Assessment: an integral part of teaching and learning
Assessment in physical education informs teaching and learning by providing information on what children have learned and how they learn. The information is collected as a continuing part of the teaching process in physical education and is useful for children, teachers and parents. When planning new activities or planning lessons to consolidate previous work, teachers are invariably making professional judgements about children. Teachers are constantly assessing children in the physical education lesson as they identify progress and difficulties.
Assessment provides information on individual children, assists the teacher in planning an appropriate programme for the child, and facilitates communication with other teachers, with parents and with other professionals. The systematic recording and reporting of assessment will help to ensure continuity and progression in physical education, as in other areas of the curriculum.
Roles of assessment: why assess?
Assessment informs teaching and learning in physical education in a number of ways. It provides a comprehensive picture of the holistic development of the child and so contributes to informed decisions about his/her future learning.
Assessment indicates the achievements of each pupil as he/she acquires skills or develops understanding and indicates further learning activities for the child to explore. It can be used to assess the child’s readiness to progress to a new activity in physical education. In addition, it can show the various rates of progress that a child is making in the different strands of physical education and provides a basis for grouping.
Assessment provides feedback to the child on his/her achievements and also involves the child in reflecting critically on his/her learning. Used like this, assessment has a formative role to play in the planning and support of further learning.
Assessment indicates areas of learning difficulty for the child. These difficulties may be related to the acquisition of skills, weaknesses in the child’s understanding of activities in which he/she is engaged or gaps in knowledge of particular activities. Early diagnosis and remediation of difficulties experienced by the child as he/she practises movement skills, for example, can enhance the child’s confidence in approaching new skills. In identifying children with difficulties, assessment has a diagnostic role to play. Diagnostic assessment is particularly useful in physical education for the child with special needs. It can also help to group children so that maximum activity for each child is encouraged. This form of assessment in the physical education lesson may also identify learning difficulties related to other areas of the curriculum. Where a child is unable to measure the length of a jump in the athletics lesson, for example, further work linked with the mathematics programme could be planned. Diagnostic assessment therefore should help the teacher to identify approaches or activities which would help improve the child’s learning.
A cumulative picture of the child’s overall achievement in physical education can be formed as further learning occurs, and so the summative dimension of a child’s assessment in physical education should be considered. This type of assessment may be used as units of work are completed or to facilitate communication between teachers about a child’s progress and to report to parents or to others within the educational community.
Assessment helps the teacher to evaluate the physical education programme and its suitability for a particular class and to monitor the effectiveness of the teaching methodologies, approaches, facilities and resources. In this way evaluative assessment can provide the school with a means for appropriate decision-making regarding the planning of its physical education programme.
Assessment in physical education: what should be assessed?
It is important that the school identifies what should be assessed in physical education. As the curriculum encourages the selection of a broad and balanced programme of physical education, assessment should reflect this approach. Assessment techniques used should assess progress in all aspects of the programme covered in order to ensure validity of assessment. The strands and strand units of the curriculum outline the objectives for physical education. The italicised exemplars indicate a possible range of activities that may be expected at each level.
It is essential that assessment be related to the objectives outlined for physical education and focus on
- the social and personal qualities of the child. A number of the objectives of physical education are concerned with the social and personal development of the child, and many opportunities to assess such development are provided in the physical education lesson. The child’s attitude to physical education, sense of fair play, acceptance of winning or losing and respect for a referee, for example, could be indicators of the child’s development in this area. A positive attitude is central to his/her progress, but it should be remembered that different attitudes can be displayed to different strands, a factor that should be recognised when assessment is recorded and reported.
- physical skills and competence. The assessment of physical skills provides a profile of the child’s competence in the different strands of the physical education curriculum. It is recommended that assessment of a number of different skills in each strand be undertaken to provide a valid assessment of the child’s competence. However, the assessment of skills by whatever means never entails overextending the child in relation to his/her physical development. The examples below outline one aspect or indicator of competence in each strand:
- throw or strike a ball at a target
- create a sequence of movements in gymnastics
- run quickly and fluently over a row of hurdles
- read a simple map and find a number of features
- glide in water
- help create and perform a dance as part of a group.
- knowledge and understanding related to physical education. As the child engages in the physical education lesson, he/she has many opportunities to develop knowledge and understanding of different activities. The objectives and italicised exemplars indicate the range of knowledge that may be expected at each level, especially in the strand unit titled ‘Understanding and appreciation’. For assessment purposes, the child’s use of space in a games situation could represent one aspect of an understanding of how games are played, while the child’s knowledge of opportunities to engage in sport or dance at local level could indicate that he/she is acquiring a broad knowledge related to physical education.
- creative and aesthetic development. The child’s creative and aesthetic development would largely, but not exclusively, be assessed while engaging in dance and gymnastics. By engaging in these activities, the child’s ability to represent the mood of a piece of music through movement could be observed and would be an appropriate indicator of his/her creative and aesthetic development. However, further opportunities arise to assess a child’s creative development within the games strand, for example when a child is challenged to create games.
- development of health-related fitness. The physical education curriculum recommends an approach that emphasises maximum participation in each physical education lesson. Lessons will therefore provide opportunities for assessment of a child’s fitness. The child’s ability to sustain effort throughout a physical education lesson or the ability to perform a more complex sequence in gymnastics while maintaining poise, balance and control would indicate his/her level of fitness.
