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Planning for effective assessment

One way to ensure your assessment is effective is to plan for it to be a strong bridge between teaching and learning.

Carefully planned opportunities for assessment support you to understand your pupils’ needs. This will consequently reduce the amount of time that you spend planning as you will have the information to hand as to where you need to take the learning next.

To demonstrate how you might plan for these assessment opportunities, three key points in a lesson have been selected.

  • Assessing prior knowledge Using assessment to check for prior knowledge and pre-existing misconceptions can mean that you are aware of the levels of understanding across the class before you begin; this may impact on what learning you deliver and how.

  • Checking that pupils have met the lesson objective Selecting a question or a task that allows you to assess whether pupils have met the learning objective will support you to assess the levels of understanding across the class and pinpoint any knowledge gaps.

  • Checking for misconceptions and addressing them Anticipating common misconceptions and monitoring pupils as they work can mean that you are able to assess quickly whether a misconception has occurred.

In the following videos, teachers have explained how they maximised some of these moments by carefully planning their assessment to help support their knowledge and understanding of pupils’ needs.

Select the video(s) that you feel are appropriate to your development. You can make notes in your notebook if you wish.

Planned assessment opportunities - Early Years

Video transcript

Assessment is an essential part of Early Years practice, through both adult-led learning and child-initiated learning. Centring your practice on the continual observe, assess, plan model is key to drawing out information about your pupils’ existing knowledge, skills and levels of understanding. This in turn is vital to enable you to respond and know where to take their learning next. Planning in intentional assessment opportunities is particularly useful to minimise your own cognitive load in the moment. This is really important, bearing in mind studies have shown an average teacher makes at least 4 educational decisions every minute. Taking the time to plan for assessment opportunities allows you to pre-consider what I think of as the ‘if… then…’ to move learning forward: if I can see that a child knows or can do a certain thing, what will I then move them on to or how will I pose questions to deepen the thinking, for example.

For these examples of planned assessment opportunities, I’m going to think specifically about the skill of subitising, and how I would plan to assess children’s ability to recognise a quantity of up to 5 objects without counting both in adult-led and child-initiated learning time.

Planned Assessment in adult-led or guided learning

A key opportunity for assessment is to assess prior knowledge and understanding at the beginning of an adult-directed maths lesson. I often use this time to activate some prior learning as a recap or an opportunity for spaced retrieval practice. It is helpful to consider the foundational maths skills children will be drawing upon in their new learning. It can be helpful to give some speedy example and non-examples to elicit understanding of a concept, or to give a partially completed example which the pupils then complete, or a ‘find the error’ example to draw out children’s understanding of mathematical processes or their own reasoning around a concept.

In beginning an adult led session focussed on the objective of being able to subitise a total of up to 5, I might start with a simple ‘Who has more or how many?’ visual task.

I might show photos of children with different die spot amounts as a flashcard comparison task, or start with an activity with different children holding cards.

To assess if any of the children are beginning to subitise, I would then ask the children to show the total using ‘finger throw’. Here I’d observe if the children ‘grow’ or ‘show’ the total: for example: they may grow the number 4… or they may ‘show’ it like this with the automaticity which would demonstrate they are already able to subitise in this context. It could also illuminate if some children are not yet able to accurately count the total, and therefore not ready to move on to learning this skill. Hands down questioning is really helpful here to spotlight on key children.

From a simple starter like this, I can judge whether moving on to subitising is appropriate for the children in the group, or whether they need further support to grasp the concept of more or less and accurate counting or cardinality. I can also decide whether to focus on subitising to 3 as I move the learning on (using 1-3 dice and other resources), up to 5, or whether to extend further (introducing 1-6 dice for example). Through targeted questioning, I might find perhaps some children are ready to be challenged to think about conceptual subitising as they have a secure grasp of perceptual subitising- which I will note to ensure that I can provide appropriate challenge during smaller group work and through enhanced provision for child-initiated learning. I find the simplest and most efficient way to record this sort of assessment is to directly annotate on to my planning. I can then immediately note any amendments I need to make. My planning is most certainly a ‘working document’!

