Category: Assessment


When talking with the Year 6 Team recently about proofreading, editor’s marks and marking children’s writing in general I brought up the idea of “the edge of knowing”. This something I picked up from a workshop with either Kath Murdoch or Kathy Short.

The idea behind “the edge of knowing” is that, when marking student work, teachers focus only on one or two elements that the student is almost doing. For example, say a student is starting to include dialogue in their writing but does not use speech marks to show that it is dialogue, then the teacher should mark that and maybe one or two other things – maximum! They should then use that as an opportunity to work with that student, and maybe others who are doing something similar.

Not only is this approach much more empowering for students who may be turned off writing by the constant appearance of a page full of corrections, it is also much more time-effective and focused way for teachers to formatively assess student work.

Do you use an “edge of knowing” approach when marking writing?

Could you see how this approach may be helpful in your practice?

Image by Vadim Balakin

This video contains two clips from reading conferences in 4NB. By involving the students in assessing their own work using the Writing Continuum, Nicky has empowered these two students to think about and discuss who they are as writers. The second clip shows that teachers often need to help students to make the connections between what they would normally say about their writing and the language of the writing continuum.

There is a question at the end of the video. It would be wonderful to hear about your approaches to getting students really involved in the assessment of their writing…

Listen to the way these students explain what they are doing and invite other people into their learning by being so articulate, expressive, honest and confident. Which conceptual understandings are these kids displaying?

This is Elmarie’s class blog. She has embedded a Wallwisher page as a way of collecting her students’ thinking. She is asking parents to speak to their children about school and get them to tell them what they enjoyed most about school this week. Then, the parents “post a sticky” on the wall to share what their kids said. How cool is that?

I find it really exciting to walk into a room – even when the students and teachers are not there – and be able to get a real sense of what the students of that class are thinking about, and how they are thinking. Recently, when walking around NIST, I was really impressed by the amount of visible thinking I found, and the variety of ways that teachers are “extracting” that thinking from their students and then displaying it so that the walls do actually speak.

How wonderful for students to be immersed in their own thoughts, interacting with displays and surrounded by relevance at all times!

What visible thinking strategies have worked well for you?

Assessment Review

One thing we will need to do very soon, perhaps early next year when we have a bit more time and space to do something so important, is review our assessment of language arts. We’ll need to take a close look at what we assess, how we go about doing it and what resources we find most effective. We’ll also need to establish some clear agreements about the purposes of different forms of assessment and, therefore, how we will record the data we gather about our students. I have been doing some research into assessment practices and have found the work of Dylan Wiliam to be very interesting. Wiliam was one of the people behind the “Working Inside the Black Box” booklet on formative assessment that swept across the UK about 8 years ago.

William groups assessment practices into the following three categories:

I suggest we use these three categories in order to inquire into our own assessment practices. Together, we can make sure we are not “under-assessing”, “over-assessing” or anything like that! We need to know that:

  • our practices are genuinely informing student learning
  • our “certification” of individuals is meaningful and being passed on as students progress through school
  • the assessment instruments that hold us accountable are genuinely reflective of who our students are and the way they learn

When going through Kelli’s photos of her SLCs, I was blown away by the richness of the experiences that were being had by the students and parents of her class. Even though these are “silent” photographs, each picture definitely “tells a thousand words”. The language, both English and mother-tongue, must have been so rich in that room!

One of the main things we can learn from this set of photos is the immeasurable value of taking photos as a way of gathering assessment data. Kelli learned a lot about her students by watching them so closely through the lens of the camera. She knew what she was hoping to see and then captured it visually.

Check out the parents who built a puppet theatre from scratch – priceless!

What were the highlights of your SLCs?

I have been to two planning sessions with Year 1. The aim of the sessions was to use the PYP Language Scope & Sequence document to identify the receptive and expressive language that could be used and developed during their next unit of inquiry.

The unit looked pretty tough at first glance because the central idea seems pretty complex and also a little strange to be doing with Year 1 students!

One thing that struck me when I looked at the planner was that it didn’t seem to have a clear purpose and the understandings the team were hoping to illicit from the students were also not that clear. This is not the fault of the Y1 Team as this was a unit they hadn’t created themselves and was also one they really struggled to get their heads around last year. However, they did say that it turned out to be one of the best units of the year!!!

I have found that, unless we are very clear about where we are trying to take students it is very difficult to plan for the language that will be used and developed in the unit. This quote really helped me to understand that:

My interpretation of this proverb is that, without a clear sense of where a unit is headed teachers could just pluck at any seemingly relevant, random activities. How often have you sat in planning meetings where enough time hasn’t been devoted to clearly establishing the understandings you’re hoping for, and where loads of time is spent coming up with random activities that may or may not take understanding further or deeper? I have sat in hundreds of them!

I asked the team if we could use a strategy I learned from Chris Frost, now PYP Coordinator at Tokyo International School.

Once they have checked out the central idea and chosen their key PYP Concepts, Chris gets his teaching teams to write simple sentences to explain why those concepts are so useful. The sentences start with

“We want the students to understand that…”

Here’s some examples from planners created at Chris’ former school:

From Farm to Table

The Arty Party 2007

The Global Village UOI planner

When Disaster Strikes

Here are the sentences that the Year 1  Team created for the concepts of form and perspective:

“We want the students to understand that images can highlight different features of Thailand.”

“We want the students to understand that tourists and residents see places differently.”

By identifying these conceptual understandings, we really had a strong sense of what the unit is all about, and also where language fits into it.

The next phase was to look at the Scope & Sequence document to identify the receptive and expressive language within the unit. I left this display on the wall of their meeting room for a week:

During the week, they highlighted the conceptual understandings and learning outcomes that they felt were within the unit. The strand of language that dominated was Viewing & Presenting, so we focused on that in our next meeting. These are the things they highlighted:

Conceptual Understandings

Phase One: “We can enjoy and learn from visual language.”

Phase Two: “People use static and moving images to communicate ideas and information.”

Learning Outcomes

Phase One:

“reveal their own feelings in response to visual presentations” and “make personal connections to visual texts.”

Phase Two:

“attend to visual information showing understanding through discussion, role-play, illustrations”

“talk about their own feelings in response to visual messages; show empathy for the way others might feel”

“show their understanding that visual messages influence our behaviour”

“connect visual information with their own experiences to construct their own meaning”

“observe and discuss illustrations in picture books and simple reference books, commenting on the information being conveyed”

“become aware of the use and organization of visual effects to create a particular impact”

“observe visual images and begin to appreciate, and be able to express, they they have been created to achieve particular purposes”

Phase Three

“discuss their own feelings in response to visual messages; listen to other responses, realizing that people react differently”

“view a range of visual language formats and discuss their effectiveness, for example, film/video, posters, drama”

At this point the connections, the teaching ideas started to flow very naturally. The ideas were so good and so powerful that I really wanted to stay in Year 1 for a while to help them teach it!!!

Using the distinction between receptive and expressive language that is outlined here…

… the Year 4 Team and I looked at the language within their next unit of inquiry. The photo above shows the simple way that we collected our thoughts. The document below shows the information after a bit more work after meeting. It’s a great overview of the richness of language learning that will take place in the unit.

The Year 3 Team used this Domino game to get us thinking about their language beliefs and practices. Here are their instructions:

Here’s the answers to the game! When the Year 3 Team shared the answers to the game with us we all really appreciated the simplicity and clarity of their message. They all took turns to share their beliefs and spoke very briefly and concisely about each point.