February 2017

The know zone

  • Modular to linear
    Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O’Farrell highlights 12 key points schools could grasp as they move from modular to linear assessment in the classroom. More
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Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O’Farrell highlights 12 key points schools could grasp as they move from modular to linear assessment in the classroom.

Modular to linear

The majority of GCSE subjects have now moved from modular to linear assessment and as teachers – who have only ever taught and who learnt themselves through a ‘modular’ approach – are delivering many of the courses, key findings from cognitive research can help ensure successful delivery of linear programmes.

Top tips

The overarching driver for success in a terminal examination must be long-term learning and, by that, I mean the retention and transfer of a significant amount of knowledge and skills at the end of the course. Supporting teachers and pupils with this must be at the heart of schools’ strategies for managing a successful transition from modular to linear. Here is how schools could approach this:

  1. Ensure your teachers map out together what the central learning points or big ideas of their subject are, so they are clear what a good linguist, historian, scientist or mathematician should know, should understand and should be able to do at the end of the course.
  2. Work backwards in designing a curriculum plan so that units of key knowledge and learning build on one another conceptually and logically, ensuring they are systematically revisited and reinforced so that pupils have securely mastered them as they approach the end of their studies.
  3. Understand that not everything can be assessed as pupils make progress. Be selective when developing assessments, making sure they require pupils to recall key knowledge and apply it to new and unfamiliar contexts. The only way to see if something has been retained over time and transferred to a new context, is to look at what students can do later and elsewhere.
  4. Support and equip pupils with a menu of learning strategies and metacognitive skills to use in a range of contexts, so they understand how they learn and that ‘learning is learnable’. Pupils will need to be less reliant on teachers and will need to work and revise more independently. (See: What Kind of Learning for What Kind of Teaching?, Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, 2013)
  5. Learning occurs by changes in long-term memory, requiring constant changes, revisiting and consolidation of information. Focus on the long-term goal of learning, equipping pupils to be able to recall key learning automatically. This could ensure that, through regular, meaningful practice, learning becomes stored in the long term and can be accessed without conscious thought. (See: http://tinyurl.com/ou84unv)
  6. Build in spaced intervals to revisit key knowledge. Information presented repeatedly in this way is more effective because pupils learn much better then when information is repeated without intervals. Allow pupils time to forget as forgetting increases the likelihood of increased learning. (See: Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve.)
  7. Build in frequent low-stakes testing, as testing under the right conditions can also increase pupils’ long-term learning, as it is an important aspect of how pupils recall and remember learning. Frequent testing also helps pupils understand teachers’ learning intentions. (See: Test-enhanced Learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention, HL Roediger & JD Karpicke, 2006)
  8. Learning happens when pupils have to think hard, so provide as many opportunities as possible to reduce support, remove scaffolding, take pupils out of their comfort zone and challenge pupils to think through questions and explain their thinking. (See: Vygotts, 1978)
  9. Prioritise formative assessment techniques in the classroom so that pupils understand where they are in their learning, what they are secure with in terms of their knowledge, understanding and skills and which areas they need to develop.
  10. Always focus on the learning rather than the performance because what pupils can do in a lesson, on a one-off performance, is a poor predictor of future learning. Adopt a mindset of planning for learning, rather than planning lessons or planning activities and always be ready to ask yourself, ‘I have taught this, but have they learnt it and how will I know?’ Remember that we cannot predict what pupils will learn purely because of our teaching; we have to keep reviewing their understanding.
  11. Support pupils to write and think at speed; they face many content-heavy linear exams that will require them to develop stamina and resilience.
  12. Think carefully about feedback; feedback that is Curriculum and assessment given too immediately and too frequently can lead learners to depend overly on it as an aid during practice. Robert Bjork recommends introducing “desirable difficulties” so that feedback has the constant focus of enhancing learning. He says, “Empirical evidence suggests that delaying, reducing, and summarising feedback can be better for long-term learning than providing immediate, trial-by-trial feedback.” (See: Learning versus Performance, Nicholas Soderstrom and Robert Bjork, 2013)

Curriculum Planning - Download Suzanne’s new Guidance Paper on Curriculum Planning www.ascl.org.uk/curriculumplan Event:
Leading Curriculum Change 2 March in Leeds and 9 May in London -  Suzanne is leading a course to help colleagues to lead and manage curriculum change. Up-to-date information will be provided about curriculum and qualification reform to support participants in managing the reforms. Book here www.ascl.org.uk/curriculumchange

Suzanne O’Farrell is ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist