Have we lost our way with assessment and is it time for teachers to reclaim its origins?
The word ‘assess’ derives from the Latin assidere, which means to ‘sit beside’. Therefore, to assess means to sit beside the learner.” (Stefanakis 2002)
Mastering assessment in the classroom
Not many teachers will be able to tell you the etymological meaning of the word ‘assessment’. Many teachers learn that assessment is either summative or formative, then, take years to master how both aspects manifest themselves in their classroom. This will then vary significantly between age groups and subject disciplines and evolves due to time pressure and demands from external audiences.
To sit alone
The opposite of ‘sitting alongside’ a pupil is blighting most classrooms across England. Hundreds of years later, teachers now provide numbers, scores and grades. Teachers now find themselves ‘sitting alone’ in their classrooms, marking books and crunching data to upload onto a management information system, or carrying their pupils’ books from the classroom to their kitchen table at home, to sit alone and assess the work. We clearly have lost our way.
To sit beside
I wonder if it’s time for teachers to ‘sit beside’ pupils once more, rather than ‘sit alone’? My research with 7 state schools in England suggests it can be done and has no detrimental impact on pupil outcomes. Traditionally, written assessment in its day-to-day form (to sit alone) is no-longer the top-dog! One of the participating teacher-researchers said:
“Being part of the Verbal Feedback Project has not only changed my life and career, but more importantly, it has changed my students’ experiences. I feel empowered to react to students and know that verbal feedback (to assess beside) is enough to push their progress forward. My work-life balance is immeasurably improved and I am now spending more time with my family- I feel no-longer feel weighed down and pressured by the job.”
Download the verbal feedback report and toolkit.