Diary of an NQT: Making assessment effective

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Our NQT diarist is certainly getting to grips with assessment techniques – but trying to cram everything into every lesson is a constant danger…

With the first half-term complete of the new year, I have the challenge of marking a plentiful supply of assessments.

In an effort to make informed decisions about progress, I have formal written assessments for my key stage 4 classes that we then benchmark across the whole department. At key stage 3, I tend to use national curriculum levelled activities for pupils to choose – either pitched at where they are working or providing opportunities for stretch.

On our recent school closure day in January, I wrote all of the formal assessments that will run half-termly through the GCSE sociology course. This will allow the department to use the same marking criteria and also create opportunities for staff to moderate with each other to enable consistency and benchmarking.

With one Assessment for Learning (AfL) exercise already complete for years 10 and 11 all seems to be going to plan. As a department the strategy is to now mark them independently before then moderating each other’s work at a booked Professional Learning session within the coming weeks. I think we all have high expectations of this as it is an effort to work more collaboratively across the department.

In key stage 3 philosophy classes, we have superb levelling sheets that every pupil has in their book. These set out the expectations for achievement at each national curriculum level (we are still following the national curriculum levels this academic year). For example, at 6C one expectation reads: “I have compared this concept with an alternative concept and described two similarities and/or differences using key words and examples.”

These sheets allow us to promote opportunities for students to level their own work, and for progress and stretch.

At key stage 3, pupils are aware of their current attainment and end-of-year targets, as they are recorded in their books – arguably a little prescribed, but generally a useful tool for pupils to regulate their own awareness of how to progress. This also helps those who are keen to achieve well – the levelling sheets go up to an 8A, which does exceed every pupil’s current attainment and target.

This does also allow flexibility in creating peer-assessment opportunities, although I am still improving in my selection of what activities are the best to either self or peer-assess.

In my most recent observation, I planned activities for both and they went well and as planned. In my feedback, my senior staff link said they were impressed, although they did highlight that the effort in trying to demonstrate “a bit of everything” might sometimes impede on the pupils’ learning.

I do appreciate the advice as often trying to put in every teaching and learning method into one lesson is not necessary and, more importantly, might not be appropriate. 

The feedback was not completely personal but rather as an “industry of learning”, are we asking too much of teachers and learners to be able to successfully “do it all in an hour”, while also keeping it engaging, measuring progress, meeting every pupil’s needs, creating assessment opportunities, and demonstrating excellent curriculum knowledge.

I will need to make this judgement for myself as I develop in experience. The risk that I definitely take, especially in observations, is attempting to show it all and the lesson becoming a bit too dry and serious as a result. 

I can be very creative and can make learning fun and engaging, but building in self and peer-assessment is easily 30 minutes out of an hour’s lesson (in my experience). Creating opportunities for these activities is now a development area for me – to make AfL more dynamic and less time-consuming for learners.

  • SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.


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