Head of Social Science

The Fear Factor

In the modern era of education, the mere mention of the word ‘assessment’ is likely to evoke greater fear in a students’ eyes than ‘spider’ or ‘snake’. Such is the nature of this much dreaded ‘A’ word! Not only does this drain the colour from their faces, the task requirements become their sole purpose for existence. Anxiety levels are heightened, as they have grown accustomed to view assessments as high stakes tasks. Students believe that their success in the subject is limited to their performance in just the formal tasks. This is a great impediment to authentic learning. However, assessment is a critical part of the teaching and learning process, a notion publicly endorsed by NESA, hence, it is imperative that as efficacious pedagogues, we undertake a deliberate approach towards a methodology that has a positive impact on student achievement that minimises their stress levels.

The Social Science faculty, under the guidance of the Director of Learning’s team, has undertaken the use of formative assessments for Years 7-10 as a trial to restructure our assessment initiatives. Formative assessment is a collaborative approach between teachers and students that incorporates feedback received from  students and the subsequent amendments to teaching practice to best meet student needs. This is distinct from summative tasks which assess the overall learning of students in a formal examination-like setting.

Formative assessments have received research-based endorsements from many educational researchers such as John Hattie (2009) who opines that ‘a variety of formative assessment practices have a significant impact on educational outcomes’. Similarly, Paul Black (2014) considers formative assessment as the ‘heart of effective teaching’. It is a process where there is ongoing adaptation of teaching in a quest to find the best fit for the students, a view purported by Marzano (2012).

A single data point cannot effectively measure student understanding, hence, the Social Science faculty developed a broad range of formative tasks to ensure student outcomes are being effectively achieved. Such activities include quick quizzes, ‘lightning writing’, ‘traffic lights’, ‘think-pair-share’ and ‘questioning’ to review prior learning. A seven factor criterion (dubbed the “SS-7”) was developed by our assiduous team members. This ‘SS-7’ assesses a range of skills namely, creativity, collaboration, organisation, critical thinking, sustained effort and application, independent work and use of digital tools. Each class task has been mapped to match the specific criterion and designed to adapt our pedagogy to meet student needs.

This shift to 70% of tasks as formative assessments underpins our teaching philosophy and is in its developmental stage. Consistent reflections and student feedback inform our next step of instruction delivery. We have already observed the benefits with enhanced student engagement and reinforcement of the notion that ‘assessment of learning is fun’ in the classroom.

So, it is time to bid adieu to the anxiety and stress that accompany summative assessments and replace it with the ‘F- factor’ – not fear, but FUN! The students’ eyes should now exude a sparkle!

 

Ms Gauri Gupta

Head of Social Science