Ability; possession of the means or skill to do something; talent, skill, or proficiency in a particular area.
There is a positive feeling to the idea that “I can do this” and being able to apply those skills or the embedded knowledge within a practical situation. I would be concerned at any learner expressing the view that they couldn’t do something. This view is often a result of an external view having had a negative impact. Young learners, by their nature, are growing and developing. There’s always something that they cannot do; if these are regularly identified, is it any wonder that some learners carry a negative self-image?
As an adult, I am often acutely aware of my limitations, but have the capacity to address some shortfalls. I am aware that there is a significant group of excellent bloggers, with both knowledge and articulacy which I can envy. I can aspire to these models. Sometimes I will decide to use the skills of a more competent person to achieve something, eg household electrics.
I had written a post building on some excellent work by Pete Jones with a view to understanding and establishing expectations of quality. It is really important for children to have examples that offer insights into what the expectations are within a task, in order to be able to visualise what they need to be able to do.
I have marked university level submissions and had a very clear mark scheme against which to make judgements. There was some “wriggle room” within each criterion against which to give a mark. The total became the decider of the pass level. My late first wife and my deputy head acted as a KS2 English SATs marker one year and had very clear mark guidance against which to judge. There was still embedded “wriggle room” that allowed a more subjective view to be scored. At the end of these processes the mark, level or grade is appended to a piece of work. If level or grade 4 is higher than level 1, there should be very clear evidence and a description possible of the differences between them. In other words, a level 4 learner can do more than a level 1 learner and the journey from 1 to 4 can be described.
As a head, levelness descriptors were changed into can do statements, which allowed a descriptor to be built of what a level x learner looked like, which supported general decision making and guidance. In several posts, I have articulated the need for a school exemplar portfolio approach to support learner and teacher judgements and to exemplify the journey that needs to be taken. This was a feature of my school, supporting moderation of learning, as well as providing guidance to new teachers.
For example, a level one child is likely to show; that they are enthusiastic for writing and are gaining confidence; can use phrases and simple statements to convey ideas; can make some choices about appropriate vocabulary; can compile lists, charts and is beginning to organise writing; can spell conventionally spelt words, especially CVC and common words spelt correctly; can write letters clearly shaped and correctly orientated; can use full stops and capital letters.
Whereas a level four child might show that they; can write extensive pieces of non-narrative writing; can use simple and complex sentences, organised into paragraphs; can achieve standard spelling and accurate punctuation most of the time; can draft, redraft, revise and proof read independently or in collaboration with other pupils; can use paragraphs correctly, consistently and accurately; can be more discriminating about using a range of punctuation; can structures lengthy narrative logically; can depict atmosphere, character and setting.
A Frame of Reference is essential to FORmative assessment judgements, which for an inexperienced teacher is an important stage of personal development, adding to the sum of their understanding of child learning development. If you know what you are looking for, you might just see it.
The announcement of the removal of levels has the potential for chaos as it potentially removes a frame of reference for progress judgements. The situation is likely to be different if comparing Primary and Secondary outlooks, the former being multi-subject generalists, the latter more likely to be specialists in one or two subjects.
Where Secondary education retains an end of school exam which has a graded structure, this could provide a frame from which to extrapolate the developmental routes for different groups.
For Primary, the route may be more challenging, in that there are two key stage breaks from Reception to year 6. Growing criteria from the Early Years Foundation Stage outcomes is a feasible option, but the route is likely to describe the stages currently being described through the NC level descriptors, which, for the journey to level 5 is clearly articulated. Many schools will retain something akin to the current situation, in order to be able to describe individual progress, especially within Maths and English. Holding to a progress descriptor also provides a developmental staging for other subjects, essential for a generalist, to ensure appropriate match and challenge of tasks.
The danger of not having a frame of reference against which children can be judged across all schools is that there will be a whole array of assessment approaches, unique to each school, possibly bought in from an external provider.
At transfer, receiving secondary schools will need to understand the many different approaches being used, in order to understand the children transferring in. It is not yet clear what will happen to the Primary end of Key Stage assessment and how it will describe outcomes.
Alternatively, in some transitions, we will see outcomes from KS2 being ignored, with Secondary schools retesting to establish baselines from which progress in the school will be measured, as many now do.
Journeying is a well-used metaphor within education and can be very useful. Each year is a 39 week journey through a series of learning contexts, often linked into thematic studies or topics, as single or linked subjects. Within each of these topics, each child will be on a personal journey, from their current baseline to a future point. There must be an aspiration of this point to facilitate subsequent phases of learning, but this can never be expected, as some may not make the requisite steps.
Personal journeys need to be described, articulated appropriately to children, exemplified and modelled. This clear focus for learner and teacher will support in class interventions in learning, formative oral and written feedback and summative judgements. Whether the latter is essential for a learner is very debatable, but it can support data analysis.
Putting the expectations in front of learners keeps them, other adults and the teacher in touch with their current targets. Learning should not be a secret journey.
The latter, which I like very much as a clearer metaphor, I have often used as a start point, allowing the embedding of challenge, preparation of resources and guidance, potential risk and a role for the teacher as the guide and mentor to determine whether the child has to go back, stay still for a while or can go on, with some able to have a go at free climbing. The point of free climbing is likely to vary with the age and the nature of the challenge. If they can “fall off”, there must be available some kind of safety net.
When my son was four, we were on holiday in France and visited the river in the gorge of Jumilhac le Grand to picnic. There was a rock face which we all enjoyed clambering up, with a slightly more challenging route close by. Being a very agile child, it didn’t take long before he started venturing towards the challenging face. It wasn’t a problem to let him climb to a point where he could be lifted down, but one day he went a little higher and faster, just out of reach. If I had shouted at him, panic might have caused him to fall, so I had to follow, with the intention of catching up. It is often harder descending than ascending a rock face, as it is had to see clear hand and foot holds, so, as he had gone one third of the way up, it was better, in my opinion, to keep going, this time will me climbing around him. My nerves were shredded by the time we reached the top, but the look of elation on my son’s face was amazing. He/we could have fallen, but that didn’t cause him any concern. It was the thrill of the challenge and the pleasure of achievement which he was seeking.
(Learning) objective? Success criteria?
LO Climb a mountain. SC 1) able to follow step by step guidance; 2) roped to a leader, 3) roped, but leading yourself, 4) free climbing.
Long, cyclic professional discussions occur with LO/SC or WALT/WILF at the core. Teachers and schools should choose what works for them, as long as there is clear purpose articulated and the learners know, at least what they are doing, where they are going and why they are doing it.
I’d want learners to be able to articulate their personal understanding of the task and what they were trying to achieve.
In order to become partners in their own learning project, children need some sort of scaffold. They cannot be experts in learning and child development. That is the teacher role, along with holding onto the general direction of travel. Showing and sharing the journey allows learners to be aware of what progress looks like and the steps that they need to take in order to make it a reality.
If they know where they are going, they don’t need to ask “Are we there yet?” and they might become life-long learners.
By doing this, more active learners are enabled to become part of the process and can self-generate learning, moving the teacher subtly to a coaching role. This level of independence also allows the teacher to focus on those pupils who need greater scaffolded support.