Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Curriculum Review

Many people are asking what will happen to PLTS in the curriculum review? I think that, at the moment, schools are required to continue to teach and assess PLTS at key stage 3. However, the review, I expect, will concentrate on the content of a much narrower curriculum and schools will be given the freedom to develop the character, skills, and competencies of their students as they see fit. This might lead some schools into dropping the idea of assessing the skills development of their students entirely. This, I believe, would be a mistake.

With the CBI extolling the virtue of Creative skills,  Anthony Seldon demanding that schools should develop children's character and research concluding that the importance of Teamwork and social learning in the workplace is increasing, this is not the time to cut our young people adrift from the very skills that they need, beyond their exams, to succeed in the 21st century.

But, are PLTS the way forward? They might be for your school, for other schools it might be the RSA Opening Minds curriculum, or Building Learning Power, the Curriculum for Excellence or one you have designed yourselves with your students' current capacities in mind. Whatever your approach, YesAssess are working on online solutions for your assessment needs. Get in touch today to discuss your skills assessment needs and let us design tools for you that can help your students compete in our challenging and ever changing world.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Rich Kids, Poor Kids, Clever Kids, Thick Kids

According to Michael Gove rich thick kids do better at school than poor clever ones. Is this something new, something we didn't know? Does this mean that economic solutions are far more likely to work than educational tinkering? Peter Wilby argues this very point in his article: 'Schools, new names, different results.' But, in this age of austerity, with the public sector squeeze and the rising levels of unskilled/semi skilled unemployment will economic solutions stand a chance? Realistically, no, they do not. So what other measures could be used?

If we move away from the economic realm and into the cultural realm, from 'economic capital' to 'cultural capital', we can teach the codes, skills, habits, 'gifts' and talents to inform and educate our students about the practices of the dominant culture. This becomes a key to transforming opportunities for students. Rather than pandering to the students' value systems, we open up the value systems and practices of 'high culture' to allow our students to choose to accept or reject those values. In the past this has been done implicitly, in some schools, or rejected out of hand by others. By 'baring the device' of the dominant cultural codes and conventions many students will be able to find a 'way in' instead of being inexplicably excluded. This must be done explicitly, to allow students to understand the choices that students from more affluent backgrounds take for granted though the cultural practices in which they have been engaged throughout their upbringing.

Assessment should be open about this, encouraging behaviours, habits, and ways of engaging with the dominant culture enabling students to become fully conversant with the codes and conventions of that culture as well as their own pursuit of acceptance in a range of subcultures in which they may, at first, feel more at home.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Schools are Churning out the Unemployable

Every year, exam results get better. Every year we hear the same complaints of dumbing down. Every year we hear that the products of the British Education system(s) are not 'fit for purpose', either in the world of higher education or that of work. In an article in today's Sunday Times, Harriet Sergeant reports that the soft skills needed to succeed in the world of work are not being taught explicitly in state schools.

Though stated in a controversial way, she has a point. If Schools only concentrate on exam passes so much falls by the wayside. The inculcation of positive attributes, skills, attitudes and the building of character can easily fall by the wayside unless a School decides to value these things. One of the best ways to do recognise the importance of these attributes is to assess them, allowing staff, students, parents and future employers to see the progress being made in a wide range of 'soft skills'. YesAssess is a leader in the field of soft skills assessment in schools. 

Whether you wish to take our default PLTS assessment or formulate a skills set of your own, you can be sure that you will be helping students gain and grow the skills they will need as workers, learners and thinkers in the future. 

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Master Learner Learning Journey

How does a student understand how to become successful at school? How do they make sense of how to be good at learning? There are always some students who seem to 'get it' very quickly, however, many struggle because they find it difficult to 'unlock' the secret codes, conventions, behaviours and skills that are necessary to succeed at school. This is because they are lacking the overview, the big picture, of the journey that they are on. They lack the map. The likelihood is that they see themselves as either clever, thick or inbetween and that their ability will not change much over their schooling. Yet so much can be achieved if students are informed explicitly about how to succeed and that everyone can progress over time. One of the ways to achieve this is through the 'Master Learner Learning Journey', which is an important part of a Yesassessment. 

In his book 'Mastery', George Leonard states that: "(mastery is) not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey." He goes on to say: "The trouble is that we have few, if any, maps to guide us on the journey or even to show us how to find the path. The modern world, in fact, can be viewed as prodigious conspiracy against mastery." He goes on to write about the instant gratification, quick fix, mentality that, "Pervades our society," and threatens our education system. In her book, 'Mindset,' Prof. Carol Dweck describes the huge gains that can be had when we see that our intelligence, our character, and our skills, are not fixed but can develop. How students' approach set backs, failure, and success makes a large difference to their levels of achievement.

At YesAssess we have pooled these approaches together in our Master Learner Learning Journeys which provide students with maps to help them succeed in their Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills. These Journeys can be tailored for subjects, learning areas and other events. They can have a profound impact on your students' learning and enable them to succeed in their schooling.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year.

If you are the one of many people who have made a new year resolution, then good luck. The problem, it seems, is that most resolutions are doomed to failure. The way to succeed, according to Richard Wiseman a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire is that: "people who kept their resolutions tended to have broken their goal into smaller steps and rewarded themselves when they achieved one of these. They also told their friends about their goals, focused on the benefits of success and kept a diary of their progress".

