Successful assessment and feedback strategies for the blended learning classroom

From assessing learning loss to using the digital tools of lockdown for feedback in class, Peter Lillington explores the challenges and possibilities of assessment in a blended context.

Over the past weeks and months we’ve touched on assessment and feedback regularly in our work with schools and teachers. As students of all ages return to school there is much talk about assessing learning loss and the need for recovery learning.

Acknowledging once again teachers’ incredible response during the pandemic, there’s opportunity in a broader sense to continue the debate around what education might look like in the future and how assessment (and technology, as a tool for assessment) might feature in the overall picture, whether that’s in a blended context or face to face in physical proximity in the classroom. 

Assessing learning needs – now

Of course, this can be talked about at a number of different levels, from the macro- to the micro -, and uppermost in most teachers’ minds at the moment is likely to be the needs of their own students now, next week and next term, and the multiplicity of signs that they will be picking around their students’ current condition right from meeting them in class. Thankfully, awareness of the social and wellbeing aspects of school life seems to continue to be at the fore alongside discussion of the academic.

In a recent blog for Cambridge Assessment about teaching and technology, Andrew Field reminds us of “teachers’ empathy, compassion, and a desire to focus on wellbeing rather than technology” and that “all the tools still require the skill, experience and expertise of a teacher”. 

Earlier this month Professor Tim Oates highlighted the sheer variety of student experiences, and as ‘recovery learning’ is at the forefront, makes reference to research about breaks in learning from previous instances around the world, notably the New Zealand earthquake in 2011, with links to the work of John Hattie.

He goes on to draw on research following Hurricane Katrina and the need not only to pay attention to ‘learning loss’ but also the breakdown of habits around learning.

At the end of the article he recommends five foundations for effective recovery learning:

  • One-to-one and groupwork to identify individual learning loss.
  • Clear focus on threshold concepts – the key ideas in subjects.
  • Close monitoring of learning, immediate action to address misunderstanding and misconceptions, and variation in application and practice.
  • Rich questions and active discourse which involves all pupils. 
  • Work which encourages thinking out of contact time – and is tailored to individuals’ gaps where necessary.

Children’s voice

In all of this, listening to children’s and young people’s voice seems key, and this week has seen some significant initiatives. The new children’s commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza, announced the ‘Big Ask’, the largest ever survey of children, gathering their views on the impact of the pandemic, and what they think are the barriers to children’s ambitions. It’s part of a wider project to launch a ‘once-in-a-generation’ review of the future of childhood, inspired by the post-war Beveridge report which laid the foundations for the welfare state. At the same time, there have been questions about the impact of the language being used to talk about these issues, with the government’s youth mental health ambassador, Dr Alex George, an A&E doctor, warning that phrases such as “lost generation” and “catch up” are “hugely potentially damaging to young people”. 

As Professor Tim Oates emphasises, the key is to have those individual conversations with children and to see things from the child’s point of view:

“We mustn’t fall into the educator’s assumption that just because WE think that kids must be itching to get back to study all the subjects and activities which make up a broad and balanced curriculum, that they will be – many of those kids might not.  ‘All the same, only faster’ will just seem like ‘oh no…a mountain of more work’ to those who have eased off, or been stressed out by lockdown.”

Digital tools for assessment

However, Professor Oates also notes in his principles for the future of teaching, learning and assessment,  that “dependable assessment is vital for social justice, learning support and equitable progression”. So how might the digital tools many teachers have become familiar with during lockdown support feedback and assessment in the classroom?

In our weekly BlendEd video, Mark Martin shares some of the good practice he’s seen in his work. For example, low stakes quizzes are an easy way to check learners’ knowledge and any misconceptions and teachers have become very familiar with producing these on their school VLE platforms. He also mentions online tools that can identify if students are using the right terms and technical explanations in longer pieces of writing about key concepts, and the value of exam paper generators.

When it comes to feedback, technology offers many more options for engaging feedback that goes far beyond scribbling notes on work in books. Voice notes and video notes are highly effective, allowing much more nuance than written feedback. There is also the possibility of automated annotation of work in some VLE systems, which means feedback can be threaded and responses tracked.

Lessons from our community of practice

Last month we held a live session, facilitated by CLC director Sarah Horrocks and educators Peter Lillington and Rowan Roberts, working with a group of primary teachers to explore the challenges of assessment and feedback in a blended context. Teachers shared examples from their own practice, which included details on their use of a range of different tools, including Teams, Google Classroom, Seesaw and Padlet.

The webinar, which you can view below, is packed full of useful tips and shared experiences.

There is also a brilliant range of examples from teachers here, showing how they are using different platforms for instant feedback, voice feedback, speech bubble feedback, picture responses and much more.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is due to publish a new guidance report on feedback in the summer. Its current toolkit and evidence reports can all be found here. We’re sure it will look at the purpose of assessment. In the meantime, this 47-question (!) checklist, Would you let this test in your classroom, is from 2014 but still hugely relevant today.

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