This post is inspired by Daisy Christodoulou’s book ‘Making good progress’ which I highly recommend if you’re interested in assessment in any way.
In the book she uses the metaphor of a training for a marathon when talking about assessment and I really like how this can explain what I do with my students. I thought it might be useful to share my thoughts on how I do this. I am using the final marathon race in my context as the GCSE exam in year 11.
Marathon runners rarely run whole marathons in training
This really interested me as this is exactly how I’ve been sorting my assessment for past few years. Students learn early in the GCSE what an exam paper requires them to do. We practise exam questions from the first half term. Not all of them but the simple ones to get them confident; these are ‘small’ assessments. I scatter them throughout the term. I rarely tell them they will be doing an ‘exam question’ because I don’t want to put undue emphasis on them completing them. For some odd reason it works. I could put an exam question in front of them in period 1 on Monday and they don’t even respond. I say ‘stop talking, write’ and they all do! I never have ‘is this a test?’ Or ‘you didn’t tell us?’ Or ‘I didn’t revise for this’. I just put them in front of them and I’m so confident that they can do them, it seems to rub off on them.
However, I will tell them about the longer tests but I don’t expect them to ‘revise’, I’ve been doing that for them already through their homework. Longer tests will interleave all previous topics, not just the one they’ve done. This produces the ‘medium’ sized assessment.
Not everything you do to prepare for a marathon involves running
It is important not to think that everything that is preparation is doing exams or even exam questions. A marathon runner may buy a new pair of trainers, they may choose their diet carefully and they must also rest. None of these involve running. There are so many things that I do to prepare students for an exam that aren’t an assessment. Unmeasurable stuff like class relationships, praise and confidence building are essential for students to feel they can succeed. Their homeworks are all either writing multiple choice questions, doing the multiple choice quiz or learning keywords. Whilst they won’t be questioned directly on a keyword. They have to know what they mean to access the questions. If they’re asked to evaluate “Sanctity of life is more important than quality of life”, they have to know what these terms mean to have any hope of answering the question.
You cannot start training a few weeks before the marathon
Most of us are rubbish at planning ahead of time. We will leave things as long as possible. Most children will not consciously prepare for their exams until a couple of months or some cases weeks before their exam. I strongly believe that teachers have a duty to put this structure in for students so they are practising from day 1; we shouldn’t just leave it to chance. I start ‘revision’ with my classes from day 1 of the GCSE. This includes all their homeworks. Our teaching from day 1 should focus on the final outcome, the marathon/exam. Some teachers don’t like this idea as they think it is about teaching to the test. I think it is and it isn’t. Also, we can assume that most people that train for a marathon do it out of choice. Whilst student may have opted for a subject, for core subjects this isn’t true. This is even more reason to put the structure in for them from the start.
Practising the whole marathon is about performance analysis
I only give two full ‘mock’ experiences; December and March of year 11. It’s the only experience of the ‘large’ assessment they will get, with all the content and all the skills needed, as the real exam. My emphasis on these mocks is different to some others. I don’t care what they get in terms of marks or grade. It is much more useful as a diagnostic tool. It is exactly what I need to help them unpick what they need to work on in the last months; how to focus their final revision. We spend time on these papers after they’ve been marked. They improve aspects individually and I pull together common errors and plan around them. A mock exam shouldn’t be seen as anything other than a snapshot of where they are and where they could get to. It’s a really important indication to me about my teaching (this is why I find it odd that people outsource marking) and where they’ve ‘got it’ or I need to recap.
It would be easy to continue with the metaphor in many ways but for me the key aspect that reflects what I do is the increasing levels of practice of different aspects (the ‘small’ and ‘medium’ assessments) that are key aspects of working towards the ‘large’ assessment.