Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own judgement, initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.
This is early aviation parlance. Aircraft initially had few navigation aids and flying was accomplished by means of the pilot's judgment. The term emerged in the 1930s and was first widely used in reports of Douglas Corrigan's flight from the USA to Ireland in 1938.
That flight was reported in many US newspapers of the day, including this piece, titled 'Corrigan Flies By The Seat Of His Pants', in The Edwardsville Intelligencer, 19th July 1938:
"Douglas Corrigan was described as an aviator 'who flies by the seat of his pants' today by a mechanic who helped him rejuvenate the plane which airport men have now nicknamed the 'Spirit of $69.90'. The old flying expression of 'flies by the seat of his trousers' was explained by Larry Conner, means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries."
In both cases, the teacher awareness should determine the need for a different course of action, perhaps including a complete rethink to cope with the evident need.
Awareness and adaptation, brought about by teacher judgement, can be the encapsulation of teacher standards 6&5, within a lesson. This can be for the whole class, a group or individuals, any of whom can show that they are not accommodating the needs of the lesson. A rapid intervention to ascertain the issue could result in a small amount of in-lesson teaching or adjustment of the challenge. Equally, children who appear to be getting through work easily and finish well ahead of the others need to be accommodated with additional challenge.
Building awareness is something that takes a while, derived from reflective practice within and between lessons. Reflection that leads to alteration of actions within the lesson is akin to “seat of the pants” assessment. It is potentially also key evidence that may need to be noted, especially for vulnerable children, but also for high achievers.
The whole is premised on how well the teacher knows the children whom they teach. In the early days this is likely to be global, with a few highlights standing out for different reasons. Over time, this will become more refined, as the teacher works more and more closely to the class needs. When change occurs, as sometimes happens for the new academic year, or when a trainee starts a second school experience, this can mean a regression to more global demands again. Getting to know the children as quickly as possible enables a rapid recalibration of the teacher instrumentation, so that the main instrument available to the teacher, their power of thought, is operating effectively.
Some time ago, I developed a series of assessment tips, which I shared.
#assessmenttip 1 Watch what children are doing. Spot the difference between today and yesterday/last week/month. Identify and celebrate.
#assessmenttip 2 Get children to talk about what they are doing. Ask Qs to clarify and explore their thinking. Ask Qs to challenge.
#assessmenttip 3 Engage in what they are producing, both in terms of appropriate skill and also the detail of the outcome. Check, advise...
#assessmenttip 4 Keep records, be aware of outcomes that can show developing patterns that might require deeper engagement.
#assessmenttip 5 Ask questions that need answers to show clearly what a child "knows" (at the point of testing)
#assessmenttip 6 If in doubt, work closely with individuals, observe, talk, question, clarify, reflect, repeat as necessary.
#assessmenttip 7 Broaden your understanding of children's outcomes to balance your judgement, especially at the upper/lower margins.
#assessmenttip 8 Create learning challenge that enables children to demonstrate looked for skills and knowledge.
#assessmenttip 9 Know chn, plan challenge, engage learners, advise, adjust to need, check outcomes, know chn better. Refine next challenges.
#assessmenttip 10 Sit down, think of a child, sum up what you know about him/her and what you need to know next. Repeat for class.
#assessmenttip 10a Write a classlist. Who gets remembered early? Who gets forgotten?
#assessmenttip 11 Write down essential information, to collate over time, to determine patterns. You can't remember everything.
#assessmenttip 12 If you can’t remember all the targets and the details of what you want from each and every child, tweak your work books, so that they become personal learning organisers.
#assessmenttip 13 Recognise limits of your own skill. Use the skills, knowledge and experience of others to extend/enhance, to benefit learners.
A parent approaches you in the playground and asks after their child.
Say that you’ll talk to them after you’ve run a series of tests?
Give them an overview of their child’s current approach to school and some insights into their strengths and areas for improvement?
The chances are that the second is the norm, even if it is delayed until after school, by invitation; pop in after school and have a chat.
The conversation between parent and teacher will be informed by the teacher judgement, summing up the child’s efforts over the recent past. Both these conversations and the writing of reports, whether short and succinct or slightly longer, are examples of summative assessments. They are a point in time, a sort of child MOT, only good on the day, as the next day, hopefully continued progress will have moved the child on.
Security in knowing the child, in a rounded form and in relation to others, is key to all sound judgements. Knowing what is good, or good enough and how it could be even better provides the basis for decisions. Learning is a journey and a process, capable of being tweaked and altered to cater for need.
So why are we seemingly so afraid of assessment? Shouldn’t it be the hallmark of good teaching that the teacher knows the children sufficiently well to be able to sum them up in an instant? Just knowing the child enables in-lesson decisions from the teacher, even on the level of “they’ve got/not got it”, with instant next steps decisions made.
Life is full of snap decisions; teaching is no different.
Assessment is essentially how well a teacher knows a child at any particular point in time and the decisions that arise from that knowledge.