Another opportunity to plan in some purposeful assessment is to consciously check for misconceptions forming in pupil knowledge as you are assessing children’s understanding and pinpointing any gaps in their knowledge and skills. The longer I’ve been teaching the more familiar I’ve become with the common misconceptions that can form in each area of learning, but children can and will continually surprise you, and it is valuable to chat with colleagues to share ideas about what misconceptions could arise. I like to plan to check for potential misconceptions at two points during an adult-led session:

  1. As I am about to start pupils with their independent or guided task. Where I know there is a good chance of a common misconception arising, I will give the children a question to answer which contains the misconception. It is only a quick check, but it helps me get a sense of whether the class is ready to try the independent work or which pupils would benefit from more support.
  2. And then again during the independent/ guided task – I will move around the group of children and target my questioning to a) assess their understanding and b) and look for misconceptions to correct instantly. This may be through 1:1 feedback to a child, or it may involve me stopping the group to re-teach or re-model if I spot a misconception forming for several of the children.

Examples of key misconception points I’d be focusing on when teaching children to subitise would be:

  • Are children recognising the quantity through the familiar repetition (e.g. on die/domino/numicon shape/simple pictorial representation or are they in fact counting, replying on their 1:1 correspondence counting skills?
  • Are the children correctly subitising only when the cardinal value is equal to their own age? Young children have powerful visual memories and some find it easier to remember images than words: children in the Early Years often demonstrate attachment to the number corresponding with their age. Three-year-olds can recognise three things, although they may not say the word. In assessing pupils, I would want to ensure that a child was not simply relying on a mental image of 4 because they were that age, but that they were in fact able to subitise other small numbers. This is what will help children to build images for numbers, to visualise and learn number facts, and to understand the cardinal value or ‘howmanyness’ of the number.

Planned Assessment in child-led learning

The learning I observe in my adult-led sessions is key to my ongoing assessment and planning for the children’s next steps, however it is only one part of the puzzle to build up an accurate picture of the child’s learning journey. A true measure of mastery can be seen when a child can independently apply their knowledge and demonstrate their understanding in their self-directed learning. To enable my assessment of children across the provision, the learning environment is carefully evaluated and planned to provide opportunities which reflect the pupils’ interests, their strengths and next steps in their learning and development. To this end, I would also plan to capture ‘wow’ moments which show key progress for a pupil as they interact with resources across the provision. To focus my own attention, particularly for children if I am unsure of how securely they have understood a concept, or for children I may have concerns about, it can also help to identify key children to interact with and carefully observe in their child-initiated learning time.

Evidence captured of observations may include:

  • Observed play using die, in which a child instantly recognises the total spots on the die they’ve rolled and jumps to the corresponding amount on the outdoor snakes and ladders board (where previously I’ve noticed them counting each spot on the die each turn)
  • A child immediately recognising that there are not enough apples for all three children at the snack table, without counting the pieces of fruit
  • A video of a recorded conversation between me and a child in which they have been comparing these dot pattern images and have recognised the total of 5 automatically despite the more abstract representations. The recording, and any observation notes, could capture how the child has shown, through their own reasoning, an awareness of the subgroups within 5. The child may have commented on their part-whole visualisation: for example, the first one looks like 5 on the dice but in the second one there are two dots on the top and three at the bottom which makes 5.

This evidence is only recorded when it is necessary. My knowledge of the children and my annotated planning to capture assessment and any work children have completed build a broad sense of the child’s strengths and areas to further develop. Where assessment is captured, however, I am then able to look back at this evidence at a later date with children and with their parents, allowing for children to reflect on their own learning which can often further support my assessment of their knowledge, skills and understanding as well as strengthening the children’s self-regulation and metacognition skills.

Planned assessment opportunities - Primary

Video transcript

Assessment is an essential part of every lesson. It gives you information about your pupil’s levels of understanding and needs and helps you to know how to respond and where to take the learning next. When I first started teaching, I probably didn’t assess as regularly throughout the lesson as I would do now. Assessment would mainly take the form of questioning and then reviewing of pupil work after the lesson. Now it is something that is constantly ongoing, but there are some more natural places to pause during a lesson and plan some intentional assessment opportunities.

A key opportunity for assessment is the beginning of the lesson, and I often use this time to activate prior learning from either the day before, as a recap, or a week or so ago, as more of a spaced /retrieval practice. Depending on how recently we learnt the topic, I often like to give a partially completed example which the pupils then complete, or a ‘find the error’ example where they find my mistake. I find these really help focus pupil thinking back to the topic knowledge and specifically the process and steps that they need to implement in order to solve the problem. An example from literacy might be something like this:

Correct Mr Sulivan’s grammar mistakes: Walking through the viallage , sarah spotted some yellow ducklings on there own in the pond sarah new that they must only be days old and that mabye their mother had flown of to find some food for them

I often put common misconceptions or mistakes pupils usually make. Spelling of the word ‘maybe’ as ‘mabye’, and missing capital letter of proper nouns is really common.

