Assessment for learning plays an integral part in helping children reach their sporting potential. Crispin Andrews looks at how to help primary students develop their physical literacy

Assessment is much more than simply monitoring progress and ticking boxes. And there is much more to PE than aspiring to run the fastest, jump the highest and perform magical feats with bat or ball.
If children are to fulfil their potential, assessment must be an enabling tool as well as an indicator of performance. It must inform both teacher and pupil of what is required for a child to progress to the next level. Opportunities for children themselves to consider how, why and what they need to do in order to progress, as well as to understand and maybe even visualise what their targets might look like, need to be planned into PE lessons.

Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there. Pupils are more likely to improve if they understand the aim of their learning, where they are in relation to this aim and what action they can take to reach their target. If too much emphasis is put on performing physical skills and not enough on helping children understand how and why they are performing these skills, the potential for sustainable improvements across a range of physical activity areas will be lessened.

Much of what teachers do in the classrooms is easily transferable to the playing field. Tasks and questions prompt learners to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. What learners say and do is then observed and interpreted and judgements are made about how learning can be improved. These assessment processes are an essential part of everyday classroom practice and involve both teachers and learners in reflection, dialogue and decision making. There is no reason why something similar should not be applied as the basis for PE lessons.

Questioning can be an important assessment tool but the right question must be chosen. Asking a closed question like ‘Do you keep your head still when striking a ball?’ or worse still simply telling them how to do it is likely to receive a simple yes or no answer. Changing to ‘Why is your head position important when striking a ball?’ encourages children to utilise and compare their knowledge of striking, balance and head position before deciding upon an answer. Other useful types of question include:

  • How can we be sure that…?
  • What is the same and what is different about…?
  • Is it ever/always true/false that…?
  • How do you…?
  • What does that tell us about…?
  • What is wrong with…?

Feedback related to the learning intention, gives pupils an indication of what they need to do to progress. Comments such as – ‘try harder’ or ‘join in’ are unrelated to the learning goal. Effective and regularly given feedback will eventually lead to a pupils being able to see for themselves what they need to do to improve, rather than always relying on the teacher telling them. Feedback stimulates correction or improvement of a piece of work, acting as ‘scaffolding’ for children to use their own knowledge. Giving a complete solution as soon as they get stuck will undermine children’s ability to think things through for themselves.

It is difficult to ascertain where a child or class needs to go next until previous learning is analysed. Overdependence on initial planning can also undermine assessment for learning. It may well be that a child or group has not grasped a particular concept or has developed a level and direction of proficiency based on their own particular motivation for taking part. So a competitive youngster might show progression in applying their skills to directly benefit their team or to outwit an opponent, whereas one who is more concerned with the fitness benefits of their physical activity might be more adept at designing training routines to ensure maximum movement while skills are being learned.

In either case, slavish accordance to preplanning which insists that everyone moves on to a preset point by a predetermined point in time will not meet the needs of all children. It is important to encourage the development of all-round physical literacy but children are not robots and physical activity not an exact science. There are many places children can get to within this diverse world and many different methods by which they can get there.

Children who struggle with one particular application of physical skill may progress rapidly when given the opportunity to learn it in another way or for a different reason. Similarly, a child with reading or listening difficulties may be able to access an activity more effectively if given visual stimuli such as a photograph, film clip, or a teacher/peer or interactive demonstration.

Whatever the preferred methods of delivery, from their assessments teachers should be able to pinpoint the learner’s strengths and offer advice on how the child might develop them, be clear and constructive about any weaknesses and suggest ways in which they might be addressed.

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