What does it mean to put assessment front and centre of your teaching practice?

by The Assessment Network, 08 July 2021
George Vlachonikolis

George Vlachonikolis, Head of economics at Headington School Oxford has taught Economics for A Level and IB for 10 years after a previous career in the army. He is PGCE Subject Lead for economics at the University of Buckingham and is the Initial Teacher Training lead for his school. He has a book coming out in October, From Camouflage to Classroom: What my Army career taught me about teaching, which explores the role of the classroom teacher through the lens of military principles and practice.

Currently he is studying with Cambridge Assessment Network and Cambridge University Faculty of Education on the Postgraduate Advanced Certificate in Educational Studies: Educational Assessment (PGCA).

In this blog he discusses some of the stages of the professional learning cycle, outlined in our Assessment Professional Learning Framework. He details how the PGCA has built his confidence and expertise as an assessment practitioner and reflects on the things that have shaped his assessment identity.

Development of assessment knowledge and skills: Putting assessment front and centre

Whilst working as a teacher, I was also a principal examiner for around five years. I’ve considered myself to be part of the assessment world since then, as that was where my interest and focus for my career was taking me.

I signed up for the PGCA because I wanted to be the best assessment practitioner that I could be.

I signed up for the PGCA because I wanted to be the best assessment practitioner that I could be. The course has been an incredibly valuable pedagogical experience and I’m delighted that I’ve done it and I absolutely think more teachers should be looking at courses like this.

Until this year, and studying on this course, I would have said being an examiner is the best CPD you could do; I learned to be a good economics teacher by being an examiner for economics and it’s been very helpful from a subject matter point of view.

But now is really the first time I’ve stepped away from the subject matter and said I want to try and be the best teacher I can be, irrespective of the subject.

Part of my current role is to be the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) lead at my school, and this course has absolutely influenced the way that I am approaching that, to the point where we will now put assessment up front and centre of our teaching and learning provision.

Reflection and innovations in practice: Embedding Assessment for Learning

It's been very refreshing to go back and revisit key assessment concepts that I’d learned before in my PGCE, some of which you learn and then don't touch again once you’ve gone into the world of teaching. There might be various structures in place in your school to come back to them, but you don't really ever get to focus on it to that same level. With the added experience that I now have, it's been enormously helpful.

The course has reinforced some of the ideas I’ve had from being a teacher and also challenged me to think about why I’m doing certain things. For example, I’m a big believer in setting regular homework and marking it. I suppose all teachers are, but this particular course has really made me question the value of homework. Why do we set it?

I now try to turn my feedback sessions into more investigative activities so that my students don't just dismiss the grade as soon as they get it, but actually review, refine and even reimagine their work.

We know that students who complete regular homework assignments tend to do better in externally set summative assessments. But the quality of feedback that students receive from completing those assignments is far more important than just the volume. 

The PGCA has provided me with more detail on Assessment for Learning so that I am much more conscientious about providing task-involving feedback rather than ego-involving. Similarly, I now try to turn my feedback sessions into more investigative activities so that my students don't just dismiss the grade as soon as they get it, but actually review, refine and even reimagine their work.

The course assignments offer a great opportunity for us to pull in all the different learning we've done over the term and apply it to a unique situation within our school or context.

One of my assignments has focused on my school's Year 7 admissions process which comprises of 4 assessments and I conducted a validity audit of those assessments. This course has given me the opportunity and the confidence to conduct the audit and present it to the senior leadership team.

Developing new insights: Can we separate assessment from teaching?

One of the things you learn on the course is that perhaps we shouldn't use the terms formative and summative assessment. Maybe we should just call it ‘responsive teaching’. I think that idea has been quite interesting for me - that we can't really separate assessment from teaching.

Teaching requires assessment to guide your instruction in every lesson.

Teaching requires assessment to guide your instruction in every lesson. So that's certainly an idea that I’ll be taking forward to my PGCE and post-PGCE students. 

I want them to think about assessment as more than just homework, more than just an exam. It should be happening in every lesson to identify where the students are, and then inform how you respond effectively to make sure you've got the best learning outcome.

Assessment identity: Unique angles and different approaches

The interesting thing is that not everybody on this course is a teacher and there are lots of people coming on the course from different industries. We're all coming at it from our own unique angle and that does help us to think critically about the concepts and the ideas that we're meant to critique. I think if I were in a course full of teachers, we’d probably all have the same thoughts. But as we're all coming from different angles there are lots of different ideas coming forward.

The course has made me realise assessment isn’t just about formal structures such as exam questions or the latest teaching ideas such as a hinge question or an exit ticket. The key idea is responsive teaching, to see what's going on in your classroom.

I think if I were in a course full of teachers, we’d probably all have the same thoughts. But as we're all coming from different angles there are lots of different ideas coming forward.

You need to talk to the students, to go around the classroom and see what they're doing at that moment in time. Then think to yourself, how do you need to change the lesson ‘in flight’ to get the best possible teaching outcome?

It’s really helped my understanding of how different teachers might approach a lesson and therefore how they might be encouraged to assess in different ways.

This is part of a new series of stories about our assessment practitioner community. Some of the themes here can be explored further in our assessment professional learning framework, a statement about what we think meaningful professional learning in assessment looks like and how it can be achieved. It provides a structure for thinking about how we can ensure positive impacts of professional learning and how they can be measured.

Something as important as assessment benefits from sharing perspectives, exchanging ideas and debating the latest thinking. As the Assessment Network, we want to bring assessment practitioners together to share greater understanding. Why not join us?

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