Assessment is part of the activity of teaching and learning once we begin to design and plan teaching and learning for social, personal and health education, then the issue of how to design and plan for the assessment of student progress in SPHE needs to be considered.
However, for some teachers the idea of assessment may seem contrary to the underpinning principles of SPHE. Assessment appears to be about competition. SPHE is about participation. Assessment seems to be about measuring achievement. SPHE is about helping everyone to achieve. Assessment can assign students to pass and fail categories but SPHE seeks to offer all students an opportunity to experience success.
Such tensions arise from an understanding of assessment as the measurement of learning. From this perspective, SPHE poses a number of measurement challenges. If SPHE has a strong affective dimension for example, how can `progress' in feelings and attitudes be `measured' ? One response to this is to confine assessment in SPHE solely to its cognitive aspects thus what students know about drugs for example is classed as `assessable' but their attitudes to substance use are not. Another response to the assessment problem is to restrict assessment to self-assessment only and to use `assessments' based on worksheets where the students describe their attitudes and whether they enjoyed the lesson/series of lessons, and why they did so.
However, in recent years, with the advances in understanding of how learning takes place and how learners negotiate their way through classroom activities, new understandings of assessment are beginning to emerge. These understandings arise from one fundamental shift from seeing assessment only as the measurement of learning to a new understanding of its role in the promotion of learning.
NEW UNDERSTANDINGS OF ASSESSMENT
These new perspectives are having an impact across the curriculum as the focus in assessment activity begins to move from an emphasis on the assessment of learning to include assessment for learning. Assessment is being replaced within the process of teaching and learning from its traditional position after the learning has taken place to a new place at the heart of the learning process. Within this new understanding a number of key features of assessment can be identified. These features apply, not only to social, personal and health education, but to assessment right across the curriculum:
- Assessment should be a continuous part of teaching and learning process, involving students as well as teachers in identifying strengths, weaknesses and the next steps in the learning process.
- The most valuable assessment takes place at the site and time of learning
- Assessment should provide the basis for effective communication with parents, students and all the partners in the learning process
- The choice of assessment tools should be based on the nature of the learning they are designed to assess and the purpose which must be served by any information collected.
Assessment used to be considered as the collection of information by the teacher so that s/he could plan more effectively. This is still the case, but a greater focus is now placed on the sharing of that information with the learner so that the learner himself/herself can plan for better learning. A new emphasis is also being placed on the teacher facilitating the collection of information by the learner to allow for self-evaluation to take place.
The main features of assessment of learning and assessment for learning are set out below.
|Assessment of Learning||Assessment for Learning|
|Happens after the learning takes place||An integral part of the learning process|
|Information is gathered by the teacher||Information is given to the learner|
|Information is usually transformed into marks or grades||Information is available on the quality marks or grades of the learning|
|Comparison with the performance of others is important||Comparison with aims and objectives is important|
|Looks back on past learning||Looks forward to the next stage|
It is important to avoid seeing the two as opposing or contradictory practices. While the assessment of learning will always have a place in education and in classroom and school practice, the development of assessment for learning offers new opportunities for teachers working in certain areas of the curriculum who have found the more traditional approaches to assessment unsuitable for their needs or for the needs of their students.
ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING AND SPHE
One of the most important elements of assessment for learning is the new emphasis on feedback. This is particularly significant for social, personal and health education with its focus on students self-awareness and self esteem. Advocates of assessment for learning suggest that assessment without feedback disconnects assessment from the teaching and learning process; it becomes a classroom routine or a strategy to maintain discipline. While information on pupil achievement, or on the quality of learning may be collected and may even be recorded, true assessment only occurs, it is suggested, when that information is shared with the learner.
How the information is shared with the learner is important. Marks, scores and rank orderings are of little value. This applies across the curriculum, not simply in SPHE. Research has shown that students respond to constructive comments much more so than to marks or grades. Only the very highest achieving students are motivated by scores alone.
In order to support good assessment practice in SPHE classrooms, teachers need to develop an `assessment tool kit' made up of a wide variety of approaches to assessment ranging from classroom tasks, to homework to more structured assessments which might be used at the end of a module.
