5 ways Balance Supports Learning First
By Susan Cowell
1. It is possible to ensure that effective feedback happens whilst reducing staff workload
The inspirational Pie Corbett presented his expert view of assessment, promoting whole class involvement (e.g. shared writing — planning, drafting and editing; and feedback sessions) as well as guided sessions (e.g. marking as the children write, and circulating and marking as the other children write).
Pie Corbett was not the only person to address the issue of effective feedback at Learning First meet-up. In fact, there was an entire workshop around ‘Reducing workload and improving effective feedback’ led by the assistant head of St Bernard’s Catholic Primary School in Cheshire, Emily Reid.
Emily, using Balance, presented how they have stopped marking completely in many of their classes and how they have seen a clear improvement in the progress that their children make as a result. Not only this, but staff are now coming to work having had a proper nights’ sleep and an enjoyable weekend, more able to concentrate on making their lessons as exciting as possible for their pupils.
2. We cannot rely on statutory data alone to tell a child’s story
The main proponent to this is the infamous James Pembroke; especially when we pigeon hole children into prior attainment groups, which follow them throughout their education right through to the limits we add at GCSE with tiered papers. His latest blog post, ‘This is Low’ helps to highlight the futility of this and is well worth a read (after finishing this post!).
James Pembroke was one of a host of influential Learning First speakers and workshop hosts who reinforced that teaching to a test does not encourage depth of learning. By using formative assessment throughout the school year and a child’s whole education journey, we will be able to react more fluidly to the different speeds of progress that different children make.
When we rely on statutory assessment alone, we limit our children’s potential by missing the gaps in learning or even miss the opportunities to use their strengths to support other areas of their learning. This is a core assessment principle which Balance promotes: the ultimate accountability should be with the child. Guess what, when we do encourage a greater depth of understanding throughout education, progress outcomes improve! Surely this is the end-game that we are all aiming for!
3. The curriculum needs to be exciting for teachers so that it is irresistible to pupils
The curriculum is what it is. However, we should be able to give our teachers free reign over how they teach it. This links very closely with the previous point that unless we encourage depth of learning by making it exciting, we are just teaching to a test.
I had so many conversations and overheard many more about the number of teachers leaving the profession (⅓ leave in their first 5 years!). There was a resounding agreement that a key component force in this is that teachers are not often given the freedom to plan their lessons creatively enough. The example of using Chester Zoo’s free ‘Act for Wildlife’ learning resources (‘Sing for Songbirds’) to engage all pupils across all age groups was particularly inspirational. Well worth considering if you are looking for a school-wide/year specific project for next year!
Engagement starts with teacher’s passion for a subject area. This passion is contagious and thus ensues the children’s excitement, leading to an improved learning process. This then will feed back into into the drive that the teachers have following the progress that their pupils make. St. Bernard’s challenged their staff; would you rather spend 3 hours marking or 3 hours planning an exciting curriculum? The answer was obvious. By using Balance in the classroom - giving effective feedback and recording the children’s small steps of progress at the point of learning, staff were free to ignite their passion through their planning.
4. Effective assessment should be:
Efficient and easy to administer; dependable; focussed on supporting children’s progress; and diagnostic to support early and targeted intervention. Above all, it does not apply teacher, school or institutional bias! This insightful evaluation was put forward by Megan Dixon and Kevin Simpson of Apirer TSA at Learning First.
Every child has strengths and weaknesses so we need to see them as individuals with unique learning requirements. Mary Myatt made a very poignant comment about the way in which we categorise our children based on ‘ability’. Mary says that we have no right to say whether a pupil is able or not. We can only make judgements on how they are progressing with a particular aspect, and so need to distinguish the work from the child. This is another link back to the problems which ensure when relying on statutory data alone. We need to be fearless and break the mould to effect stability and improve outcomes.
Balance provides a framework for effective assessment strategies to be put into practice. It ensures that we aren’t just recording for the sake of recording, but that we are able to use the assessment information we are gathering in Balance to plan the most effective next learning steps for each of our pupils.
5. Learning is not linear!
We need to talk about where children are instead of where they are going to be.
This is our summary point, as it links all of the points made in this article so far. We need to put effective assessment methods in place to ensure:
1) that children are in the driving seat of their own learning journey;
2) that our pupils are supported ‘realtime’ to prevent gaps forming and celebrate their achievements;
3) that we aren’t relying on statutory data which keeps us thinking about learning as a straight line from any given starting point;
4) that we teach our curriculum fluidly to proactively anticipate difficult aspects, plan exciting ways to teach them and identify any gaps in their learning.
Learning is not linear! Balance has no arbitrary groupings, no best fit bands, it’s simply a learning journey that follows your children and your curriculum. You create your own footprint of what learning looks like in your school, your class and for your children.