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Assessment for Learning in SEN – getting students to be responsible for their learning.

This post really leads on from the previous post on Assessment of Life Skills How? I wanted to share some of the Assessment for Learning strategies I use in the classroom to help SLD/MLD students become greater independent thinkers.  For the purposes of this post I am generally writing about students ranging from P8 up to NC 3 for English and Maths to give you an idea about the ability level I am aiming at. I have used different Assessment for Learning techniques with lower level students, which might form the basis of another post.

With all my lessons I use the acronyms WALT (We are learning to) and WILF (What I’m Looking For) to share the lesson objectives with the students and how they can be successful in meeting them.  Firstly it is important to put the lesson objectives into simple language that the students can understand.  For example in a Work Related Learning Lesson my objectives were:

Identify people who they need to communicate with in the workplace.

Identify the types of information he/she will need to communicate.

Obviously for SEN students these are too wordy so the students were presented with:


Communicate with each other

Communicate relevant information

I discuss the lesson objectives with the students to check their understanding of what they mean. Through this discussion I ask the students to come up with some success criteria or WILF that they can use throughout the lesson to judge their progress. For this lesson the students came up with:




Asking for things I need,


Throughout the lesson, the students are reminded of the WALT and WILF and I use a flip camera to record their work. I also take individual students aside to question them on what they are doing.  These videos form the basis of my plenary where I show them the videos back to promote discussion on whether the students have achieved the objectives. They then self and peer assess each other based on the level of support they received during the lesson – S+, S, I, I*.  I have used this in other lessons with success and it has now become part of every lesson.

I would advise that, with everything in SEN, students need things repeating in order for them to be successful and this is the case for self and peer assessment. The first time I tried this, I only got responses from one or two students and they always said they did the objective independently because they believed that is what I wanted them to say.  Over time, we have instilled in them that having support is not a bad thing and this is part of the learning process. They are now more competent in assessing their own and each other’s work and becoming more accurate in their assessment.  I would be interested to hear how others are doing this, especially with learners who are on the lower P scales P1 – P7, as I have mixed results with P5-P7 learners, using photos and emoticon faces. It is an area that I am yet to see successful assessment for learning techniques and is it possible to use assessment for learning for these learners.

Assessment of Life Skills – How?….

Since teaching a Life Skills curriculum, I have always questioned how we go about recording students’ progress to allow me to track this more accurately. What is it that we are trying to measure? What would we like our students to achieve from their lessons? As the curriculum we deliver is quite unique, I have yet to come across any guidance regarding subjects we teach apart from accredited vocational qualifications.

For the last 3 years we have been measuring students’ progress on the level of support that they receive throughout the lessons against specific lesson objectives. So for example for meal preparation we would give a grade for “knowing what equipment I need for a task” with one of the following grades:

S+ – 1-1 support

S – some support

I – Independence

I+ – Independence with confidence.

UPDATE 01/11/13

Since writing this post, we have changed the criteria to make it clearer for students and staff to aid the assessment process. The criteria we use now are:

S+ – 1-1 support

S – some support

S- – little support/guidance

I – independent work.

We felt that the distinction between independence and independence with confidence was difficult to judge and that by including support minus this allowed us to clearly assess students on the progress they had made.

In addition to these grades we write qualitative statements detailing milestones they achieve in the lesson and any other info that is relevant and adds value to the grades. Though this has been a step forward from previous assessments, I still felt that tracking students’ progress over the course of three years was difficult and wanted a more quantitive way of doing this.

Since September, I have been trialling a system that gives the students a score based on how independently they achieve the lesson objectives. I have initially used this system for meal preparation where the objectives are repeated for each different meal they create. Each grade has been assigned a score ranging from 1 for S+ to 4 for I+. Grade boundaries have been set for the different levels of support based on these scores. Below is a spreadsheet which shows the lesson objectives which are linked to our competency framework. Each objective is given an overall score which is then added up to give an end of unit grade. The grade boundaries are adjusted accordingly for students who may have missed a week. Also to put people's minds at rest, I focus on two objectives a week but students have opportunities to do the other objectives as they are part of the lesson. (Don't try to cover 10 objectives every lesson!!)

Over the course of the term this system has allowed me to successfully track progress made by students. It also ask gets me to ask questions about those students who might not have made asgood as progress as expected. At the moment my TAs and I are responsible for the assessment of students and we have discussed in depth what each grade would look like for each objective. The next step is to write level descriptors so that this can be shared across the department.

I understand there are some flaws to the system –

  • Students might not be able to demonstrate every objective each lesson.
  • At present, the system is very objective and still based on the assessors’ opinion until grade descriptors are written down.
  • Is it fair to give an average score of their grades, where students might be making more progression towards the end of the unit (though the skills are transferred for each unit, so not as worried about this one)

I know the system is not perfect, but at present it seems to be working. It has given me a much better understanding of the progress that students make across the year so far and I believe will be useful when tracking progress over 3 years. I would be interested to hear how other SEN 6th Forms are tracking students’ progress in Life Skills and how they go about assessment.

Thank you for taking the time to read and please comment on the post – all feedback is greatly appreciated.


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