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Working it out for themselves

One way to encourage progress and improvement is to give pupils control over their own learning goals and assessment, says Chris Smith

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 23, 2015 | Teaching

Education Endowment Foundation, Chris Smith, learning goals, pupil progression framework steps, teaching

For all schools, identifying any gaps in learning is important. However, for independent primaries and preparatory schools guiding children towards their Common Entrance examinations, discovering where there is need for further knowledge and understanding is crucial to their success.

Assessment of a child’s performance in school tends to fall into two types: ongoing formative assessment used by teachers to determine gaps in children's understanding and teacher planning; and summative assessment (such as final or end-of-year tests) which allows teachers to measure attainment and see how far children have progressed over longer periods of time. Formative assessment helps teachers to gain an accurate picture of pupils’ abilities, which can be measured against the requirements of the 11+ examinations. Any weaknesses in a child’s learning can be identified at regular intervals, allowing teachers to provide further support when necessary.

This type of assessment can also provide valuable insight into the process of meta-cognition, which is essentially how children learn how to learn. Through this, teachers can determine what teaching methods work best for their students. At its best, children are directly and actively involved in the monitoring process.

An investigation by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teacher Toolkit revealed that giving pupils a level of responsibility over their own learning and assessment goals can help to develop their critical thinking and meta-cognitive processes, which can make a 38 percent difference (or an effect size of 0.62) in their capacity to learn. It allows them to examine their strengths and weaknesses, as well as discover the means by which they learn most effectively. This form of personalised and meta-cognitive learning can inspire their confidence, leading to greater improvement and success.

Establishing a coherent set of learning goals for children to work through not only ensures that all the key components of the curriculum are met, but also gives them the opportunity to set personal goals within these objectives. For EES for Schools’ pupil progression framework Steps, we designed subject tracking sheets, featuring a list of positive and progressive ‘I can’ statements, which consider both knowledge requirements and skills, such as: “I can add and subtract two digit numbers mentally and when using objects, number lines and pictures.”

The most important thing is to build an attitude of positivity surrounding these learning goals. By maintaining a supportive system in which pupils have ownership and co-operate with their teachers to establish realistic targets, children will be inspired to work hard towards their next goal and build their confidence, even when faced with skills or topics with which they struggle. Reinforcing that they can achieve their goals will also help to boost their confidence before the entrance exams.

By giving pupils the opportunity to see for themselves what they have achieved and identify where they still may need to improve, you are giving them control over their own learning. This helps them to become empowered individuals, capable of entering the world as well-equipped adults, able to learn continually and evolve, applying the lessons they have learned to different situations.

It’s very important for teachers to have access to the data of the children they’re responsible for and information on their own class performance so they can record and monitor the data accurately and manage their students accordingly. This is especially important when moving from one year to the next. With a comprehensive record of what a child knows and their gaps in learning, teachers can be informed and assured of the capabilities and knowledge of their pupils, allowing them to plan and teach more effectively.

Chris Smith is head of education technology at EES for Schools W: The free resource Steps can be downloaded from

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