Good science teaching starts with assessment
‘Assessment is not something that happens in the plenary at the end of a lesson, it starts with planning and should be embedded throughout your teaching.’
Sarah Eames from Sandfield Close Primary School shares her tips on how to do assessment well.
Assessment starts with planning – it isn’t a bolt on activity at the end of a teaching sequence. If you’re doing it at the end of a lesson, it’s too late; it should be planned right from the beginning.
Before starting a teaching sequence, you need to find out what children already know or what they remember from the previous lesson. There are lots of ways to do this, from using Explorify activities to hands on discovery activities. At Sandfield Close Primary School in Leicester, teachers use a practical collaborative approach, supported by observation, to check in with pupils in order to understand what they think they know and can explain.
Children do a discovery activity in small groups and are encouraged to talk and discuss what they think they know. Next, they write their individual ideas on a large piece of paper (a thinking mat) and finally they discuss and put into the centre of the thinking mat anything that they all agree upon. It doesn’t have to just be written, it could be drawings/sketches or simply keywords. A teacher can quickly see what the groups have come up with in order to gauge where the learning is, pick up on areas least understood or spot potential misconceptions.
Note that, when group working on a thinking mat is difficult to achieve, if iPads or other tablets with collaborative software are available, they could be really helpful for children to share individual ideas and to collate what they agree upon.
Discovery sessions at Sandfield Close are usually based around a stimulus that the teacher has set, up such as Dancing raisins. This gives teachers an opportunity to learn about their understanding, but also to go deeper into exploring their skills in working scientifically, asking the children to think how they could they change the investigation.
Sometimes this discovery session might be 10 minutes but it’s OK if it takes the whole lesson because it’s so valuable for the teaching and the learning that follows. Assessing children’s starting points makes sure that teachers’ planning enables pupils to make good progress in both working scientifically and their knowledge and understanding.
As a class teacher, it’s not just about an understanding of the progression children are making in science, science also means we are more aware of the interests of our children and we can build upon their science capital. When participating in Explorify sessions the children really show what their interests are, and teachers can pick up on these and value them. For example, after watching Takeaway dinner, one child who knew about vultures was able to talk about what they were doing and as a result the teacher was able to write a food chain on the board. Children can use higher order thinking skills to work things out and draw learning together, and those who have a lot of science capital can still be challenged to think more widely and more deeply. For instance, with an Odd One Out activity, what reasons can they think of why each image could be the odd one out?
Content taken from an article in the Explorify special issue of the Primary Science Journal by Sarah Eames, Sandfield Close Primary School, Leicester.