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The importance of formative assessment

David Redden, NCFE Product Manager, looks at why formative assessment is more important now than ever before.

The last 12 months in education, as with all other areas of life, has been hugely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the headlines, we know that schools and colleges never closed (other than physically!), but instead adapted to remote delivery solutions as well as adopting additional safety measures. This has been a huge challenge for everyone in the sector and restrictions continue to impact education and assessment.

Following Government announcements earlier this month, we now know that vocational exams that were due to take place in February and March will be cancelled for learners. With the current Ofqual consultation looking at alternative ways to assess and award grades this year, there is a spotlight on how we evidence learners’ abilities and progression. In short, this means that formative assessment is more important than ever.

With the move to remote delivery, some strategies for embedding formative assessment have become more challenging, however not necessarily impossible. There has been a lot of focus on which platforms are best for delivering remotely - but how do you manage to capture that formative assessment effectively?

One of the biggest challenges facing educators within remote education is providing detailed feedback to learners, as it's difficult to assess how much each individual understands of a topic or activity. In a classroom, it's easier to monitor a learner’s individual work whilst circulating the room. You can even have one-to-one conversations with them about their work as well as allowing learners to act as coaches to their peers. With the move to remote delivery, it is more difficult to track how learners are doing because it is easier for the learner to hide their lack of understanding, most likely due to lack of confidence or embarrassment.

However, you can focus positively on the ‘forgotten’ learner by using different tools to remove the barriers they traditionally face and reach out to those learners who don’t actively contribute. There are lots of tools available that can help you bypass the trap of relying on the evidence of one confident student to answer a question to evidence how well the instructions have been taken in by the class as a whole. It is worth exploring these tools to identify which ones fit in with your delivery style and platform, whilst also experimenting to find out what elicits the best response from your learners.

It’s important to understand where the learner is right now, to then give them the bespoke support they need to reach their desired destination. Skills Forward offers an initial assessment that will identify the learner’s starting point and then create an individual skills plan to take them to where they want to be. This type of platform offers learners an independent learning journey which can be blended into more traditional delivery whilst being able to track their own progress.

Skills Forward provides well known strategies such as providing feedback and ensuring learners are the owners of their own learning. As with most things like this, these platforms work best with a blended approach; Vizia is a good example of a complementary tool which allows you to use short engaging videos loaded with questions to understand a) they have watched the video b) their understanding of the topic in hand.

While these are undoubtedly challenging times and workloads can seem unsurmountable, it’s important to create time in your working week to understand the different technology options available to support you. A bit of time spent doing this early on could save you a lot of time further down the road, and don’t forget if you come across something that transforms your lessons then do share it with colleagues. We’re all in this together!

As mentioned at the start, with the move towards alternative assessment methods, the need to use software tools that track evidence and validate performance levels has never been more important. By carrying out formative assessment throughout your delivery, it will leave you and your learners in a much more confident place when submitting evidence for alternative results.

Hear more from David during his session at the AoC English and maths conference, Wednesday 24 February at 10:55am.


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