Assessment is a central part of the everyday learning and teaching process in SPHE. It can provide valuable information on the child’s progress and on the effectiveness and suitability of the programme and the teaching methods being used.
Assessment can enhance the relationships between the parent/s and the teacher and between the child and the teacher. It provides information that can be communicated to the parent/s and ensures that learning experiences are based on the most comprehensive information about the child. Assessment can also contribute to the child’s sense of security because it ensures that each child knows how he/she is performing in school and that individual difficulties are being acknowledged and dealt with as they occur.
Teachers and schools will need to take time to explore the nature and role of assessment in SPHE and to decide on the most effective ways of usingit in order to enhance and complement the learning and teaching in the school. There will be a greater possibility of continuity and progression in SPHE in the school where there is a common language and approach to observing, describing, discussing and reporting on children’s progress. Time spent discussing and sharing ideas will enhance communication among staff, with parents and with individual children and will ensure that the assessment is used in the most positive and helpful way.
Assessment in this curricular area cannot be seen in isolation, as it will be directly related to the assessment in other subjects and to any assessment that may take place of the school climate and atmosphere.
Roles of assessment: why assess in SPHE?
Assessment provides the teacher with information on how and what children are learning through the planned programme in SPHE. This knowledge will inform decisions regarding future learning experiences and give directions for planning, designing and adapting materials in SPHE and for adopting certain teaching approaches in the classroom. The teacher will be able to discern what the child knows and understands and how he/she transfers learning from one situation to another.
This information will be gleaned from the child’s work during the discrete SPHE time, from the child’s informal learning and everyday interactions and from the learning and teaching in other subjects. When used in this formative way assessment is very significant in the child’s overall development. It provides feedback to the child on his/her progress and it also involves the child in reflecting critically on his/her learning.
Assessment also has a diagnostic role, in that it identifies areas of strength or difficulty that may be encountered by the child in his/her learning. The difficulties may relate to the acquisition and use of various skills, to any deficiencies that may exist in the child’s knowledge and understanding or to difficulties that the child may have in engaging in and reflecting on various processes. This type of assessment will provide the teacher with directions for teaching and learning approaches that could help to improve the child’s learning. The strengths can refer tohis/her leadership skills or effective social skills or the ability to face a new challenge or situation. This information will help the teacher in planning activities and in working with the children in such a way that their talents and abilities are used and developed effectively. At times, information from formal behavioural tests, carried out in conjunction with psychologists and other professionals, may contribute to this diagnostic assessment.
Summative assessment presents an overall picture of the child’s progress in SPHE. It is a formal recording of information gathered and is particularly useful for informing parents, teachers and other professionals of the progress of the child as he/she moves from class to class.
Assessment may also play a significant role in helping the teacher to evaluate the SPHE programme and its suitability for a particular class and to monitor the effectiveness of the teaching methodologies, approaches and resources in use. Evaluative assessment provides an opportunity to explore the extent to which the objectives of the curriculum have been achieved and the emphasis that is placed on the learning process and on the active engagement of children. It would also identify positive ways of improving the general climate and atmosphere in the school and of building on the good practice that already exists.
Assessment in SPHE: what should be assessed?
There are particular difficulties associated with assessment in this area. In many situations the real impact of the learning in SPHE will take place long after the child has left primary school. Similarly, the achievement of many of the objectives of the curriculum will be dependent on the emotional, intellectual and social maturity of the child, so that rates of progress can vary considerably from child to child. It can also be difficult to assess the effects of personal, social and health messages on an individual child, on his/her thought processes and on the manner in which he/she internalised the learning.
Nonetheless, some very valid and helpful assessment can take place that will enhance the learning and teaching in SPHE. The assessment should reflect the progress of the child in the planned programme in the school. It should take cognisance of the objectives in all three strands and relate to that which can be realistically and appropriately assessed in school. The assessment should also take account of the child’s ability to assess his/her own progress and to set and achieve his/her own goals and targets.
