast. And today Robin, of course is here. Say hi, Robin.
Today we've got Rosie Ross with us again. How lucky are we? And of course Rosie. We know Rosie. She's a pioneer, mastery specialist and a huge, geez, I don't know. What do we say? We just love Rosie at Maths — No Problem! So hi Rosie.
Thanks for joining.
That's very kind. No, I'm delighted to be here.
Good. Well, we're delighted to have you. For those who might not know who you are, hard to believe because you're always around. Always writing blogs and coming to the conferences and speaking and stuff. And you're going to be at our next conference too, I hear, right in November.
I am, yes.
Which is very exciting.
Yeah. So that's going to be in Manchester in November. November, not November. What am I saying?
I don't even know what time of year it is, but Rosie, just tell us a little bit about yourself for those who might not know you.
So I've been teaching for a long time, so about 26 years. I'm at St. Bridget's now in West Kirby, the Wirral. Lovely school to be in, and I'm assistant head teacher there, but I'm also maths subject lead, which is great. And I do a little bit of work with other schools as well through the NCTM. So I get the best of all worlds really in class and doing the maths that I love as well.
So Rosie, today we're going to talk about assessment, but pretty much most areas of leading and developing maths, so.
So let's start with assessment. Where does assessment fit into this whole thing of teaching maths?
Oh, assessment is everywhere, literally everywhere because that's your bread and butter, isn't it? How do we know how to teach? Because we're assessing our children. How do we know where to go next? Because we're assessing our children. How do we design our curriculum? Because we're assessing our children, so. And I think it's about understanding, really knowing what assessment is, because when I was a new teacher assessment to me, I just saw it as something that happened at the end. Whereas I think we've got a better understanding of assessment now and we know that it happens before we teach, isn't it? So having those conversations with a previous colleague is part of your assessment in a way. What went well this year, what didn't go well this year? So you've got that prior knowledge.
Assessment in the lesson, I think that's something that really interests me. How do we assess in the moment? So for us, it's those questions, really thinking about the questions that you're going to want to ask in a lesson. We do have those responsive questions that come in the moment, but I think as a teacher, you've actually got a plan in what are those questions that I'm going to need to know the answers to, because that's going to shape whether I'm going to go this way or that way in the lesson. It's going to shape whether this lesson's going to take one day or maybe I'm going to have to split this lesson over two days because, I just need to know how we're going. So that's that formative assessment. For us as well, journals, our journals are a really key part of our assessing children's thinking in the lesson, in the lesson moment and also after the lesson, what were they thinking?
What really resonated with them? What might I want to pick up on in my next lesson as well? So all of those sort of formative style of assessments that are going on really shape your lesson and your teaching because you have got to be responsive to the children's need. What is it that they need? Where do they need to go next on the journey? Or do they actually just need to stay where you are on the journey because you need to spend a little bit longer on that. And then of course we have our summative assessment. I mean, we use the insights assessment in our school, which has been absolutely brilliant for us because we are assessing our taught curriculum, and I think that's very, very important. What are you assessing? You assessing what you teach?
Now we have obviously two levels of our summative assessment. We've got our workbooks that we use at the end of each lesson, and that's kind of like your exit ticket if you like, right, that summarises. So the children will do their workbooks. We will knock those together because it's good to have the conversation, pick up any misconceptions straight away. If there's something a little bit more critical, we'll pick that up in the afternoon. But once that lesson's done, I can sort of whizz around those workbooks and go, yep, got it, got it, got it, got it. Ooh, I need to just pick up on you a little bit. And it just means that we are all keeping on move when we're not leaving anybody behind. And then we've got that more formal sort of summative assessment that we use when we're using the insights, which we're assessing our taught curriculum, we're assessing exactly what we have taught and the children's understanding.
And the lovely thing with that as well is we can see trends then from that, we can see we are all having a problem with this aspect. We haven't been able to retrieve this aspect of maths. Let's go back, where was that in the textbook? Where was that bit taught? Okay, let's put some more work in on that. Let's pull that in to another part of our day as well, so. And we can see trends across school as well. And then you sort of empowering your teachers and you can sort of pass that information on, can't you? So I'm in year six, year five might say to me, well actually, do you know what we noticed in the summer when we did our summative assessment? Yeah, pretty much all the children got stuck on this bit. You might want to think about that when you're teaching this topic again. You might want to backtrack to that. So it's about those conversations as well. So I think good assessment informs your teaching. It's what you do with the assessment. You're not just fattening the peg, you're actually doing something with that. Yeah.
