Tag Archives: AfL

Thinking about formative assessment

Mathematical Bridge, CambridgeStory has it that originally the Mathematical Bridge (in the picture) was built without bolts through geometrical genius, but that when later generations had to renovate it they couldn’t reassemble and had to add bolts in. The legend isn’t true, it’s just that the original iron spikes would have been unseen by the eye as you passed. My point? Wouldn’t it be sweet if students could have their knowledge and understanding all held seamlessly together with everything connected?

Last year David Rogers showed me an example of a Skills Web that his art department had been working on, as I was working through some changes at my place. I’d seen similar elsewhere and really liked the idea as a simple visual way for students to see what skills they require to make progress, to check their confidence and self-assess, and see how skills cross-correlate between different units and subjects. I lose track of how many times we remind students that what they do in Geography correlates to skills in other subjects, and that I know full well that they can do graphs! Anyway, I like simple things and so this year introduced the skills web to trial it.

Below is a GCSE skills web based on the new themes of ‘think like’, ‘know like’, ‘apply like’, ‘study like’. I really like those strands in themselves for building a curriculum around ‘thinking (or knowing) like a geographer’ and make a nice explicit focus on terminology / literacy / numeracy that students need in order to make progress not just in Geog but in essential English and Maths.


web web2


Usage: students are given the colour version as above with a tracing overlay that has scores on it like the second image. This would be to stay with them for a whole year perhaps and the idea behind having the tracing overlay is that over time you might need to replace the overlay if it becomes too full / overused. You don’t have to do the tracing paper version (bit of a faff maybe) – instead just ask them to use symbols and a legend that dates each symbol so you can track over time.

Students then self-assess confidence from 0-10 along each strand. I wouldn’t get them to assess each strand at once, but at the start of a particular topic and then revisit periodically. Get them to date each time they self-assess then you can track over time. I make it a focal point by displaying on screen and highlighting which spoke of the wheel we are looking at then. Great for them and for you at identifying weaknesses to then work on.

We’ve also dabbled with topic specific skills webs for GCSE. Same principle of marking confidence along the line but this is just for one topic and I would revisit more frequently.

The Key Stage 3 example is below:



I’d be interested to have feedback on what colleagues think and what is being tried elsewhere. I’m running with this in my current school and will introduce to the new place in September as our department AfL most likely. It’s not a replacement for summative assessment, this is still needed too (and hopefully the path here with tracking student progress in life after levels will become clearer soon!) But maybe it can help hold the strands of learning together.

Improving literacy in Geography

Example of VCOP template
Example of VCOP template

Something we find our students struggle with at times, regardless of key stage, is the creation of extended writing. Such an essential skill, especially with a view to GCSE. The decision making exercise (SDME) essay that our students complete requires them to read, analyse, interpret and synthesise information into a coherent argument. And it is a big hurdle for them. And in KS3, where we have reduced contact time now, we have noticed a difficulty with stretching higher level writing.

This week we had INSET training from our literacy co-ordinator which was insightful. We are going to lead a Humanities-Literacy joint project which I will update you on later but may involve the creation of a makingwav.es platform for sharing work that I have mentioned before. Anyway, I digress. I was introduced to VCOP – a simple way to structure writing through suggesting vocabulary, listing connectives, providing sentence openers, and then reminding of punctuation. I decided to trial this with both KS3 and KS4 classes of all abilities and have been really pleased with the outcomes. Below are example lessons including VCOP from Yr11 Hazards & Yr9 Extreme Environments so you can see how it was worked into the lesson. We talked through the structure as a group first to establish its utility, then a copy was given between pairs for reference during writing. Students were allowed their books for reference, access to their mobile device, but were otherwise silent for 10-15minutes solid writing. After, we then discussed whether the structure had been useful and throughout all abilities and ages they universally agreed it was ‘good to refer to if you forgot something’ or that it ‘gave me something to start off with’. A starting block.

Thanks to @daviderogers for the NYC lesson outline that was his originally until I butchered it!

You can see in the Yr 11 Hazards lesson I also used the Learning Grids activity for their group work. Students had copies of the grids in A3, then had to roll two dice to get grid reference/coordinate for a particular grid and then include the statement within their group work, e.g. grid 6,6 means they must include a link to sustainability within their argument. They had to repeat the rolls 5 times to get 5 statements to include. When the groups presented their findings, I used the dice myself with the grid in order to direct questioning. Using the random name generator on Triptico I selected a student, then rolled the dice to select a question based on that topic. That student then got to roll for the next name suggested, and they got to pose the question, and so forth. That way a selection of random students were able to both pose & answer directed questions and it led to some really informative discussions as well as enabling more in depth AfL of the relative merits of each presentation.

The use of the template was observed by an Ofsted lead inspector for a different lesson who commented on it’s suitability and highlighted that one of their key focuses at present is that of literacy across the curriculum, and that teachers cannot do enough of making overt links to literacy &  the importance of writing skills for GCSE and the workplace.

I think a further development to the use of VCOP could be to provide specific links to English APP AF strands on writing, and make it clear that students are developing skills intrinsic and essential to both subject areas. In English they are exposed to the AF strands routinely so it would make the cross-over more familiar, and more of a development of a known rather than introduction of something new and scary.

I am also thinking of creating some generic VCOP laminated pyramids to be able to distribute to tables as needed. I’d be interested in hearing from others if you have used these. It seems something common in primary schools and strange to not continue when literacy is such a struggle.

“If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” Oscar Wilde