Two very different views about thinking and learning skills – two different reactions
“The last act of the former Education Secretary, to remove the national curriculum levels from the assessment regime, was a bit like throwing the proverbial spanner in the works and then walking out of the factory door!”
As with all Govian reforms, the thinking behind it was a little unclear. There was no consultation, no strategic context and no positive rationale. There was some mumbo jumbo about simplifying the assessment and accountability system for schools but in fact, it has just added confusion.
Since both schools and Ofsted used these levels to track progress, it left a vacuum, and some panic, as to what to put in its place.
Across the pond
How different to the US curriculum and assessment reform around the Common Core Standards! There, the national movement for reform began outside of government, with research about the growing incompetence of American children to think beyond superficial levels in their schoolwork and to cope with higher education or employment, or indeed anything where more than mechanical learning was required.
What followed was a national debate about what sort of people did America want its children to become. The answer: people who are ready to master the challenges that this new technological age. And this means teaching children how to think critically and creatively, how to develop team-working skills and ‘think outside the box’.
For many schools in the US this means building a curriculum around project work that helps children generate their own solutions to problems, as well as embedding in-depth learning too.
In fact, the initial research results suggest that this approach is hugely successful. Surely this should deal a devastating blow to the dogma behind the new test- and knowledge-based curriculum that Gove has introduced?
It’s telling to see the differences in approach between the US and UK. This is further emphasised by the US Department of Education’s investment in new forms of assessment that can help meet the new strategic direction for education.
And it isn’t just lip service either.
USA: putting its money where its mouth is
To help ensure its success, the US also poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the initiative. This stands A sharp contrast to here in the UK, where some ten grants were handed out to schools to do the best they could towards the very limited goal of thinking up something to replace levels.
Not to do down those schools at all! They have done their creative best but with such a limited brief, they never began to address some of the questions that the American review is addressing.
Three of the question that the US tackles head on are:
- How do you objectively assess the skills of critical and creative thinking?
- How can you assess project work that gives all students a level playing field?
- What is the right mix of normative and formative assessment, how can you rid the system of teaching to tests?
Focus on students’ learning
In response to this lack of support, Sue and the team here at Climbing Frames School Pupil Tracker have invested time and expertise researching into best practice in teaching and learning. The result is an assessment frame to help fill the vacuum left by the government. The frame is designed to focus on the students learning capabilities. This can then be used as a direct measure against the myriad of new national curriculum subject assessment frames.
Thinking and Learning Skills
The Thinking and Learning frames are arranged to cover all nine years of the National Curriculum, plus the five pre-levels. The frames are also all tied to the priorities of the new curriculum.
The frames address:
- Seeking and keeping ideas
- Thinking critically
- Working with others
- Using reflection and feedback loops
- Solving problems
- Flexing the imagination
- Building models and theories
- Thinking for the future
Each of these is referenced to National Curriculum objectives for each year to show where the principal opportunities lie for teaching and monitoring them. These assessments can be collated to give senior managers a profile of learning behaviour in the school and an agenda for improvement.
The frame also provides links from the thinking and learning objectives to relevance guidance in our best practice library drawing from our own bank of articles, publications and training. This resource will enable schools to strengthen teaching where assessments show that learning is under-developed.
Importantly, matching your students learning capability against their subject assessment will potentially show firstly; how accurate the subject assessment is and secondly; is the student learning to their full capability?
See the Thinking and Learning frames for yourself – book a demo today.
A version of this blog also appears on our Senior Education Consultant, Lee Barrett‘s, Linkedin page.