Not all assessments are created equal. In his final blog post on assessment, Mark Enser explains how crafting the right kind of assessment can actually save teachers time
Teachers assess constantly. As we ask pupils questions in the classroom, we listen to their response and work out whether we think they have fully grasped something so that we know whether to move on. We glance at their work as we circulate the room and identify misconceptions that need addressing. When we take in their work, we look through it and get a sense of how any issues that might be arising from the class as a whole and how we might need to adjust our plans for future lessons. This is such a natural part of teaching that we may not even recognise it as assessment at all.
The advantage of this form of informal assessment is that it does not take additional time; it is done alongside the work you would otherwise be doing. However, it does present problems. Its ad hoc nature means that some pupils get missed by questioning, or are missed as you circulate the room, or that the tasks were designed for practice and not performance and so do not truly reveal what a pupil knows, understands or can do. This is why we use more formal assessments that allow us to see what pupils can do under more controlled conditions. The problem then becomes one of time. Setting assessments, marking assessments and making judgements is a time-consuming process, something many of us have experienced during the chaos of Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs). However, going through TAGs has at least taught me a few sharp lessons in how to manage workload around assessments.
Firstly, we can look at the form that assessments take. It can be tempting to think that assessments must look how they have always looked. I am often surprised at how many geography assessments I come across take the form of “create a newspaper front page on X”. These are time consuming to mark as you spend much of your time looking past the format for the geographical understanding you are trying to assess. Shorter, sharper, questions are usually quicker to mark and lead to greater insight.
The ultimate example of these shorter sharper approaches is the use of multiple-choice questions (MCQs). These sometimes get a bad reputation as being too easy for a meaningful assessment but well designed MCQs can be fiendishly difficult, very revealing and a massive help with workload. The secret to a well designed MCQ is to ensure that the distractors (the wrong answers) are all plausible to someone who has not studied the course. An example of a good MCQ would be:
Which of these is the capital of Turkmenistan?
If you didn’t know the geography of Central Asia these would all seem equally possible answers.
Setting up such an assessment on something like Google Forms means that pupils’ answers will be compiled straight into a spreadsheet that allows you to quickly identify who knew/could do what and any trends across things a whole class struggled with. You can also give marks to different questions to create weighted total scores that allow you to see how pupils did against each other. They also mark themselves. The whole process is quicker and workload is reduced.
A second consideration for easing the workload around assessment is more logistical. There are a number of quick tricks that can save time. For instance, make sure the assessment is written in such a way that pupils can complete it without having to ask for support during the assessment. Make the questions very clear in terms of what is expected. You then have the time while the assessment is being completed to work uninterrupted on the things you would have been doing in the time it will take to mark the assessment.
Additionally, consider how the assessment will be marked. Will you do a whole paper in one go or do it question by question? People tend to get very wedded to one way or the other but the quickest way will depend on the format of the assessment. With longer form answers it is usually quicker to mark them one question at a time as you will spend less time pouring over mark schemes, but if the questions are short you are better off marking a paper at a time to save time on picking up and putting down papers. It seems simple but you’d be amazed on how much time this kind of thing can take.
Finally, think about how the assessment will be used before you write it. Do you need to form a summative judgement about how pupils are doing against a national scale or is this being used more formatively to assess where gaps might be? If the former, make sure that the mark schemes are thorough and understood by everyone before marking begins but be aware that marking against criteria like this can be time consuming and fraught with inaccuracies. You might want to explore a program for comparative judgement, such as that by No More Marking that allows nationally benchmarked judgements to be reached simply by comparing two answers and deciding which of those is better. An algorithm works out the rest.
Making formal assessments of where pupils are at does take time; but I have found they don’t need to take as much time as they often do. By thinking more carefully about the purpose of assessment we can create ones that are streamlined and just do what they need to do, no more, no less.
Mark Enser is head of geography and research lead at Heathfield Community College. He is also a TES columnist and author. He tweets @EnserMark