It will be imperative that some assessment should take place of the general approach adopted to the SPHE curriculum in the school, and of the implementation of the programme in the context of the overall school climate and atmosphere. Such assessment will require the teachers to consider a number of key questions for assessing the school environment and identifying the areas that need improvement.
Assessment tools: how to assess
Assessment in SPHE requires the use of particular tools that will help the teacher to acquire information about the child’s progress and the effectiveness and suitability of the programme in place. The primary emphasis in this area is on informal assessment but at times this will be complemented by formal techniques (as they are available), such as behavioural tests, pupil profiles and set criteria reference tests for certain aspects. The informal tools recommended for assessment in SPHE are:
Teacher-designed tasks and tests
Portfolios and projects
Teacher observation is a particularly suitable and effective technique for assessing this area of the curriculum. It takes place while children are engaged in various activities and/or during the everyday interactions inthe class or school. Teachers have always been observing children in school as part of their daily work and in recording some of the observations. Focusing on specific aspects of SPHE can enhance their usefulness in the learning and teaching cycle in the class.
Teacher observation might focus on
- the ability of the child to co-operate and work in groups or to work independently
- the informal interactions between the child and adults and between the child and other children
- the quality of presentation of work
- particular interests or aptitudes displayed by the child
- the participation and interest of the child in a variety of activities
- the level of personal or social responsibility exhibited by the child
- the reliability of the child in carrying out established routines
- the perseverance of the child in carrying out a task
- the child’s awareness of the difficulties of others and his/her willingness to help
- the questions the child asks and the responses the child makes to questions and suggestions made by the teacher
- various behaviour, for example shyness, leadership ability, level of selfconfidence, the tendency to be anxious, sense of fair play, assertiveness, aggression, readiness to take risks and meet challenges
- physical and emotional maturity
- the ability of the child to engage in assessing his/her progress and reflecting on his/her learning.
Recording the relevant observations or those that the teacher considers the most significant can contribute to the overall picture of the child’s development and can be used as a reference for the teacher when planning for SPHE and in communicating about the child to other teachers, either as the child moves through the school or as he/she moves to another school. Such recorded observations are particularly helpful in discussions with the parent/s. They can also be used in discussions with the individual child and will play an important role in encouraging valuable personal contact both between parent and teacher and between child and teacher.
Where children are involved in particular classroom activities, the teacher can informally observe the way in which they are learning, the level of participation in the activity, the quality of the group or individual work being carried out and any difficulties being displayed by individual children in completing the activity.
Observing the children in various contexts outside the classroom, such as on school outings and in playtime activities in the yard or school hall, will enable the teacher to gauge the effectiveness of activities that are designed to improve the child’s self-esteem or co-operative spirit. The observations of incidental happenings will be as informative for the teacher as those based on planned or structured activities.
Observations by the teacher play a formative and diagnostic role by indicating aspects of the programme that need development and by helping the teacher to plan future learning experiences. For example, where a child or number of children seem ill-equipped to work together effectively, the teacher may have to spend some time developing the group work process so that the children may engage in, and benefit from,a wide variety of activities. Similarly, where a school has noticed a particular need arising from its observations of the children and their behaviour, it can decide to concentrate on a specific aspect of the programme for a particular period. These observations can also be used to communicate regularly with the child about his/her own work and help him/her to gain more from the learning process.
Teacher-designed tasks and tests
Tasks set in a learning context can allow for the assessment of the process and product or a combination of both. The teacher can assess the processes in which the children are involved and gauge the extent to which they understand what is being taught and are able to transfer and use what they have learned to a variety of situations. As children reflect on a particular process they can begin to make sense of it and become more aware of themselves as individuals and the ways in which they learn and work.
A task for example, can be designed that presents children with a situation where they, in a group, will have to reach a decision and defend their opinions. This activity will enable the teacher to assess how the children worked together and whether or not they were able to reach a consensus. The assessment also provides for the children to reflect on and become aware of their own role in the decision-making process and to learn about the factors that influenced them in reaching a decision.