And I would think it's a great tool to be sharing with parents as well, because you can really break it down to show each part of the learning with the parents and then being able to say, this is how your child is doing, and we notice this and whatever it is. I would just think it seems invaluable. Maybe it's a shameless plug for insights and I'm okay with that, but just to me as a parent, I would love to be able to see it broken down in a way that is also understandable to me as well as to the student and to the teachers so.
Yeah. Because I think, yeah absolutely as a parent because, and I think it's useful as a teacher, isn't it? Because we have to report, we have statutory duty to report on the progress and attainment of our pupils. So if you've got a tool that you can actually open up and go, actually it's there. It's absolutely clear they can do X, Y, and Z. But you know what? They find this little bit tricky. And here's an example of the question that they find tricky. You can't make it clearer than that when you're communicating with parents, and parents do want to help their children, they do want to know.
So to be able to go, well, actually, this is the type of question they find really tricky. You might want to have a look at doing X, Y, Z with them. Brilliant for intervention as well, because I can have that conversation with teaching assistants and say, you know what? When I was marking these papers, I can see that this was something they found tricky. These are the types of questions. But actually though we're in year six, that's a question from year five. So could you go back to that textbook and it's telling you this is the chapter, I think in your intervention session, they need to do a little bit of work, just go back over some of those lessons again. So it's just having that support, isn't it? It's what you do with it that makes the assessment powerful.
Yeah. And just seeing that, like you said, you can look at the individual student, but you can also look at them as a class. And when there's kind of an alarm bell going off that, wait a second, we need to stop right here and maybe go back to,
Do this lesson again so that they're getting it. That's invaluable information.
Yeah. And it's an intelligent assessment as well, because I think prior to us using insight, we didn't really have anything that was assessing our taught curriculum. And it's very easy to have papers, but actually they may be assessing things that the children are just naturally going to fail on because it's not maybe a topic that you've looked at. They haven't taught that yet. So why would they know how to do it? It's very generalised. Whereas if you want something that's quite specific and is really assessing what you have taught them.
So a lot of teachers are afraid of assessment. Why do you think that is?
I think that's because of culture, and I think that's because of accountability. Because what does assessment tell us? Assessments has been the tool unfortunately, which teachers have been a little bit beaten by. It's your data outcomes, your performance management is set on these data outcomes, and I think that can make people anxious and worried about assessments. So everything, I mean, I think that's something I've said in all of our talks is it all goes back to your culture, doesn't it? If we know we've set up our teaching well and our curriculum well, if we know we're supporting our teachers and we have a very open culture, there are always going to be dip years. There's going to be tricky year groups, going to be tricky cohorts, things are going to happen. We know that as teachers. I mean, look what happened in the pandemic.
So I think it's about how your school uses assessment. Are you using assessment to judge your teachers? Are you actually using it as something to improve the learning outcomes for your students? And they're two very different things because if you're going to use assessment to judge your teachers, people find ways and means of how relevant then does the data become. Because if people are scared, are you going to get that honest data? Because it's natural, isn't it? People want to do the best they can do. If you're looking at assessment is our way of really making sure our students are supported in the best way that we can possibly support them. Assessment is about making sure that our children's learning journey is right for them. Then that's a different spin on it, isn't it? And that's your culture. But then you get honest data and data that's reacted to as well because nobody's feeling that it's something to beat them up with because teachers want to do a good job, they really do. So it is thinking about how we use, how do our senior leaders use that data? What's its purpose?
Well, it's about transparency and honesty, right, and it's saying as a senior leader in the school, it's being able to identify what you said, Hey, this is a problem area for us as a school. Maybe it's problem solving, or maybe it's fractions or maybe it's geometry, whatever it is. And then recognising it and say, you know what? As a school, we do really well, but we don't do that well with fractions, let's say. And how would you even know that first of all, as a senior leader in your school? You probably, if you weren't using something like insights, you wouldn't even know that. You wouldn't know that unless somebody come out and said, do you know what? We don't do really well in fractions. There's no way for you to know that. So you may be thinking, well, we're doing okay, but you don't really know what we could be doing better at.
But if you're armed with that information, then as a professional, hopefully in a school that's transparent that is really trying to do the best for the children, they might say, our next professional development, professional learning, community focus, learning, whatever it is, lesson study focus, needs to be on teaching fractions because we're kind of not really all that good at it. And then that's exactly what you want to be able to do with assessment data. It's not shaming the ones that didn't do well, but it's saying, how can we be better? And transparency and honesty is the best way to do that always. But it's hard to get there if that's not the culture in the school right now.
