Growth, mastery and other trends

Ten years ago Assessment for Learning hit a peak. I’m speaking here in terms of trendiness rather than anything substantial like quality or quantity of the practice. Essentially I’m talking about how far up on an education consultant’s credentials they would place it as a speciality.

Nowadays, the two chart-toppers are mastery-learning and growth-mindset. As with (most of) the trends that have come before there is a reasonably good idea lying behind them. At the same time there will be a spectrum of implementable practices advocated by advisers, consultants, inset providers and edu-publishers.

Bearing this in mind, I’m cautious about contriving tenuous links between my product and these trends. On the other hand, I keep seeing these links – when someone describes what they are trying to achieve and I think there’s a great solution.

I’ll be straight, the strong evidence for certainty-based questioning is for its accuracy and reliability, not for its pedagogical impact. Everything else is conjecture (as far as I am aware), based on my feeling that this diagnostic assessment could be really powerful. Please bear this in mind as I move on to describe how my product fits with these recent trends…

Mastery learning

Mastery learning is the idea that learning should be organised in steps and earlier steps should be mastered before progression to the next. Mastery is achieved though practise, feedback and corrective procedures.

Clearly, to take this approach, there must be a way of assessing levels of mastery. From what I’ve seen, this usually consists of finding that a pupil can consistently  (3 times in a row?) demonstrate the skill at the required level.

I believe ‘personal certainty’ (when stated honestly) is a better indication of ‘mastery’. If a pupil can correctly answer a question with certainty then you have good evidence that they have mastered that concept. There are several benefits over repeated checking as a way of determining:

  • More accuracy – sensitive to sustained uncertainty
  • Less time repeatedly assessing
  • More pupil self-awareness

Growth mindset

So, this is the trickier one. In fact, much of growth mindset rails against testing so is it a contrivance too far to claim that an assessment approach supports it? As far as I understand, growth mindset is impeded by testing that reduces things to right/wrong pass/fail. Assessing certainty  creates a much broader spectrum, meaning you can get everything correct and still see that you can get better. Pupils can also see how achievable ‘better’ is – whether that is unlearning misconceptions or strengthening their understanding of concepts.

Maybe it is too much to claim that this assessment approach supports a growth mindset, but I would definitely argue that it supports it to a much greater extent than regular closed questioning.

Assessment for learning

Ultimately, I think the edu-notion that certainty-assessment most closely aligns to is AfL. It contains all of the most important ingredients of good AfL with technology adding additional value through speed and data collection. I very excited to see what impact it will have in the classroom.

N.B. The tool is almost ready for piloting. Keep watching this space!

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