DEVELOPING AN ASSESSMENT TOOL KIT
Teachers use assessment tools all the time, often without being aware that they are doing so. Asking students questions, for example, is a form of assessment with which most teachers would be familiar. Most teachers give written tests at the end of units of work or assign activities for completion at home as a means of assessment. However it is worth noting, as stressed above, that neither the asking of questions nor the setting of tests constitutes assessment until feedback is given to the learner arising out of the assessment activity.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ASSESSMENT STRATEGY
In selecting an assessment strategy teachers need to give consideration to a range of factors that can be grouped under three headings;
- the nature of the learning being assessed
- the needs and abilities of the students
- practical and organisational factors.
The outcomes offered at the end of each module can guide this selection.
- have examined the characteristics of a good friend
|Students prepare an advertisement for a magazine under the heading Good Friend Wanted|
|Y.1 Friendship, p.19||Students design a 'Friendship' Home Page|
for a new web site to be called www.friend.com.
Are the characteristics discovered in class included in your ad?
What ones have been left out? Which is your favourite ad/website and why?
Notice how in this example the assessment has been fully integrated into the teaching and learning strategy. The web page idea could be introduced at the beginning of the lesson and the whole lesson designed around constructing the website. The feedback encourages the student to learn more and to learn from the work of others. The feedback is not in the form of grades or marks or descriptions of the quality of the work. It is in the form of a dialogue between the learner and the teacher.
In the following example however a different approach to assessment is needed because the outcome being assessed is of a different type.
|be able to name the symptoms of common ailments||Students design a matching exercise between symptoms and illnesses for different target groups - for ten year olds for example, or for pensioners.|
|Y2 Physical Health, p.33||Students complete a 'matching exercise'|
between symptoms and illnesses
What would a person learn from completing your test?
Why have the tests to be different?
Did you find the matching exercise easy/difficult?
Which parts were hardest and why?
Notice again that the first of the assessment strategies could be integrated into the teaching and learning. The feedback is again in the form of a dialogue the second component could be supported by students questioning one another. A further modification would be to offer the students a choice - students themselves could choose which assessment strategy to use.
THE NEEDS AND ABILITIES OF THE STUDENTS
The principles of differentiation apply to social, personal and health education as to any other area of the curriculum. The design of teaching and learning to meet the diverse learning needs of a class group is a key feature of the professional role of the teacher. Differentiation - correctly matching the work expected from students with their ability to do it - is often one of the most challenging and technically demanding tasks associated with pedagogy. For many teachers, this design process is almost intuitive teachers support different approaches to learning through a wide range of materials, through different styles of questions and classroom tasks and activities and through different forms of assessment as part of their professional practice. Additional support ondifferentiation for students with special needs will be available in the Guidelines for Teachersof Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities.
It is important to remember that the needs of a student or groups of students can vary over the course of a term, even over the course of a day. Teachers know that last period on Friday needs careful planning and management while first on a Monday calls for stimulation and variety! The selection of assessment strategies should be governed by the same principles of differentiation. For example
- have identified specific personal goals for third year
|Students complete MY CHARTER FOR THIRD YEAR which can be completed under the following headings school,|
|Y3 Belonging and Integrating, p.44||leisure, friendship, family or Students write congratulations cards to themselves imagining that they have achieved their goals for third year|
|Students are a mixed ability grouping, lesson is scheduled for early morning|| |
Why would the charter or card be worth keeping?
Rank your goals from what you consider to be the easiest to the most difficult.
Notice that a choice of activities is given to enable students who find written exercises difficult to choose an alternative activity. The provision of prompts by way of the categories is also useful some students find writing without guidelines particularly difficult. The activities are written and individual for some classes group work can be hard to engage in during early morning lesson (although for other class groups this may be the ONLY time to engage in group work!) Again there is potential to integrate the assessment into the learning and teaching.
The example below is a further illustration of differentiation by outcome.
Notice how the use of pictures and active learning in the assessment can engage the students from the beginning. The inclusion of the workbook or folder for an outcome that includes a strong personal dimension is important.
have explored their own emotional responses and those of others around them
Y1 Emotional Health, p.22
Class group has a significant number of students with poor reading ability and low concentration levels
Students are given a list of emotions
They are asked to select photographs from
newspapers or magazines which illustrate
these emotions and to cut them out and paste them on a sheet next to the word. They also have to choose a picture for an emotion they feel often and put it in their
workbook/folder or paste it on the cover.
What would someone learn about you from looking at the picture you chose?
Which picture was the hardest to find? Which one was the easiest?
