Mark Avis talks about EEF Recommendation 1
12 March 2018
I want to look at recommendation 1 in the Guidance report.
The recommendation is – Use assessment to build on pupils’ existing knowledge and understanding and says that “Teachers’ knowledge of pupils’ strengths and weaknesses should inform the planning of future lessons…”
All that seems really obvious to most teachers!
But the report asks us to consider not only what are the elements of good assessment but to also consider how we respond to what our assessments tell us.
This is a good area for discussion between primary and secondary teachers. What are the differences and similarities between assessment and the ways in which we respond to it? What can we learn from each other to improve in this area? We have to get that professional dialogue between primary and secondary going because it’s been quite rare up until now.
A common thread is the importance of feedback – both verbal and in marking. The EEF toolkit famously suggests that feedback, done well, has the most effect on pupils’ progress.
The report suggests that the characteristics of effective feedback are:
That it is specific, accurate and clear – not “you are getting better at subtraction” but pointing out specifically what they are getting better at.
It says that feedback should be given sparingly so that it is meaningful and that it should highlight what the pupil is doing better now than they did before.
It suggests that feedback should encourage by identifying aspects that are more difficult and require extra attention and give specific guidance on what they need to do to improve.
We can build on this discussion by looking at the EEF document “A marked Improvement”. It points out that there is a difference between a mistake – which is usually a one off, careless slip and a misconception which reveals a systematic pattern of errors because a learner doesn’t understand an underlying concept.
Teachers need to be able to recognise the difference and feedback differently. I think that we should be incorporating the common misconceptions into our teaching rather than waiting for pupils to make them.
And we need to know what the common misconceptions are. Many teachers – primary and secondary have a good, deep knowledge of the pedagogy for each concept or big idea that they are going to teach. They know how pupils of the age that they are teaching usually progress in that concept, they have a good grasp of what sorts of activities will reveal its secrets and they know what the likely misconceptions are and how to overcome them.
If teachers do not have that deep understanding, in some ways it’s not surprising given that our initial teacher education is so short. But I would argue that there needs to be, in every school, at least one person who has a deeper understanding of that pedagogy who can coach others. In primary, this might mean that there is a different role for the maths subject leader having a greater emphasis on regular brief coaching. This has been incredibly effective in schools such as Ash Grove in Macclesfield, not only in raising standards but also in building a staff team that has deeper overall understanding of maths pedagogy.
This was suggested in the Williams Report a decade ago but it never really happened.
To Headteachers and Principals out there who might say that they can’t afford to release the subject leader, I would suggest that, unless you are really happy with maths in your school, you can’t afford not to!
In A Marked Improvement, it also highlights the importance of allowing pupils enough time to respond to marking and other feedback so that it is seen as part of the process of learning and not a sort of “full stop” to the activity.
It sums it up in a really clear way when it says – mark less, but mark better!
All of this relates back to the recommendation in the report that I think underlies all of the others – recommendation 5 about metacognition and motivation in maths
If our classrooms are not mistake and misconception friendly, assessment and feedback can’t be effective. We need to continue to work on the idea that mistakes and misconceptions are not to be scared or ashamed of. They are the way in which we learn.
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