It has been a busy month for us here at the school, with a visit to an educational fair or two and the half term settling in reports. Its therefore been a difficult task to find the time to just sit down and reflect! This is often common in new schools, and the workload can often become a problem because of the multiple roles we play, and the pressure to get things set up – quickly.

So this has actually made me think about the workload at schools and ways to work ‘smarter’, so that teachers (and admin) have the time to do their jobs properly, with high standards, and have a life outside of school! In this way we have happier teachers, and happier teachers make better teachers. I do not necessarily buy into the adage that great teachers work every hour of the day.

So why do some teachers always seem so stressed out and busy? I think much of it has to do with the sheer workload that can come with quality planning and assessment, so in a way, this blog post continues on from where I left off last week, following my musings upon what makes an outstanding lesson – and in essence, that you can be outstanding AND enjoy the benefits of living in Penang!

To begin, here at SIS we have recently instituted a change in our assessment policy which in turn we hope, improves standards of planning. Rather than dealing with abstract level descriptors to judge progress, we now encourage staff to think of the core skills and content that students should have learnt before the end of the unit. This mastery model then becomes the exemplar of good progress, a ‘B’ grade, if you will. It also stimulates the teacher during planning to really think from the outset, where they are going to assess students in order to demonstrate that the mastery model has been achieved, and in some instances where it can be surpassed, so children are given the opportunity to move beyond mastery. This sense of forward planning is really putting assessment back into the centre stage, and providing teachers with the opportunities to consider many forms of formative, continual assessment to demonstrate progress. Here is an example of a mastery model from our school, that I borrowed from Mr. Tom’s English planning;


Here, Tom is already thinking about what he wants the children to learn and where he can evidence it, providing opportunities for assessment. It is here, we think, that teachers can be smarter in the creation of tasks that are used for assessment, and in deciding when they provide feedback. At the core of successful teaching, in our opinion, lies assessment for learning (AfL) and dedicated improvement and reflection time. (DIRT). These concepts enable the children to know what they are learning, know how it will be assessed and know how they can improve. It is also vital that they also get the opportunity to improve their work before teachers move onto another concept and possibly leave children behind. Perhaps what we should be thinking here, is that assessment and DIRT can be occurring within the classroom itself? For many of us, feedback is far more valuable when completed face to face, and not just in written form. Teachers at SIS are now beginning to plan lessons which revolve around the assessment of the mastery model, giving discrete feedback immediately that also has children self and peer assessing. Class time may therefore be used more effectively in completing work and providing feedback there and then, and using homework to give children DIRT tasks.

However, whole lessons can also be devoted to assessment and DIRT, with content mastery having been achieved through a combination of previous homework and class time. Whatever the method, it might be argued that placing assessment within the classroom itself, and enhancing its profile as a key learning process, improves performance by empowering students and providing instant feedback at a more personal level, therefore reducing the need for superfluous marking at home. I give an example below of a lesson I viewed this week, where real learning took place, but did not require the teacher to have to spend hours in planning or assessment;

Good Q&A and quiz style, open questioning demonstrated learning over a period of time, not just last lesson. Revisited regularly and a part of routine, it was really embedding learning. The teacher actually noted down there and then how children performed during this stage. (5 mins)

A mental starter grabbed the children’s attention. Delivered enthusiastically it had the children working in pairs and reflecting, introducing the topic at hand. (5-10 mins)

Having developed an idea through the starter, it was introduced as an objective and placed within a context of learning – their ‘learning journey.’ (2 mins)

Students worked in small groups to then discuss a concept. When read aloud in turn, it created a mindmap on the board. (10 mins)

The mindmap became the framework for an independent writing task. (15 mins)

Students peer assessed against the framework and then had five minutes to improve their own work. (10 mins)

Plenary with teacher noting learning through directed/levelled questioning. (5 mins)

For homework – the teacher asked children to revise for a 15 minute quiz covering content from the last few weeks. The next lesson was to quiz the children, using the time to take a look over the writing tasks (as above) and double check if the core content was there. (It has previously been subject to AfL and DIRT). The quiz was then to be discussed through open questioning (Pose-Pause-Pounce-Bounce) and peer assessed for the teacher. The teacher can then use this feedback to plan more effectively and close the gap. All done without the need to take a class of books home.

However, what we must consider is that this form of assessment is not always appropriate. Like with anything in school, assessment should take many forms in order to appeal to different types of learners, so books do need to be collected in, checked and assessed. However, when given enough prep time during school and with good planning, it can perhaps be argued that hours spent at home going over work is avoidable.

Anyway, I actually thought that this was a great lesson. The children were engaged, learning was taking place and the teacher knew where it was happening and where it was n’t