Formative assessment – freeing ourselves from the stress to assess

A really quick post (I’ve got moderation to do…) just to offload some of the thoughts in my head about assessment…

  1. Sometimes – or even a lot of the time – we need to assess things that don’t look like the final outcome.

formative assessment may 2017

If you are a rugby coach, you use drills to teach the skills you need for a match. If you are musician, you practise scales and studies to build up the skills you need for a performance.

We can’t just assess performances all the time.

Today with my Year 7s I was assessing how well they could play major and minor chords on the keyboard. There are different parts to this: knowing where the notes are, knowing what a semitone is, which way is ‘up’, remembering ‘4 then 3’ and ‘3 then 4’ rule for major and minor, and getting your fingers organised on the keys. That’s quite enough for one assessment!

Getting round them all, though, is a lengthy job. Life’s too short!

So I said that if they showed skills that were good enough to be an assessor, I would give them a hat. (Hats as motivators – never fails for some reason) Then they could help me work round and assess the rest of the class.

It worked brilliantly. Here they are in their hats (left over from a production of Cabaret):

Year 7 hats

2. Taking away ANY kind of numbers reduces the stress to assess.

We have moved from this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 19.37.54

To this:


It used to result in a mark out of 60 (12 x marks out of 5). Now it doesn’t – it just goes on a spreadsheet to show who has demonstrated what skills, and whether they’ve done it really well or not.

So if you don’t assess all 12 things on the radar, no sweat. They just do the ones they can.

And relax!




  1. Hi Jane. I think this is brilliant. Our school has a 4-level system for reporting students current ‘level’. Do you have anything similar and if so, how do you translate the info you get from these radars into this? Thanks.


    1. Hi Chris, thank you for reading my ramblings! By a 4-level system do you mean a working towards/achieving/working beyond kind of thing? This is what we have at my school. In terms of translating the radars into this, I absolutely believe that any attempt to do this scientifically is a complete fiction – i.e. we’re just making up a system that doesn’t really mean anything, and trying to validate it purely by giving it some sort of method. So I don’t waste my time trying to fabricate the emperor’s new clothes (I am lucky in that my SLT do not require me to do any different!) and just use the info I have gleaned from the radars plus my professional judgement. Depending on what the 4 levels are, these are made-up classifications anyway (unlike a grade in a GCSE assessment, for example), so I don’t want to pile one fiction on top of another!


      1. Yeah – ours is core, developing, secure and excellent but same difference. We’re required to report on these four times a year based on data from class. So do you still assign a label but it’s just based on your judgement?

      2. Yes. Anything more pseudo-scientific is (IMO) a waste of time, for the benefit it gives to the students. But I realise that this attitude might not wash with all SLTs!

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