Assessment is such a big topic that it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing and why. Fundamentally, assessment means finding out what the children know. With this information, we can then help with the children’s next steps in learning; if we don’t know where we’re starting, we can never go on a journey of any relevance/meaning. Try starting a journey without being at the start of that journey!
There are various times at which we can assess for learning (or ‘assess for knowledge/skill’). At the start of a topic, we might want to find out existing knowledge – from previous years in school, previous topics in the same year, and/or from their life outside school. Mid-way through a lesson, we might want to check that the children are heading in the right direction and have understood the teaching to a point where they are able to complete the task they’ve been set. At the end of a lesson, or series of lessons, it’s important that we know what the children have learnt; otherwise, what’s the point?
I believe that children always learn. I actually think it’s almost impossible, when you’re new to the world like children are, not to learn. The difficulty for us as teachers is to find ways to understand where the children are in their journey and help them from that point. This is where assessments made in lessons feed into planning; assessment is pretty useless if it’s not used in the planning process.
Future posts will outline specific techniques to use to assess for learning, both formatively and summatively, but for now I just wanted to outline the basics of why assessment is important and give a few examples of how we can use it.