Is the evidence mindset holding back innovation?

In education, we are fond of talking about evidence. Where is the evidence of progress in the students’ books? Have we collected enough evidence for the upcoming SATs moderation? What evidence can we show of the impact of quality feedback?

There is good reason for this. In an environment where monitoring, observation and inspection feature prominently in assessing the effectiveness of teaching, teachers and even schools themselves, it’s no wonder that there is such a focus on the trail we leave as proof of good practice.

Put it this way: if Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail through the forest had been anywhere near as robust as the paper trail of learning and assessment in students’ books up and down the country, they wouldn’t have had that unfortunate encounter with the old woman in the gingerbread house.

While visible evidence of learning, and progression in learning, has a role to play in accountability, is it possible that this evidence mindset could actually be stifling innovation?

A recent conversation with a member of the senior leadership team at a successful secondary school provided a case in point. This particular school was not rolling out the use of Google Classroom more widely because of concerns that evidence of progress would not be visible enough to SLT or to inspectors: ‘What would we show Ofsted if the learning was online? There wouldn’t be anything in the students’ books’.

Having students’ learning outcomes in books or folders creates a comforting paper trail documenting the sequence of teaching and learning and – hopefully – showing the student’s progress. But it also limits the tools at the teacher’s disposal to support that progress and drive it forward. An online learning environment like Google Classroom lets teachers pull together the best online resources for students to learn from, watch, evaluate and discuss. And it means students can debate issues, collaborate on tasks and submit work in one place.

Paper-based learning outcomes also leave the teacher with the time-consuming task of providing handwritten feedback when they could be using time-saving digital assessment tools to lighten the marking load.

With an integrated assessment tool such as StudyBee, which sits inside Google Classroom, teachers can give tailored feedback linked directly to assessment descriptors at the click of a button.

StudyBee’s customisable data analysis tools also allow teachers to check on pupil progress throughout the term and make decisions about the next steps in their learning with ease.

In order for educators and students to benefit from the digital tools that promise to drive progress in both teaching and learning and make teacher workload more manageable, isn’t it time we rethought the evidence culture and brought it in line with the best that education technology has to offer?

Download your free trial of StudyBee today.

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Is your school prepared for Ofsted ‘teacher workload’ scrutiny?

It’s a familiar sight in school car parks up and down the country. As the premises manager locks up for the night, teachers stream out of the school building weighed down by the books, stacks of paper and assignments that they will spend the evening or weekend marking.

It’s no secret that marking is one of the biggest contributors to teachers’ workload. And now it has been singled out as one of the areas that Ofsted inspectors will focus on in their assessment of Senior Leadership Teams and how effectively they manage the workload of teaching staff.

Tweeting at the start of the academic year, Ofsted Director of Education Sean Harford, announced teachers would be asked to rate their SLT on how much consideration they give to workload when introducing new policies. Inspectors will assess the impact on teacher workload of SLTs’ decisions regarding planning, the use of data, marking and assessment.

While marking and personalised feedback are time consuming, research shows that they have considerable impact in moving learning forward. The Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching & Learning Toolkit concludes that it can accelerate progress by up to eight months. This makes quality feedback the biggest hitter in the teacher’s arsenal of tools to support the progress of their students.

If Ofsted’s spotlight on teacher workload is to drive positive change in this area, schools will have to evaluate their own formative assessment practice and be prepared to explore some bold alternatives.

So how can educators continue to provide their students with effective feedback in a way that is both well-targeted and time-effective?

As digital learning environments such as Google Classroom continue their steady march into UK classrooms, it may be that online assessment tools hold the answer. Assessment tools like StudyBee, which sits within Google Classroom, allow teachers to assess a student’s work against customisable National Curriculum descriptors and provide feedback at the click of a button. What’s more, teachers can use their bank of digital marking to get an overview of a student’s progress towards attainment targets or a snapshot of their learning over the course of a unit of learning or half term.

The integration of digital marking with assessment data analysis for formative assessment saves time and provides meaningful feedback that can inform next steps in planning. To find out for yourself how StudyBee could streamline marking and assessment in your school, download a free trial here.

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