- development of safe practices. The assessment of safe practices during a physical education lesson promotes a continuing awareness of safety. Observing how the child lifts and carries a piece of equipment, for instance, would provide information on the safety practices adopted. The child’s understanding and application of rules that enhance safety in a games situation or his/her adherence to water safety rules aid the assessment of the safety practices of the child. However, any assessment of the child’s practice of safety should not hinder his/her willingness to undertake activities that involve an appropriate element of risk as part of the natural challenge of physical activity.
Assessment tools: how to assess
The assessment of physical education will require a range of assessment tools and approaches to fulfil the roles outlined, especially as the need exists to assess a wide range of activities. It is not expected that evidence will be gathered on each pupil in each lesson but that it will accumulate over a specific period. The following techniques of assessment should be considered.
This is a most useful and most consistently used form of assessment in physical education. It involves the informal monitoring of children’s progress as the actual learning takes place, and some of the most accurate information is gathered in this way.
Teacher observation might focus on
- the responses the child makes when set a task
- the responses the child makes to the teacher’s questions and suggestions
- the participation of the child individually, in a group or as part of the class
- the interaction of the child with others when involved in group work
- the understanding displayed by the child when engaged in an activity.
Teacher observation as a form of as s essment is particularly appropriate for physical education, as as s essment is best underta ken as the children are engaged in activities. Some of the learning behaviour of the child can be observed to help plan follow-up activities: for example, how the child uses a piece of apparatus may guide the teacher on helping the child use it or other apparatus more effective ly in subsequent lessons. It is useful to reco rd these observations. A simple written note on the completion of the lesson may be sufficient to enable teachers to plan further work in a more sys tematic way. Information recorded in this way can complement other forms of as s essment in compiling a pupil’s profile in physical education or when summative assessment is being recorded and reported. This form of as s essment ta kes account of the progress of the class, a group or an individual related to the content of the pro g ramme.
Throughout the physical education programme teachers continuously design a variety of tasks for the pupils to engage in. Some tasks will be designed to provide opportunities to practise skills, some will be designed to encourage creativity, some to gather knowledge of activities, and other tasks will be designed to promote questioning and group discussion before carrying out the task and as the task is completed. While engaged in the tasks, the children are learning, and simultaneously their responses indicate their progress in physical education.
Tasks set in a learning context can be designed to allow for the assessment of process (how the stick or bat is held and swung) and product (whether the target is reached) or the process and product combined. Another example of such a task is where a child is asked to undertake an adventure trail: the teacher assesses the approach the child adopts (the process) and whether the target is reached (the product).
A wide variety of tasks related to individual strands should be used, for instance practising the standing long jump for distance, creating and performing a sequence that shows controlled take-off, flight and landing or jumping into water and finding an object at the bottom of the pool.
Although time-consuming, they nevertheless can be used effectively as part of a learning context because they are linked to the content of the programme. The use of a range of tasks encourages all children to demonstrate their skills and understanding as well as factors such as their ability to cope with success and failure. Some tasks may be completed in a short time, perhaps as a small part of a single lesson. Other tasks may require a number of lessons to complete, for example creating and performing a short dance.
Teachers’ continuing informal observation of children’s progress can be structured more formally through the use of curriculum profiles. These entail short descriptive statements of pupil achievement in relation to physical education that might be expected of the child at different stages in his/her development. These descriptions are sometimes written in the form of short paragraphs that are formed using a number of indicators, i.e. behaviours or abilities that the child may demonstrate. Teachers endeavour to match their observations of pupils to the indicators in the profiles as work is undertaken or completed on a unit. By marking or highlighting aspects of the paragraphs as they are achieved by the child, the teacher can also use the profile to record progress in written form or use it as the basis for reporting. They will highlight children’s needs and take into account the spread of abilities in all primary classes.
A balanced approach to assessment
As the aim of assessment is to improve the learning experience of the child in physical education, it is essential that any form of recording of assessment should not detract from teaching time or hinder the learning experience of the child. The school policy should outline ways in which assessment can be undertaken in a manageable way. As teachers within a school discuss the progress and achievements of different classes, this shared teaching experience leads to a common understanding of assessment, helps to achieve reliability in the use of assessment and facilitates a balanced approach to assessment.
Recording and communicating
The assessment undertaken by the teacher, as part of the school policy, provides information on the child’s progress and achievements in physical education and needs to be recorded and communicated to other teachers, to parents and to other professionals. The process of communication should provide opportunities for obtaining feedback from parents. This process of recording and communicating will help the planning of the child’s future learning.
Pupil profile card
The pupil profile card will contain a profile of the child’s progress in all curricular areas and of other aspects of his/her development. The assessment of the child’s development in physical education will be one aspect of the profile card.
The teacher’s continuing observation of the child throughout physical education lessons, his/her observations of the child completing teacherdesigned tasks and/or the curriculum profiles built by the teacher will form the basis for the information recorded on the pupil profile card. The possibilities and advantages offered by information technology in the recording, storage and transfer of pupil profile cards should be explored and if possible used in the compilation of any profiling system.