Specific tasks can also be used effectively to ascertain a child’s ability to apply particular skills in different situations. Tasks can be designed that allow the children to demonstrate abilities in many social, personal and health contexts, for example in displaying assertiveness, persuasiveness, coping ability, critical analysis or safety skills or in solving a problem and reaching a solution. The use of tasks is to be recommended in SPHE, because they mirror the type of activities required by the objectives of the curriculum and so create a link between objectives, methodologies and assessment.
SPHE includes areas of knowledge and understanding that will need to be assessed at regular intervals. Simple tests designed by the teacher will allow for the teacher to ascertain the knowledge that has been acquired. For example, on completion of the strand unit on food and nutrition it may be helpful to set a test that requires children to display their knowledge of food, food groups, healthy diet, etc.
A portfolio is a personal folder kept by each child that contains a wide variety of evidence of achievement and is appropriate for all age groups in the school. It is a useful way of collecting work that is completed as well as being used as a means of assessing progress. These portfolios, by becoming a source of pride and giving the child a sense of ownership, can enhance the self-esteem of the child and show concrete evidence that everybody has some success in school. They also provide a means of self-assessment where the child becomes aware of, and reflects on, personal capabilities and limitations.
Portfolios in SPHE can include surveys or questionnaires completed, drawings, written activities, newspaper cuttings or check-lists. They should be sufficiently flexible to record a wide range of achievement in many aspects of the SPHE curriculum. At the end of a term or the end of the school year a representative sample from the portfolio could be chosen for assessment purposes. To complement this assessment by the teacher, the child could be asked to choose his/her own best work and be encouraged to discuss the choices made. This can enhance the teacherchild relationship and reinforce the child’s role in his/her learning.
Portfolios also give the teacher direct evidence of the day-to-day work during the year and are a useful source of information for the child’s next teacher. They are an excellent means of communication between the school and home and enable the teacher to review his/her own approach to SPHE and the effectiveness of various methodologies used.
Projects allow children to focus on a particular aspect of the curriculum and to study it in some detail. Opportunities arise for project work in all strands of the curriculum, for example in creating a class newspaper, in exploring dietary habits in various parts of the world or in examining safety in school. These types of projects can illustrate how much a child has learned and are particularly significant in assessing the child’s ability to gather information, to collate and present it, and to work with others. It also reveals much about individual and group responsibility and can indicate the level of interest of each child.
Displays and presentations of work
Among the recommended approaches and methodologies in SPHE are displays and presentations of work. These allow children to summarise and collate information they have gathered, to present particular viewpoints or to argue a position. They can also be used to assess what children have learned and indicate their ability to present data to a specific audience.
A balanced approach to assessment
The aim of assessment is to improve the learning experiences of the child in SPHE. It is essential that any of the techniques used and the ways in which recording takes place should not hinder the learning experiences of the child. Once the techniques have become familiar to the teacher they will enhance the work in the classroom and will not detract from teaching time. The school policy should outline ways in which assessment can be undertaken in a practical and balanced way within the school.
Recording and communicating
The importance of discussing assessment in SPHE among the staff in the school cannot be over-estimated. In sharing their expertise and exploring their opinions or concerns, teachers will develop a common understanding of pupils’ progress and the role of assessment in SPHE. Such co-operation can help to ensure continuity and reliability in the use of various assessment tools and provide support for teachers in their everyday use.
Discussions should also take place between parents and teachers regarding the assessment of individual children, because it will ensure a more realistic picture of the child’s overall progress, strengths and weaknesses. Assessment provides essential information for children, teachers, parents and others about the child’s learning and overall development and so facilitates future decisions regarding learning experiences and pupils’ needs.
Pupil profile card
The pupil profile card will contain a profile of the child’s progress in all curricular areas, and the assessment of the child’s development in SPHE will be one aspect of this profile. The teacher’s continuing observation of the child in the completion of various teacher-designed tasks and the compilation of portfolios and projects will form the basis for the information on the pupil profile card. This card will serve as a permanent record of the child’s progress and will be especially useful in communicating information about the child to the parent/s and to other teachers. It is essential that the way in which information is recorded on such a card is both relevant and meaningful.