PRACTICAL AND ORGANISATIONAL FACTORS
If the SPHE class is scheduled for one period per week - the most common timetabling practice in schools then a meaningful task for completion at home can serve both as an assessment strategy and as a means to support continuity between the lessons. For home tasks to serve this function they must
- Challenge students to build on the work done in class
- Engage students in creative and meaningful activities
- Encourage students to do their own thinking and research
- Be followed up/used in the next lesson/presented to teacher or peers.
Work done at home which is merely checked for completion when presented in class is generally seen as a chore and work `to do for the teacher'. Creative and imaginative tasks on which students receive positive feedback engage them more readily and is seen as work they are doing for themselves. The outcome of this form of assessment can be used for the SPHE folder or workbook (see recording and reporting p.66).
- have examined the potential hazards in travelling to and from school
Y1 Personal Safety p.26
|As a home task, following a lesson on road|
safety awareness, students are asked to monitor
dangers or risks they observe on the journey toor from school on three days in the next week.
To do this they are given the 'Risky Business'
worksheet. (see example) The sheets are used
as the basis for group work as follows.
One group of students prepares 'Crimeline' style
presentations to the class outlining what they saw
and what happened.
Another group prepares the questions to ask after
Another group collects information from the rest
of the class to find the most dangerous places on
the way to school. These are put on a poster for
the school notice board and magazine.
A fourth group composes a letter to the local
Garda station informing them of the findings
of the class.
Students are presented with a check list for their own work and asked to apply the list and
see how many of the boxes be checked. There are a number of variations on this type of
- The check list can be prepared by the teacher in advance and given to the students before
- they undertake the work (see example).
- The check list can be prepared by the teacher in advance and given to the students after
- they have completed the work.
- The check list can be prepared by the students themselves or by a group of students after the
- work is complete (see example).
Each of these variations offers different levels of learner participation in the assessment process.
|Date and Time||Location||Description/Nature of risk||Who was at risk?|
| || || || |
| || || || |
| || || || |
This worksheet can have as many spaces as is agreed with the class and can be extended to include
more sophisticated analysis - how might the risk be avoided, for example.
SAMPLE CHECKLIST FOR WORKSHEET ACTIVITIES
What to look for
|Information about risks travelling to and from school|| || |
|Suggestions about making journeys safer|| || |
|Good reasons why road safety is important|| || |
As with the worksheet itself, this can be made more sophisticated if needed. An `in-between' category such as `in places' or `might be better' can be added at the teacher's discretion. The use of checklists like this, and student involvement in their preparation all enable and support the active participation of the learner, not just in their own learning, but in reflection on how that learning took place.
RECORDING / REPORTING IN SOCIAL, PERSONAL AND HEALTH EDUCATION
The new understandings of assessment as a part of learning, together with proposals for developing assessment across the curriculum at junior cycle, offer an ideal opportunity for teachers of SPHE to develop skills in a wide range of assessment practices. The development of these skills will be an important support for teachers in meeting the requirements of the Education Act (1998) to report to parents on the progress of their children.
Parents/guardians have always received information on the progress of their children through parent teacher meetings, or through formal reports, usually at the end of term. In addition, many schools operate a student journal which must be signed by a parent/guardian. The entitlement for parents to receive information on the progress of their children is now supported by legislation. SPHE, as part of the curriculum for all students is included in this process.
Reporting to parents on student progress in SPHE is a challenging task. It is unlikely that teachers of SPHE will be equipped with a set of percentage marks or grades when meeting parents or filling in reports. `Co-operative in class' and `participates well' don't really give an account of student progress! And in meeting parents, to there can be a temptation for teachers of SPHE, given the absence of marks or grades, to give an account of the personality of the student rather than the quality of the work they have done in SPHE.
Using a wide range of assessment tools will give teachers greater resources on which to base reporting. Good practice in reporting on SPHE should include;
- the outcomes of the module taught during the term/reporting period
- evidence of the degree to which that the student concerned achieved those outcomes
- suggestions for how the student might improve in the next module.
The latter are particularly significant if the report or feedback is based on a previous terms work, or a test or assessment which is over. Information on how well a student did is of far less use than information on how they can improve in the future. A comment or mark which indicates that a student did not do well without any concrete suggestions for how that student can do better has a negative impact on student motivation. In this regard, a distinction needs to be made between exhortations to do better (`must do better') written on a piece of work or a report and guidance on how to do better. It is the latter which can encourage a student in the next phase of work. The former can have the opposite effect.
