5 ways to Use Balance in the Classroom to Reduce Workload


By Susan Cowell

The DfE’s 2014 Workload Challenge, which gathered more than 44,000 responses from teachers and support staff, identified that marking is the single biggest contributor to unsustainable workload.

‘So how do we set our classrooms up to change this?!’

Here are 5 ways in which you can make a start:

  1. Change the layout of your classroom to help facilitate effective feedback: ‘L’ shaped desk layout encourages peer assessment and allows the teacher to have face-to-face contact with all children.

Balance: Mark your assessment using the ‘learning wheel’ (1–9/secure) to say what depth of understanding the pupil has shown. The teacher either has Balance open on an ipad/tablet/laptop and as they go round, can input this at the end of a lesson in 5 minutes, or even as a summary at the end of the week.

2. Use mini plenaries or ‘hinge questions’. Highlight pupils that are not ‘secure’ by using ABC cards/plickers/mini white boards and re-jig your classroom based on the responses the pupils give. E.g. if the answer is C and 80% of your class answer correctly, ask the remaining 20% to sit on a table together and spend 5 minutes with them, whilst the rest of the class carry on independently with the work you have set.

Balance: The teacher then uses Balance to record that all other pupils are ‘secure’ against the objective and can record the individual stages of learning that the pupils on the new table are at (some may be closer to secure than others, so make it personal! As Sir Ken Robinson says).

3. Use an exit pass to find out what the children know leaving the classroom. You can then be more fluid when planning your next lesson based on your assessment of where your pupils are at the end of each lesson.

Balance: The teacher asks a question and each pupil writes their name on a post-it note. On leaving the classroom, the pupil then puts the post it in an envelope which they think is the correct answer (A,B, C, or D).
The teacher then takes the envelopes of post-its and uses them to record their assessment on the depth of their learning overall using 

Tip: To make the next lesson easier to assess and promote a safer peer assessment environment, use your classroom dynamically and try sitting pupils together in groups based on their depth of understanding.

4. Self-assessment: Use the Balance learning wheel 1–9 to ask pupils to assess their own depth of understanding. You can even use this in books as exemplified here:

Balance: The teacher can then tick whether they agree or leave it blank if they would like to pupil to re-evaluate. All the while, the teacher has added their assessment of the depth of learning shown into Balance to help build a picture of learning progress.

5. Peer assessment: By ensuring that all pupils understand what is required for a a 1, a 9 or secure, they are encouraged to use their self-generated success criteria to help assess each other against the learning objective.

Balance: The teacher observes the reasoning and the interaction of the children and quality assures where they would assess a pupil’s learning to be, entering this into Balance either during the lesson, at the end or as a summary at the end of the week.

NB. It is important that there is a school-wide policy outlining what a 1–9 signifies. This way, your assessment policy will become embedded across the whole school. 
Myth buster: It is this adherence to the school’s policies which OFSTED looks for, rather than specifically how much marking and feedback takes place.

Balance uses a model for formative assessment based on theories established by Dylan Wiliam and Shirley Clarke:

  • Plan your learning intentions: where is the learner going?

  • Plan success criteria: how is the learner going to get there?

  • Plan flight checks: find out what children know and adapt

It is then important to consider who has responsibility over these areas within the class. 
Using the air industry analogy and black box thinking, the pilot should always be the learner; the co-pilot should be their peers; and the control tower should be operated by the teacher.

  • Encouraging learners (the pilots) to generate their own success criteria puts them in control of their own self-assessment and encourages growth mindset: an awareness of their own learning power.

  • Making the classroom a safe environment for peer assessment and support (co-pilot) is also crucial to help them find solutions together.

  • The teacher is there to help take flight checks, provide advice/comment/feedback from the air traffic control tower. There is no use in waiting until the plane has crashed to give feedback or advice! The most effective feedback is given realtime!