Formative assessment ‘science’, Happy Ofsted, and more. Debbie Lee is back to share Overchurch Junior School’s amazing work. How do you manage pupil’s mindsets with self-assessing? Has there been noticeable and statistical improvements teaching and assessing maths like this? Plus, Debbie shares how formative assessment is managed across her school.
The school of school podcast is presented by:
Subscribe to get the latest The School of School podcasts delivered to your inbox.
Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
Welcome to The School of School podcast.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of The School of School podcast. Very exciting because we have our regular guests here, as per normal. We've got Adam. Say hello, Adam.
That didn't sound very enthusiastic and we've got-
I felt enthusiastic. I'm in a chipper mood. I'm in a very good mood. I'll try again. Hi, Andy. How are you doing? You good?
I'm doing really well, Adam. Thanks for asking. And we got Robin here as well. Say hi, Robin.
Yeah. Hi, everyone. I hope I sounded enthusiastic.
Well, we'll let you get away with that one. And also, today we have a special guest joining us, which is Debbie Lee from Overchurch Junior, on the Wirral. Debbie, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi, nice to see you all again. And I am actually cheerful too. I'm head of maths and head of year four, and I'm an average user of Maths — No Problem!. I'm a year four teacher and I love talking about all things maths, and so here I am.
Well, great. Well, thanks so much for joining us, Debbie, today. And I thought today what would be interesting would be to have a chat about how you guys use assessment within your school. And we can talk about all kinds of different types of assessments, so whether it's summative or formative, or whatever you guys are doing. Do you write your own assessment papers? I know you guys are using Insights, a national problem product there as well. It'd be great for you to maybe give us a rundown of how you guys use assessment in your school.
Yeah. Thanks, Andy. Well, we've developed different systems, but when we have a maths journal and when we do the maths mastery and the explore, and then we run through it and talk about mastery. At that moment in time, I would say to my children, "Right, at this moment in time, once we've done the GP as well, if you feel that you are comfortable with this and you get it so far," they put a two in purple pen. One would mean advanced, two would mean working expected, three would mean that they needed some intervention, and four would mean really that it had completely gone over their head. So we're hoping we don't get a four. At this stage, usually most children, because there's been a lot of support, a lot of scaffolding, a lot of discussion, would put a two in purple pen.
Purple is our marking colour that we use for self-marking. Once we'd done that, they would then go on to the independent. Now, it's at that moment with the independent work that most of the children would hopefully do it independently. They would then self-mark using... We populate workbooks. I give all of my teachers each year a blank new workbook. And as a planning document, they would fill it in as though they're a child, and then we use that as a marking station. At the moment I've got two and four A workbooks, because last year's new edition and this. Then I would put the answers on my iPad. Once they're finished they would come and self-mark, and then they would need to go and do corrections before they came to see me. And when they came to see me, if... And this is a child who'd done it independently. I would say, "Great."
I'd look through it with them and sometimes I'd send them back to say, "Well look, this, that, and the other needs doing," or whatever. But if they were, I thought, I'd expected, I would put a two. If I felt they needed intervention, I would put three or four. Now, the intervention in our school happens immediately. Now sometimes I might give intervention immediately, or I might send them to see the TA somewhere else in the room. Or I would say, "Right, I'm going to gather these books together and first thing this afternoon we're going to have a quick bit intervention to make sure that we've sorted it." Some children who are really struggling might be able to do some of it. And then they would realise that actually they weren't able to do it all, so I would revert to doing a GP style using the workbook page with those children so they would have more input and more support, but at the top they would put GP.
Or as they were going through it, they might put GP by the questions where they actually had had a lot of scaffolding and support so that I can see what was independent and what wasn't. And then they would still come to me and I would still in black pen put a number for them, but I might put beside it T or TA, or whatever levels of support they'd had so that I can understand whether they'd had a lot of extra help with that worksheet. That's just something that we have developed to try and help. It's adaptive teaching really, to try and make sure that we've got everybody able to work and complete it.
For me, this is formative assessment constantly informing me for my arithmetic actually for the next day. And it's always from that I would build something into my daily arithmetic. The summative assessment, we use insights which we love and we have used for a number of years now, we're part of the pilot. And it has gradually developed as we're using it. And some of the things that we've requested have happened so that we can see different whole year groups, I can see the whole school. We use that to drill down a bit so that we can actually look at diagnostics. Certainly, I would look for example now at year three. When I first got my children, I would look at year three's last test, the 3B. And so I already knew roughly what my children, if there were any things that I really needed to put some extra effort into. Yeah. That basically, other than national tests, is the way we're keeping our finger on the pulse all the time.
And would other maths teachers be doing the same thing as you, or do they have their own-
No, the whole school.
Everything that I talk about as maths lead we have implemented across the school.
