An update on using radar diagrams for KS3 assessment – and some thoughts on testing

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I have blogged about these before, here. Many teachers have shown real interest in this way of assessing at KS3, and I know there are a good many people who have adapted the idea for their own schools.

In the year 2014-15 we enjoyed using our radars very much. Here are some specific thoughts:

  • If you have radars for each student, and all the radars for one group on one sheet, and use a different coloured pen each time, it is easy to see what’s happened when. Sheets get given out to each group in the lesson (I look after them between lessons), so they can see what they need to do to improve. Personalised objectives, if you like. I can pootle round the room, and dish out marks/feedback as I wish. If I don’t get round everyone in a lesson, I can easily see who I need to prioritise the next week. Thus, the assessment serves me: it is not my master. I think this is crucial – we’ve got too much else to do
  • One really good thing that has happened as a consequence is that the sheets have really opened up dialogue. Students might say ‘You’ve only given me 2 for such-and-such – what do I need to do to get more?’ or ‘Miss, I’ve practised that now, and I think I’m a 5! Come and listen!’
  • It has forced me to give lesson/homework space to critique. This has been good. We have scaffolded this at first, and it has been very effective
  • The effect of using the sheets on the quality of work produced by the students is very positive. The assessment tail wagging the dog, as usual, but in a good way! Hallelujah.
  • Sometimes it gets to the point when you feel you’re assessing the backside off everything that moves. It is necessary to take a break from assessing sometimes, and just do some music, avoiding what Anna Gower calls the ‘stress to assess’. We all (teachers and students) need a break every now and then

quick key logo

I have also been using QuickKey to do some rapid assessment of key concepts. This is entirely for formative purposes – i.e. to inform my teaching, most specifically how I will tackle things in the next lesson, including where specific differentiation is needed.

QuickKey is an app that enables you to use your iPhone or iPad to mark multiple choice tests really quickly, and break down the data to show the responses to each question. The nuts and bolts are this: you devise questions (more on this later: it’s important!) and students respond by filling in a sheet that you print out from the QuickKey website:


You put in your student’s names to your QuickKey account (it’s free if you only do 3 new tests each month, and saves your classes for future use) and it assigns each one a reference number, which they (or you) put in on the left hand side.

It’s absolutely brilliant – and the information it gives you on who ‘gets’ what is invaluable. But it’s only as good as the questions that you ask. Compiling really good questions takes serious thought – they really need to be ‘hinge questions’ that have possible answers that flag up misconceptions. Here is a video of Dylan Wiliam explaining hinge questions. So, for example, I might ask:

What makes a texture thick or thin?

A: how many instruments are playing

B: how loud the music is

C: how many different notes/melodies are being played

D: whether there are chords or not

E: what instruments are playing

If a student answers C, I know that they have got it (unless, of course, they guessed, which is always a danger). However, if they answer A then I know that there is a misconception to be addressed. An answer of D shows partial understanding, but there is the possibility of alerting them to counterpoint. If they answer B they’ve misunderstood completely, and E is a tiny bit correct.

With the info that a quick test can give me, I know who is an expert on a topic, who perhaps needs to be given a specific task, or specific help to really understand something. It does not inform what I put on radars, directly, (although I guess it could if that seemed appropriate) but it does inform my planning. Scanning the answers is really fast once you’ve got the hang of it. You can also use QuickKey to make revision tests for your KS4 and KS5 classes.



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