A Different Approach towards Assessments

Examining our assessment style

Exams are one type of assessment and for most boys only comes once a year. They show us where boys have got to at a point in time, but research is telling us that it is the assessment embedded in what we do on a week-to-week basis that has the most significant impact on student learning.

Assessment is often thought about in traditional ways – boys seated behind desks, silence all around, doing an unseen paper. However, when we think of assessment as formative, it becomes part of how we deliver a course and an integral aspect of how students learn in a subject. An essential part of the learning experience is the process of working through topics that have not been covered in class, as it encourages boys to be inquisitive and responsible learners. In History classes we have integrated guided inquiries into the teaching programs across the Year groups. These ask students to answer a series of questions by carrying out their own research in class, selecting historical sources that are relevant and justifying why they found them important to aspects of their research. This encourages the boys to engage directly and critically with their own learning process.

Good assessment also gives boys choice and control over the direction of their learning – it allows them to work on developing their critical thinking and evaluating skills. In Year 9, for example, boys participated in the Anzac project where they researched Old Newingtonians who fought and died in the First World War. This included visits to the school archives and using the National Archives and other databases to write a research article on their war experience. The project assessed a range of skills from collaborative learning to critical research across information streams. The boys found the assessment task vastly rewarding, especially because it allowed them to contribute to the College’s commemorations during the Centenary of Anzac in a meaningful way.

Beat of a Different Drum

Assessing boys in music raises lots of questions. What does a 20/20 result sound like for a Year 7 or Year 8 Music student? Why should the student who is using a keyboard for the first time measure himself against a boy who is already in several ensembles and has a wealth of theoretical and contextual knowledge? Should the talented musician be allowed to coast because he has more prior knowledge?

For example: Assessing a boy's musical journey is about providing rich feedback and opening conversations - such as "Can you listen to this?" rather than, "What mark did I get?".

The College has implemented an approach to assessment that affirms where each boy is at in his own musical journey. No formal marks are issued for a large part of the year, just rich feedback on Canvas and in class. Broad qualitative categories such as ‘Wow!’, ‘Pretty Good’ and ‘Middle of the Road’ give the students a guide regarding the development of their musical skills. Conversations with teachers as the boys reflect on their learning are more prevalent in all learning environments. Questions such as ‘Is this OK?’ or ‘Can you have a listen to this?’ have replaced ‘What do we need to do for the task?’ and ‘What mark did I get?’.

Students have more control over how they engage with their learning. Peer learning and collaborative tasks play a more important role in the boys’ classroom Music experience. A wealth of resource material for the boys underpins this approach. We have developed iBooks that introduce, revise, model and differentiate concepts that the teachers want the boys to experience for all units. We have shifted the responsibility for deep musical learning to the boys this year in a powerful way.

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Our model for Assessment

Beyond Years 7 and 8, we have been using this same model of assessment with Year 9 Elective Music students. When they select to study the subject these students have already chosen to engage with music at a deeper level with greater complexities. I believe that our boys understand that the value of their music learning is not dictated by the mark they receive in a task. The learning process is much richer if a variety of formative methods of assessment are used along the way to build confidence and resilience in order to facilitate skill building. Watching the boys negotiate their way through composing, performing and analysing music has been a delight for the department.

How are our teachers using library services to help students?

How do we measure the information literacy development of students? Why is it an important skill to develop, and why is it considered a lifelong skill? Each day, teachers at the Senior School assist students from Years 7–12 to make connections between ideas and concepts in a variety of learning areas.

Assessments encourage students to develop an argument informed by multiple sources and to consider multiple perspectives as evidence. This process is the start of a research life cycle.

Coupled with the Learning and Teaching Framework at Newington College, this process allows students to become independent, inquisitive learners as they grow more confident in synthesising and integrating the information they have gathered. In doing so, students learn to reference consistently and correctly, evaluate the trustworthiness of information, explore a variety of reliable and authoritative sources, manage and organise their data and critique the quality of information in relation to the set task.

The nature of research grows in complexity as students progress from one year to the next. Similarly, the suite of skills gathered in this inquiry process develops over time and is one which students will find advantageous in their post-secondary academic lives. This research continuum is a focus for many teacher librarians, as well as the research life cycle itself.

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Our Research Fluency Framework

The Stanmore Library team has developed a Research Fluency Framework which serves as a ‘matrix’ of actions that come with increasing choice, complexity and rigour.

This framework assists students to become independent researchers, to reflect on their learning and to measure their own approaches to research.