Another opportunity to plan in some purposeful assessment is to consciously check for misconceptions forming in pupil knowledge. I have been teaching for over 10 years now, so I am more familiar with the types of misconceptions that can happen in each subject, but at the start of my career I found it really valuable to chat with experienced colleagues if I ever felt I wasn’t sure what misconceptions could arise. I like to plan to check for potential misconceptions at two points in the lesson:

  1. As I am about to set pupils to their independent and guided task and
  2. During the independent/ guided task – I will move around the room and look for misconceptions to correct instantly. This may involve me stopping the whole class if I spot a misconception forming in several pupils’ work.

I don’t do this for every lesson, but where I know there is a good chance of a common misconception arising, I will give the class a question to answer which contains that misconception. It is only a quick check, but it helps me get a sense of whether the class is ready to try the independent work or which pupils would benefit from more support.

An example of this would be:

Which sentence contains the correctly placed apostrophe? A – The pupils’ in the class were ready to learn. B – The pupils in the class were ready to learn. C – The pupil’s in the class were ready to learn. How do you know?

I find it helpful to anticipate potential misconceptions and be conscious and explicit about them when I teach.

Planned assessment opportunities - Secondary

Video transcript

Assessment is an essential part of every lesson and should be present throughout. Although, the form in which it takes place may vary depending on the stage of pupils’ learning and the tasks they are completing. Without assessment, lessons cannot identify and address pupils’ needs.

In a series of lessons, we were looking at the issue of the development gap. The development gap is the difference in levels of development between the richest and poorest countries in the world. I wanted to plan an opportunity to assess whether pupils could recall the strategies we had previously covered before progressing with new material.

In order to check pupils’ deeper understanding, I planned to ask them to recall one strategy and give an example of how this strategy is used. I knew that by asking them to explain how it is being used, I could uncover any misconceptions they may have about the strategies they recalled. I planned to check their understanding of this at the beginning of a lesson where the outcome was for pupils to evaluate the success of strategies used to reduce the development gap. I knew that they needed the prior knowledge of what different strategies could be used, before they could evaluate their success.

I embedded retrieval practice into the beginning of the lesson with a settling task which pupils had to complete as soon as they entered the lesson. This retrieval practice would give me an insight of how much foundational knowledge the pupils could recall from the previous lesson.

I planned to further assess pupils through question and answer, probing for additional information to gain a deeper understanding of how these strategies work, why they might be used and how successful they have been in closing the development gap. I then addressed any misconceptions prior to moving on to the next part of the lesson, which was an explanation of how to evaluate the strategies. Here I planned to show an example answer to demonstrate the structure of writing required to answer an ‘evaluate’ question.

During this explanation, I planned to assess pupils’ learning through question and answer to ensure I gave them enough support before instructing them to complete the task. During the task, I planned to assess their ability to evaluate the strategies using the correct writing structure through live marking.

This is where the teacher moves around the class while the pupils are individually working to assess understanding while pupils are completing a task. I find this form of assessment highly impactful because misunderstandings can be addressed immediately through face to face feedback meaning further explanation or challenge can be given to the pupils as they need it. When implementing live marking, I would always check pupils who have demonstrated a weaker understanding first to provide further support if necessary. Planning assessment throughout my lessons in this way has a positive impact on pupil learning as no time is lost through lack of understanding. Any lack of knowledge or understanding that does become apparent can be remedied immediately or planned into following lessons. Because of this, pupils make good progress.

Questions to consider

Think back to a previous lesson you have taught. What methods did you use to assess the following?

  • assessing prior knowledge
  • checking that pupils have met the lesson objective
  • checking for misconceptions and addressing them

Could you include any of the methods you have heard from fellow teachers into your practice?

Anticipating misconceptions

When planning for effective assessment, all teachers in the previous section mentioned questioning and the planning of questions to check for pupil understanding at points across the lesson.

Effective questioning was explored in detail in module 3. Below are some of the key features highlighted in that module that should be incorporated into your questioning.

  • Avoid self-report questions; ask questions that directly assess pupil understanding of the material being taught
  • Check whole class understanding
  • Provide appropriate wait time after asking a question to allow pupils to generate a response

Structuring your questions to enable the identification of knowledge gaps and misconceptions is a good use of planning time. It will mean that you gather information at key points in the lesson that will help you decide what to do next.

A question type that can be a useful tool for identifying knowledge gaps and misconceptions is a hinge question. A hinge question can take the form of an individual question or multiple-choice question, and they are a check for understanding that allows you to gather assessment information from the whole class simultaneously. The reason they are called a hinge question is that they come at the ‘hinge-point’ of the lesson. This is a point where:

  1. you move from one key idea, task or learning point to another.
  2. understanding the content before the hinge is a prerequisite for the next part of the lesson.

