Woodstock | From the Principal: “Don’t weigh it, feed it”
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From the Principal: “Don’t weigh it, feed it”

15 Sep From the Principal: “Don’t weigh it, feed it”

“Don’t weigh it – feed it”.  Apparently, this is a saying amongst pig farmers in the USA who enter prize pigs into shows.  The largest pig wins the trophy!  The same wisdom could be applied to the classroom – “don’t weigh them – feed them!”  Interestingly, our visitors from the Institute of Education flagged up assessment as one of the areas we might need to look at more carefully.

Worldwide interest in assessment reached fever pitch some years ago when Paul Black and Dylan Williams at Kings College in London published Inside the Black Box, a major review which drew on more than 10 years of research.  Spanning all age-groups, subjects and nationalities, the study was described by The Times newspaper at the time as “the most significant piece of educational research of recent times”.

The study concluded with three main findings

  1. Where assessment for learning (not assessment of learning) is in place, it dramatically raises the achievement of all students and especially of low achievers.
  2. Black & Williams identified some things that definitely don’t work:
    • Tests that encourage rote or superficial learning.
    • Over-emphasis on the giving of marks and grades at the expense of useful advice to students.
    • Competitive teaching approaches that demotivate students.
    • Feedback, testing and record-keeping that serve a managerial function rather than a learning one.
  3. The study identified a few things that definitely do work:
    • Regular classroom discussion and questioning.
    • The use of testing to adjust teaching rather than for competitive grading.
    • Teachers agreeing on clear objectives with students.
    • Calibre feedback between teacher and students.
    • Attention to students’ motivation and help in building their self-esteem.
    • Self-assessment by students and discussion in groups

We all know the saying, “it’s easy to value what we measure but hard to measure what we value!”  Black & William’s work is an important reminder that assessment (measurement) can be an integral part of what is truly valuable – but that’s not automatically the case.  I am sure this is a theme we can build into plans for future professional development at Woodstock.

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