THE SPHE PORTFOLIO
Good reporting is based on good recording. But recording need not always be a record by the teacher of student work or progress; it can also be a record held by the student in a folder or workbook format. The keeping of such a folder/workbook/portfolio is strongly recommended for SPHE. It can serve;
- as a record of work done
- as a basis for reporting to parents
- as the basis for the award of a school `certificate' (see SPHE and the Junior Certificate examination below)
- as a source of positive feedback
- as information at the point of transfer to another teacher/class or school
- as a basis for student self-assessment
- as an important home-school link.
The criteria for including items in the folder/workbook/ portfolio need to be clearly specified and agreed with students. Not all material completed by students is suitable for inclusion the portfolio is not confidential or private for example. Criteria for inclusion might include, fully completed work, or work on which feedback has been given. Some teachers find it useful to ask students to include only that work which is a reflection of their best effort, others encourage students to be discriminating by allowing only a certain number of items to be included.
The portfolio is not simply a collection of samples of work; it is a record of progress and achievement. As such, an item for inclusion in the portfolio needs to be given formal recognition. One means of doing this is to include a portfolio label with every item included. A sample is given below different formats can be adapted to meet different class, school or teacher needs. If an item is to be included, the teacher can provide the student with the label for completion. The sample below includes a teacher signature as well as a student signature.
The portfolio can be made available for meetings with parents as evidence of student work in SPHE. It is not suggested that each item for inclusion be graded or marked; however, teachers may wish to make an overall assessment of the portfolio using the following criteria as guidance
AN EXCELLENT PORTFOLIO / AN A GRADE
All the items in this portfolio have been carefullyselected by the student. Well-thought out reasons forthe inclusion of each item are given. The portfolio iscomplete and includes the number of items specified.The portfolio itself is neat and well presented.
A GOOD PORTFOLIO / A B GRADE
Most of the items in this portfolio have been carefully selected by the student. Well-thought out reasons for the inclusion of most items are given. A few items might need more consideration. The portfolio is complete and includes the number of items specified. The portfolio is neatand well presented.
A PORTFOLIO TO BUILD ON / A D GRADE
Some of the items in this portfolio have been carefullyselected by the student, but a few seem to have beenincluded without completed labels. The portfolio is notcomplete and does not include the number of items specified.
These criteria are for guidance only teachers can have as many categories as they find useful. Whatever criteria are used, they should be given to the students. A modification of this process would be to allow the students to assign a grade themselves, using the criteria. Practice shows that they rarely differ from the teacher's own assessment!
If these criteria are used, then it is vital that practical strategies for improvement in the next phase of the portfolio are given to the students.
Social Personal and Health Education Portfolio
|Title of item selected|| |
|Date of selection|| |
|Reason for selection|| |
|Student signature||Teacher signature|
A RECORD SHEET
In addition to/instead of the portfolio strategy for recording and reporting a record sheet based on the outcomes of the SPHE curriculum can be useful resource for student self-assessment.
A sample of such a sheet in included below. This sheet relates to the Influences and Decisions module in Year 2 (p.38).
Influences And Decisions
|As a result of participating in this module||Definitely - I have really made progress!||Yes - I have done this||Not really - I don't think|
this describes me
|I have evaluated some of the|
strongest influences on attitudes
| || || |
|I am aware of my own role in|
influencing the behaviour and
attitudes of others
| || || |
|Have developed my decision|
making skills and am aware of
the need for reflection during the decision making process
| || || |
SPHE IN THE JUNIOR CERTIFICATE EXAMINATION
The curriculum for SPHE at junior cycle makes it quite clear that SPHE will not be included in the Junior Certificate examination as that examination is currently configured. There are no plans to introduce an exam paper in SPHE, or an examination of a project or coursework booklet. SPHE does not sit easily with the kinds of assessment usually associated with assessment for certification.
Under current arrangements it is not possible to refer to participation or achievement in Social Personal and Health Education on the Junior Certificate awarded to students at the end of junior cycle. Future development may allow for the inclusion of a broader range of achievements than examination results on the certificate. In the interim, schools might consider awarding a certificate of their own to students at the end of their junior cycle course in SPHE.