Assessment for learning is “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.”
Assessment Reform Group 2002.
Assessment for learning is underpinned by the knowledge that ability is not fixed and that every child can make progress. As well as being essential to teaching and learning, assessment for learning
- involves sharing learning goals with the children;
- helps children understand what they are aiming for, what counts as good work and what the success criteria are;
- involves children in self-assessment and peer assessment so they take more responsibility for their own learning;
- provides feedback about the qualities of the work and what needs to be done to improve (to which children should respond actively); and
- involves teachers and children reviewing and reflecting on achievement.
Sharing Learning Goals With Children
Some schools focus on both learning objectives (what the children will be learning) and learning outcomes (what they know, understand or are able to do by the end of the lesson). A more economic and equally effective approach is to focus on learning outcomes alone. One to three learning outcomes per lesson are adequate; you should share these at the start and during the lesson and for reflection and self-evaluation at the end. Phrase the outcomes in clear, simple and child-friendly language and use them as a basis for questioning and feedback. Learning outcomes should relate to knowledge, understanding and skills so that by the end of a lesson children would
- know that . . .
- understand how . . .
- be able to . . .
- explore and refine strategies for . . .
Performance, composition and appreciation provide the basis for learning outcomes. Three examples are as follows:
- By the end of this lesson we will have improved our street dance performance for sharing in assembly (performance).
- By the end of today’s lesson we will have created a short group dance based on one verse of a poem about winter (composition).
- By the end of the lesson we will know some facts about South African gumboot dancing and be able to create a short gumboot sequence with a partner using two different rhythms (appreciation and composition).
It is also important that children understand why they are learning—in other words, what is the relevance of the learning outcomes to their everyday lives? Learning goals include individual and group targets that might relate to more generic performance, composition and appreciation (or social and behavioural) outcomes.
Helping Children Know and Recognise the Standards
This requires agreeing and sharing clear success criteria related to the learning outcome. For instance, for the first outcome listed previously, the success criteria might be good timing, good focus and strong, rhythmic movement. It is most effective when children arrive at the success criteria themselves in response to a teacher’s question: “What will a good street dance performance look like?” Seeing good examples of work is also crucial—this can be achieved by an adult or other children modelling what is expected and by looking at the work of other children or professionals on film. Another useful strategy to consider is that when sharing work with a wider audience (such as to another class or in assembly) teachers and children share the process as well as the product so that everyone understands and appreciates the steps to success in dance.
Peer Assessment and Self-Assessment
Physical education and dance teachers are good at this because it has been an inherent part of effective teaching for many years. Peer assessment and self-assessment improve learning by engaging the children with the quality of their own and each other’s work and in reflecting on how it can be improved and enhanced. Children learn well from each other, especially in a supportive environment where they can talk, discuss, suggest and appraise. Self-assessment encourages children to take responsibility for their own progress and promotes independent learning. However, assessment needs to be developed and practised. It requires you to model by using clear success criteria, effective questioning and suggestions for improvement (next steps). For example, using the third learning outcome listed previously (gumboot dance), pairs could observe each other to evaluate the practical task; look for rhythms, order and repetition; give feedback and offer suggestions for improvement. They could also reflect on what they have learned about gumboot dancing (from practical experience and also from watching a video clip) and tell a partner three things they know. Success criteria could be printed on separate cards for each child, pair or group to arrange in an order from “best” to “needs improvement.” These evaluations could be recorded as photos.
Children need time during the lesson to reflect and also opportunities to talk about what they have achieved, what they found challenging and what they want to improve. Video is a great aid to self-assessment (it takes a while for children to get used to looking at themselves dancing objectively, however). Self-evaluation sheets for written reflection bring another dimension to the learning. As well as being evidence of learning, written evaluation takes dance into the classroom and reinforces reading and writing skills. Alternatively, children could record their reflections using diagrams such as stick figures. The three examples of self-evaluation that follow are different approaches to self-evaluation at different stages in the primary phase.
Your feedback to children in dance lessons will be mainly verbal, regular and interactive. Feedback might be directed to individuals or groups, or it could be indirect in that children hear what you are telling others and reflect on and respond to what you said. Your comments should recognise effort and achievement and also be positive and constructive. Feedback should also be developmental in that it provides details for the next steps for improvement or the way forward. An example is “Well done. Your group dance based on the winter poem is beginning to look very effective. You linked the actions together smoothly, and you had a strong starting position. The next step is to think about how you use the space. With more variety in levels and directions, you will have a really good group dance.” This models how to give constructive feedback.
Reviewing and Reflecting on Assessment
This is about sharing assessment information and next steps with the children. It could comprise looking at the outcomes of summative assessment (i.e., how well they achieved in the last unit of work). You could share this information with them and also use it to adapt the teaching for the next unit of work, plan the unit of work and decide the next steps for the children.