How do you manage the children to get into a mindset that they're able to do this, and to be able to do it well? Because quite a bit whenever we self-assess, that takes a bit of getting used to it and understanding what the response is going to be. And why am I doing it and how well can I assess what's going wrong? How did you implement it? If a child starts in September, and I guess this is also for the teachers too. This isn't suggesting that this is what happen in your school, because it sounds well-thought-out. But sometimes we can think of self-assessment just simply being you decide for yourself and then that's it. It's just the process of thinking about it, which might have its place in places. But what you've described is more complicated than that, it's perhaps more thorough. You've got people that need to act on it, so they need to know what they're looking for and all those sorts of things. How does it begin in a September? What do you do so the children and staff are comfortable with that as a process?
I think it's a little bit like a thumbs-up thing, isn't it? When I was doing the explore, after we'd had a big chat about it and they'd got their ideas out down with their journal and we'd shared them, I would try to get a feel for how everyone was feeling. The journal bit is more about how they're feeling about it. Do they feel that they've understood it so far? And the GP, because it is quite heavily scaffolded, but the time... Sometimes we do all the GP, sometimes I just cherry-pick the parts because I pick the bits that I really need them to do and then we move on. It depends how long the independent task is. I think for me the journaling bit is they've got their ideas, they've been talking, it's quite a busy session, and we've shared it. We've gone through the mastery.
And then I'm thinking... Because I don't want to set them on the independent task if actually it's all just gone over their head. That's my gauge. Because it's chatty, because it's about talking, it's about understanding. It's about, do we feel that we're ready? And without a doubt, some children will put a two. And then they'll start the independent task and they clearly are not a two, because they haven't really understood it. But it's easy, then I get a carpet gang or various different things to scoop those children up. And sometimes it's just some of the questions they need extra help on, and some of it sometimes they can do some independently and some not. I think for me, I've always been somebody who likes the children to self-assess as well as me to assess, even across all subjects. And for years before, when we used different math schemes or did our own math schemes, I've always wanted to know... We've used traffic light systems. I've always wanted to know, how are you feeling? How do you feel it's going? Do you think you understand it? I hope that helps.
Yeah, it certainly does. And one of the interesting things is how much formative assessment you're doing, and how you've got that regulated into this data collection. You mentioned at some point that you like numbers and you like collecting data and stuff. You're obviously clearly collecting a lot of data as the year goes by, how do you then go back and reflect on that data or look at it? Do you then often go back at any stage of the year and go through things and assess the data that you collected, or is it more just useful on the spot?
It's on the spot formative assessment. The numbers that go in the books, I do not record them anywhere. For example, parents, even I've got parents meeting later this week. I would have their workbook. Because literally, I can flick through the workbook, and if there're mainly twos, then I know they're mainly expected. It gives me a feeling, it helps me see who needs more intervention and who is adrift. And it is difficult. Math, some children just find math difficult. And for some children it's because they don't like it and they think they don't like it and they think they can't do it. Well, that actually isn't something that I allow in my class. Because I say to the boys, "You will love maths, you just have to find the bit of it that you really like, and have the confidence to have a go."
Because children come in and somebody's told them, their parents have said, "Oh, I'm no good at maths." And then children think, "Oh, I'm no good at maths." And actually, everybody can do it. They just have to unpick it and get it in the right format for themselves. And some people obviously love it and find it easy and fly. But we can all work towards... I work on inclusion for all in my classroom, and we don't take children out for intervention groups, it's always in the classroom.
And do you find that's really successful? That doing it that way, can you see the improvement happen rapidly?
Yeah. Our MSAP results have really improved, which is obviously the big benchmark, but our insight results are good. And we are looking at it, and we can spot where... I, for example, can see, by looking at the data, how it's going across the school. And that's a lovely snapshot picture for me. But I also do learning walks, so I can go around the school and pupil voice and I can talk to the children and find out how it's going. Because it is a long game maths, isn't it? It's a spiral. You're constantly revisiting again and again.
You led nicely into what my next question was going to be. Which was, what role does the summative assessment then play in your school? Because you're doing all this formative assessment, and it sounds like it's just part of how you guys work. Obviously everybody should be doing formative assessment all the time, but you guys have it down to a science by the sounds of it. There's a very clear expectation that you're going to be doing this and you have a system for keeping track of it so that it's useful at the time. But what about the summative assessment? How does that work?
The formative thing, that is basically informing you always for the next day's teaching, the summative is much bigger. And at the moment we obviously do our insight at the end of each book. That's one of the reasons why I've decided to hold back the baseline for a little bit, because otherwise it's quite a long time before we do the first test. Insights test. When we get to the end of January, February, we do the first insights, then we would spend a lot of time looking at that data. And that's actually where sometimes the arithmetic is really handy, because we can actually weave extra things in to there. We can also look...
Obviously we do the scheme in order, but sometimes you can decide that you're going to do something like Roman numerals later, or move things around. Yeah. And as head of year and the SLT, and as head of maths, we would all look, everyone has access to the data. But for schools, rightly or wrongly, it is always that about the end of key stage data as well, that is our end goal. And we have really raised our standards. I am delighted with our school at the moment. Last year, six children have done fantastically, and so we're very pleased. And it is because we have such a strong system. We're constantly scooping up the gaps all the time, and then we have the big summative assessment as well. I'm really happy with it. The school's really happy with it. Good news was, Ofsted was happy with it too. So, thumbs up.