The results of the hinge question will determine whether you move on to the next chunk of learning, or work to consolidate, practise or reteach the previous concept further. They are also very useful for helping you to determine whether a pupil has met the lesson objective or not.

Hinge question example

Here is an example of a hinge question for a primary science lesson.

Which of the following is true about the moon?

  • it reflects light
  • it orbits the earth
  • it can’t be seen during the day because there is too much light
  • it has no gravity

This is an effective hinge question because:

  • the question allows the teacher to ascertain a snapshot of all pupils’ levels of understanding
  • it enables the teacher to be highly responsive to pupil needs and make a quick decision about next steps
  • the question would also not take long for the pupils to responds to and would not impact the pace of a lesson

Anticipating misconceptions

One useful feature of hinge questions, particularly those structured as a multiple-choice question, is that they can be designed to anticipate and monitor potential misconceptions in pupil understanding.

Let’s look back at the example of the hinge-question above. If you look carefully at the potential answers, the teacher has designed them to include distracting options that, if selected by pupils, might highlight some of the common misconceptions in pupil thinking around this topic:

  • it reflects light. The common misconception being that moon is a source of light
  • it orbits the earth. The common misconception being that the earth orbits the moon
  • it can’t be seen during the day because there is too much light. The common misconception being that moon only comes out at night
  • it has no gravity. This itself being the common misconception

Through carefully planning the questions, and aligning the possible answers to a common misconception, the teacher has been able to capture a large amount of useful assessment information from every pupil in the class. This information will enable them to make an informed decision about what steps to take next in teaching and learning.

A hinge point question is designed to be a quick and accurate snapshot of understanding from all pupils. However, you should encourage pupils to share their emerging understanding and points of confusion, so that misconceptions can be addressed. Your follow up questions should be open, such as ‘why did you answer D?’ or ‘Can you explain your thinking further?’

In the clip below, you will see a primary teacher ask a hinge question around money. From the way he has designed the task and asked the question, it is evident that he has anticipated the class may have a misconception around coin size. In asking this question, and through the subsequent class discussion, he is attempting to address this misconception before independent practice begins.

Anticipating misconceptions - Reach Academy

If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Anticipating misconceptions - Reach Academy [AD]

Encouraging deeper thinking

A concern sometimes voiced over multiple choice questions is that they are highly effective at assessing some knowledge, but less effective at assessing higher order thinking skills.

An example to counteract this argument can be seen in the following question.

Which of these is the most immediate cause of Hitler becoming chancellor?

  • Nazi violence intimidated many voters and opponents
  • Schleicher’s authority collapsed
  • Hindenburg and Von Papen believed they could control Hitler as chancellor

With each answer being a correct cause of Hitler becoming chancellor, the question encourages deeper thinking, taking away a pupil’s immediate desire to identify the correct answer and move on, and instead prompting them to examine their knowledge and identify which answer was the most immediate cause.

Pedagogical subject knowledge

Structuring your questions to anticipate and identify misconceptions will not only give you useful assessment information on your pupils’ knowledge and understanding, but it can be a useful barometer as to your own level of understanding of a concept.

The ease with which you can anticipate a misconception is directly related to how familiar you are with the subject matter. Being aware of common misconceptions and discussing with experienced colleagues how to help pupils master important concepts should be an ongoing exercise for you in your early teaching career.

Structuring questions to enable to enable the identification of knowledge


To consolidate your learning from this session, complete the two short activities below to support your recall of key concepts.

Activity 1

Consider the following hinge-question.

Identify the verb in this sentence: Claire walked her dog quickly past the spooky house.

In your notepad, outline whether you think this is an effective hinge-question and why.

{Details} Hinge-question feedback

It is an effective hinge question because it can be answered quickly, it will allow the teacher to gather assessment information from the whole class at once, the other question options are plausible, and it would highlight misconceptions in pupil thinking. {/Details}

Activity 2

Select an upcoming lesson and identify a hinge-point within the lesson.

Design an effective hinge question that you could ask at this point in the lesson that will help you identify the next steps in teaching and learning.

Ensure that:

  • pupils should be able to give an answer to the question quickly (two minutes or less)
  • you have included common misconceptions You may wish to discuss the construction of this question at your next mentor interaction.

The focus of your next observation and mentor interaction will be around how you structure your tasks and questions to enable the identification of knowledge gaps and misconceptions.