So why mention this here? Well, I think there are lessons here for assessment. A system of assessment that breaks goals into smaller steps, that has a positive focus, involves friends discussing goals, is success driven and logs progress would seem to be a sensible thing. A YesAssessment does all of this, take a look at our soft skills assessment tools and if you have made any resolutions this new year what better way of achieving them than to follow the advice of a 'Wiseman'?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Globalised Challenge

"As well as teaching the traditional knowledge and skills, including literacy and numeracy, it is more important than ever that our education system equips young people with a broader set of personal, learning and thinking skills, including confidence and the ability to think analytically and creatively; to learn and research in depth; to be active citizens; and to work on their own, with others, and in teams." So says Ed Balls in his contribution to 'The Globalised Challenge, SSAT conference Nov. 2009'. This is to be lauded. However, it is a statement that needs to be addressed by how we go about assessment. Our education system will not be able to fully equip our young people with a broad set of personal learning and thinking skills until the assessment of these skills is fully developed and realised in all our schools.

In order to enable young people to attain self mastery in a wide range of 'skills' we need to assess PLTS fairly and with relevance to a young person's life. Students need to leave school with the ability to do, to take part, to find out, to use knowledge, as well as, can I scream this one out please, KNOWING STUFF! Schools need to assess skills in a joined up way because without this knowledge institutions can only make guesses as to what skills are being developed and to what level. These guesses often miss out what is really happening in a significant number of students' day to day experiences.

We need to include young people, in PLTS assessment as well as their peers, their teachers and/or other adults. This assessment needs to take place across a wide variety of domains, subjects, and opportunities, reflecting the rich variety of a student's experience and the transferability of their skills. The assessment needs to be simple. Assessment must not get in the way of the important process of 'doing'. There is often the danger that the assessment of skills becomes a bureaucratic nightmare of form filling, collecting evidence, and having passports stamped in a way that would even frighten Kafka. The assessment needs to be able to reflect a student's individual progress and be reported on in a way that is useful, both to the student, their parents and other interested parties. Finally, an assessment needs to be informative to an institution in a way that enables the institution to audit how groups of students, as well as individuals, are performing at any particular moment. 

The information that we can get from a joined up audit of our skills assessments enables teachers and schools to adapt the curriculum to particular needs at any given time. It is this information, based on observed progress, which will have, potentially, the biggest impact on how students' are able to improve and achieve mastery as learners, enabling them to meet the 'globalised challenge'. 

Friday, 30 October 2009

How to Assess Personal Learning and Thinking Skills

The QCDA leave the answer to the question about how to assess PLTS open, yet at the same time schools are being inspected by Ofsted and told that they are not doing it successfully. In its report, 'Planning for Change; the impact of the new key stage 3 curriculum,' Ofsted cite that, "Personal, learning and thinking skills, with notable exceptions, were usually left to subject departments to arrange, without reference to a whole-school audit of their coverage or consideration of students’ needs." It is clear that Ofsted consider a whole-school audit essential. When a school introduces a system, they will need to ensure that they are able to audit all the possible variables inherent in PLTS assessment as well as judge whether their students are progressing successfully. They will need to ensure that all students understand how to progress as well as knowing where they will have the opportunity to progress and in which skill.
Of all the schools Ofsted inspected, only six schools had attempted to assess students' progress in PLTS, however, Ofsted go on to say, "The six schools that had tried to find ways of assessing students’ progress in these skills had yet to be successful." It seems that schools who are attempting to assess PLTS struggle to get it right, maybe by hoping that they will be able to get by if they just make a small addition to their current assessment arrangements. This is not the right approach. However it is essential to assess students' progress, simply but also effectively. 
At the chalk face itself teachers can make a difference, the report states that, "A notable feature of the best practice was the increased time teachers gave for students to reflect on their learning and to assess their own progress and that of their peers." This is the recommended way forward. Any system introduced should allow students, their peers and teachers to reflect on the student's progress in detail. However in order to ensure that all are able to reflect carefully and fairly about what, when, how and where progress is occurring there needs to be an assessment system that links all these areas together. Bearing in mind that this system needs to be able to reflect on a students' progress throughout their learning in the formal and informal curriculum there needs to be agreement as to what that progress looks like throughout the school.
The report goes on to state that, "Five of the schools had considered how they would assess students’ progress in developing these skills. The preferred method was for teachers to record, in the students’ daily planner or in a separate skills ‘passport’, when students demonstrated particular skills. However, the effectiveness of such arrangements was limited. For example, the skill of ‘effective participation’ was recognised and recorded more often than ‘self-management’, not because the former was necessarily used more than the latter but because it was more obvious. The recording showed only where the skills were used, but not whether students had made progress in them." This statement shows the enormity of the task facing schools. A piecemeal approach cannot work. 
Schools need to approach the assessment of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills with care. They need to be able to audit the progress of individual and groups of students. They need to know which students need support in their skills acquisition or improvement. Schools need to assess skills effectively. Rather than bringing in cumbersome, unwieldy or just paper based exercises that don't connect the students' true experiences of their improving use of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills, schools must ensure that their assessment recording and reporting of PLTS is simple, effective and informative for all those involved.
Learning conversations between a teacher, the student and their peer can be the backbone to this assessment. Logging the results online, through a simple method of assessment, that is clear to all involved, must be the way forward. An online system would  easily connect up all the PLTS assessments for each student and then give a full picture of individual progress. An online solution would enable schools to audit the progress made in PLTS by individuals, groups, and the whole school quickly and informatively, enabling curriculum heads to know how effectively teaching and learning of skills in their school, learning area, department or class is progressing. 
An online system, like the one offered by Yesassess, which can do all of this would therefore seem to be the most effective solution.