Because sometimes when you talk to schools or teachers about assessment, there's this feeling that over time teachers get to know their pupils, and you don't need to have so much formalised assessment going on. How do you feel about that point of view?
I think it's very easy for you to think that somebody is doing well and understands it all properly doing it. Because it's not until you do some style of test that you really can see whether children understood it, and whether they can do it by themselves and apply it. Now sometimes, for some children, it's just that they need a little bit of a nudge and then they do know what it is they need to do. We do the insights in test conditions. We do it properly, we mark it online. And the only thing I sometimes do, particularly as you start to know your children, is if a child has left lots of blanks... And we don't say to them that you can't... We like them to finish the test. We want them to finish.
So if there are loads of blanks, because they can't see what we've marked anyway, because we don't mark it on the paper, we mark on screen. I would, under quiet conditions, give those back and say, "Look, I really think you should have another look. I'm a bit disappointed that you haven't read that and thought, what can I do?" So we try and use them so that they are really informing us all the time. And if I could choose to work out insights slightly different, I would have three tests. I know you've got two, but three tests would be perfect. Which is why I'm trying to use the other one in a more diagnostic fashion, so actually get my real use out of it, and the children are ready for it.
Some people think that you don't need to do all this assessing, just the teacher's impression of the pupils should be enough.
No, I think not. Years ago we used to have some SATs papers for the different year groups, which we don't have anymore. And you can buy different schemes and tests and things. But to be tested on something that you... For example, I know that the test will be on the things that we have taught. We would never do test and 4B until we had finished the book 4B, and the same for 4A. It's just so easy and it looks nice. The papers are lovely, they're colourful, they look official. It is all part of building up this confidence so that when the children do have to do SATs tests in year six, that they actually are not phased by seeing these formal tests because we always take it seriously.
I don't think you can... Yes, if you spend a lot of time one-to-one with the child, you can really see how they're doing and you can see them when they're sharing and they're doing top tips, and when they're talking, they explore. But really, a proper snapshot of where they are at a moment in time, there is nothing like this type of summative test. And I think it's fab. And we use it, we won't be giving it up. We think it's great.
What about you, Adam? What do you think of people who think that you can just... As a teacher, you should just know and that-
I think it's a can of worms. I think it's a can of worms that, Andy. I think it's a really good question because formative assessment is hard. To do it really, really well is tough. Because if we could wave a magic wand, I, as a teacher, would want to be able to ask diagnostic questions when I need to for any subject that's going on. That's what I'd love to be able to do. I think that formative assessment falls into two parts. We can get that assessment data in my children learning, but we also need to find out in real time the diagnoses if someone's not, and that's a massive skillset. Let's assume that none of us have that 100% at our fingertips.
The next thing is about balance. I could test my children every single day, but that means that they're not learning every single day. We're just testing what they know, so it's finding that balance. I think that an assumption that I know all of my children is dangerous, because there's so many factors that play into it. I have found classes that are really compliant. They sit up, they look busy. I've had cohorts where children that I know don't know something, spend a great deal of effort trying to show to me they did know something. And they really didn't, because they didn't want to be... I don't want to be the person that doesn't know what to do. I don't want to know the answer. I think that we absolutely have to have summative assessment. We have to do that. I think that we need a level of sophistication with it and we need to understand it. And that's what insights gives us, right?
We don't have to do the number crunching with big highlighters. And I'm going back a number of years where you go through every question that's done for you, because I think that we also need to be mindful of question types. What's this actually telling me? They might be really good at this recall of something, but they might be just absolutely hopeless at putting that into a question that's being asked. And so that's the part that we'd need to then work on. I think we do need that big picture. Of course, we expect teachers to know where our children are. And the first instance, we know how we respond to them in real time, so we can decide, and it informs our teaching on a daily basis. But I think that we need that balance because I've not met too many teachers who are able... In fact, I'll tell you the truth. I don't think I've met any teacher that's able to know where all 30 of their children are at all times.
On all the different subjects.
We can all aspire to that. But yeah, the reality is that there is so many layers of sophistication amongst all of that. I think that of course it's got its place, and it feeds into a picture that I think we need to have. Because to think that I know my class so well that this test is just going to confirm, I think that's a wee bit too much of the ego getting in the way, if I'm being honest. I think that this is just another piece of valuable information that we can refer to and learn from. I think that's the most important part.
And you can really find out what they know as well. I really like to use these tests. I don't want to know what they don't know. I do want to know that, but I actually really want to know what they do know, and how well they know it and how they can explain it. And there is nothing like a test. And they are child-friendly, and not scary. Yes, there are difficult questions there, but there are also lots of questions where it boosts their confidence and they think, "Oh great, I can do this. This is great." But it does allow me to see what they do know, which is really important, as well as what they don't know. And they will not know it all, very few children will know it all. But it's encouraging if they know more rather than less.
Well, listen, I found there's a couple of nuggets from this podcast that I think we need to come back and follow up on in another podcast. Because you said a few things, Debbie, that really interested me. But listen, thanks again so much for joining us. I found this quite fascinating. I think assessment is something that we need to talk about a little bit more in general.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School podcast.