Yeah. And that is everything, isn't it? It's all down to culture and it's all down to why are you there? You are there for the children. But we're modelling, aren't we? We wouldn't say to our class, we don't berate our children in our class if they haven't done well with something. We go, okay, what is it that we need to do? And I think we need to be like that with our teachers. I think as senior leaders, you need to look at your teachers as your class and be respectful of those professionals as you would with your children in your class. We won't berate our students for not doing well enough, so we're not going to have that culture with our teachers as well. It's all about how can we make things better for everybody? Proving the learning all the time.
Yeah. And understanding that that's a long-term objective.
And it's nothing. There's no silver bullet. There's no quick fix. You've got to put the time, you've got to put the effort. And it starts with culture and it starts with honesty. Honesty is a big thing and transparency and it's difficult because sometimes people like to hide behind things because they don't trust. If this information gets out, I'm going to be judged harshly by it, so I'm not going to share that information. That's a tough thing. Right. But assessment can be used as an agent for good, and I think that's what people sometimes don't think about. They only see it as an agent for bad. Right. And,
Oh, I'm kind of curious though, Rosie, you've been teaching for, you said almost 26 years, and I'm thinking, how has assessment changed over the years?
And I'm hoping you're going to say it's changed for the better, but how has it changed overall?
I think it has. When I went in as a very young teacher, I had quite a vague idea of what assessment was. I mean, and I was with very little children then, and I know sort of assessment was, that it was very accountability driven. It was about outcomes. And I went through the period in time as well when every year group in a primary school was doing some form of SATs testing, though not necessarily nationally declared. It was very much about summative tests, all the time summative tests. And we didn't talk a lot about assessment in the moment, day-to-day assessment, that formative assessment. And I think that's been the improvement now, the real focus on the usefulness of formative assessment. I think all the work we've done on as schools on wellbeing and workload has actually as well made us think differently about assessment. Because I think we look at an assessment now and we go, okay, can I use this as both formative and summative?
So you take something like the insights that we use, that's formative and summative. It gives me something to summarise and share with parents, but it also forms my next stages in teaching. It forms where we need to go next. It forms CPD needs for staff. So one tool does many things, whereas I think we had quite a woolly idea about even using formative assessment early on in my teaching career. Whereas now I think we're thinking smart about things. We're thinking about how can we reduce workload? That's why things like insights are brilliant because you're marking online. It's so quick to mark because you don't want assessment to be onerous and workload heavy. You just want it to be useful. So yeah, I think assessment has got better from that point of view, and I think we see it as part of the learning process now, not an end point.
It's part of learning basically, right, it's not,
Yes. You made a reference to the weight to the pig earlier. I mean, it's not about, weighing the pig doesn't help it grow, right?
That's quite a famous, I don't know who said that originally, but I know the first time I heard it was when Tony Gardner used it at a conference years ago. 2014 conference we did in London. I remember. I remember because that really struck me. But yeah, that's the point, right? I mean, it's great to weigh or to measure the children. Well, if you think of it as a measuring stick assessment, it's great, but what are you going to do with that information? If you're just going to use the stick to beat your teachers with it, then that's not really helpful, right?
What do you do with that information is the important thing with assessment? And being a teacher is a bit like being an archaeologist in the sense that there's little bits of information that you find all over the place. Just like an archaeologist would find a, let's say a knitting needle from 300 years ago, and then from that you have to try to imagine what happened and what's the relevance of this thing. That's what you have to constantly do as a teacher, is look for those little artefacts all over the place from children. And that helps you paint a picture of, because John Mason at the same conference in 2014, no, this was 2015. John Mason said something really fascinating. He said, you can never measure somebody's ability. You can't measure somebody's ability. You can only measure the best. You can measure what they've been able to do that day, their attainment, but you don't really know why.
Had you pushed them a little bit harder or given them a bit more time, they may have gotten there. Right. So you don't really know what they're capable of. All you really know is what they were able to do in that instance, and that's a profound statement. And we need to remember that all the time because it might, yeah, there's lots of reasons why they may not have performed that day. Might be because they don't like you.
Could be that simple. Right.
Well is anything, Rosie, that again, we just talked about you seeing assessment changing over the years. Do you see it changing again or moving forward even more?
Yeah, I mean, my hope is that we get smarter with it and very much like Andy was saying, I think we're moving away from labelling children from assessments. It's just, absolutely. It's a snapshot at this moment in time. And I hope that language of high ability, middle ability, low ability, I hope that becomes language that's obsolete, really. It's just about, oh, look what you were able to do at this moment and look how far your journey has come. I think it's that, isn't it, about the progression in learning for children, not about labelling them.
That's a great place to end.
Rosie, we love having you here. You got to come back. I wish you were my teacher. I wish when I was small you were my teacher.
Where were you when we were kids?
Yeah. Children at your school are so fortunate to have you. Thanks once again.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.