IEA | Research | Assessment Insider | Case studies | Sarah Hockey
Realigning Teaching and Assessment in Food Technology
Author: Sarah Hockey
The challenges in aligning teaching and assessment practices with the Australian curriculum can be overcome with some creative thinking. Such thinking has allowed for greater differentiation in the assessment of student learning in the Food Technology area within the focus school, and is creating deeper thinking about how curriculum and assessment is conceptualised. This deeper thinking is then leading to discussions around feedback and reporting of student learning, and how differentiation is incorporated within these practices.
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The context for the case study is a Reception to Year 12 dual campus independent school located in a regional area. Enrollments in the middle school and senior school are small meaning that some faculty areas often only involve one or two members of staff. Challenges exist regarding the consistency in assessment practices in the College as only the core learning areas are currently following the Australian Curriculum and reporting policies are yet to align with the Australian curriculum learning outcomes. Curriculum for the subjects not aligned with the Australian Curriculum are currently under review, for teaching in 2017.
Access to learning support is reduced in the middle and secondary schools, which means teachers are required to offer curriculum and assessment that caters for a variety of learning styles and needs. There are a small group of middle school students who are withdrawn from mainstream classes on a weekly basis to work on 'life skills', but otherwise are expected to be actively engaged in the regular curriculum. Teachers make modifications to curriculum for these students in consultation with the students themselves, members of leadership, learning support workers and parents. This process expects staff members to have the skills and knowledge to effectively differentiate their assessment appropriately. On the other end of the scale, there are also a small group of students who are withdrawn from regular classes for an 'enrichment' program. This program is not aligned to any particular learning area, but has been created to foster creative and higher order thinking skills to benefit students across all subjects. Again, when in the regular classroom, these students are then expected to be following the mainstream curriculum and individual teachers are expected to 'stretch' these students accordingly.
Focus of research
The focus area for this case study will be the Food Technology faculty. They meet as a small group once a fortnight to reflect on teaching and assessment practices and to develop curriculum. It is anticipated that by the end of 2016 they will have aligned the subject to the Australian Curriculum. Food Technology is one of the unique subjects that fall under two learning areas of the Australian Curriculum: Design and Technologies, and Health and Physical Education. The move into the Design and Technologies learning area requires a major adjustment to what is currently being taught, where the focus has been predominately on the outcomes of the Health and Physical Education curriculum in terms of healthy eating and lifestyles. The Design and Technologies learning area places a lot of emphasis on the design cycle, which encourages students to work through the process of investigating, designing, producing and evaluating.
Current assessment practices in the practical component of these courses are reasonably effective as students receive regular and immediate feedback on their success in practical activities. Students are encouraged to use self-evaluation processes to determine how and why their products have turned out as they have. There is also a lot of immediate teacher feedback provided about specific practical skills, as well as the ability to work safely and hygienically. To consolidate this assessment of practical lessons, staff should explore ways this area of assessment could be differentiated for students with different levels of practical experience.
The main area for development and enhancement for this focus group is in the assessment of practical knowledge and understanding. Unfortunately, a large barrier to this aspect of the curriculum is the minimal amount of time scheduled in the weekly timetable for what are referred to as 'elective' subjects. A 90-minute period per week for Year 8 and Year 9 Food Technology limits the scope of the course. As this is an external parameter that at this stage cannot be changed, the focus of this case study will be to encourage members of the faculty to develop their course so that more effective learning and assessment can take place, regardless of the time that has been allocated to the subject.
Professional learning implementation
The professional learning sequence aims to enhance the knowledge and skill about assessment in designing, developing and implementing assessment activities in middle and senior school Food Technology courses. The professional learning will occur over a period of one school term, with meetings held once a fortnight. The expectation is that at the end of the process, each member of faculty will have a range of assessment activities that meet the many and varied needs of their students and that align to the Australian Curriculum.
To make the process more efficient, staff will be asked to bring in tasks they already use in their classrooms. This will mean they are familiar with the task and the degree to which outcomes tend to be met. These tasks will then be adapted to enhance alignment with the Australian Curriculum and to ensure that they are effectively differentiated. To achieve this, staff will be encouraged to look at the language in their questions and analyse them critically to ensure they can be answered at both a basic, modified level, and also increase the opportunity for the more capable students to achieve an 'A' standard. Teachers will then look at how this work is assessed, and how students will receive feedback on the work they have done.
As discussed by Hattie and Timperley (2007), 'feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement', but it is important that this feedback is provided in a suitable format. Given that the main purpose of feedback is to 'reduce the discrepancy between current and desired understanding' it is important that it is specific to each individual student and focuses on what they have done right rather than what they have misunderstood (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). It is also vital that students are given the opportunity to be working within their zone of proximal development and be 'held to high expectations' regardless of what level they are at (Moon, n.d.).
One method of feedback that provides these opportunities is the use of rubrics to assess student achievement. Staff will work together to develop rubrics that are clear and concise so that students are able to understand and respond to the feedback provided, and to ensure that the assessment is aligned with learning goals (Moon, n.d.). Wadham (cited in Airasian & Russell, 2008) explains that rubrics are an effective assessment tool as they provide a set of clear expectations or criteria and help develop a common understanding of what is valued in the task. 'Rubrics are documents that describe varying levels of performance from excellent to poor and show where on that scale a student is achieving a particular learning standards, goal, or objective' (Wadham, cited in Airasian & Russell, 2008). Additionally, rubrics are an efficient way of providing effective feedback, keeping in mind that differentiation needs to be manageable (Tomlinson, 2011).
Findings and recommendations
As a result of the case study, Food Technology curriculum and assessment tasks were re-designed to enable more opportunities to provide relevant feedback, allow for more differentiation, and to ensure greater alignment with the Australian Curriculum. The case study certainly had an impact on the work happening in the classroom. As a result of improved task and assessment design, students were given more flexibility to meet outcomes in a variety of formats, and at a level suitable to their individual learning needs. However, there is still room for improvement; there are now structures in place to ensure staff members have time to reflect on the success of particular tasks and to make relevant adjustments as required.
To build on the success of the work on improving assessment practices to date, it is recommended that future work in this area focuses on reporting procedures. Formal reports are the main form of communication between teachers and parents in regard to student progress and outcomes. In the current context reporting of 'elective' subjects is not aligned to the Australian Curriculum and, at best, provides a summary of the topics covered and general classroom behaviour. To give the reporting process greater value, emphasis needs to be much more student specific and provide feedback about how to further develop the relevant learning outcomes in specific learning areas.
Participation in the Certified Educational Assessors Course has allowed time for dedicated self-reflection. Having taught in the same learning area for a number of years, the academic readings and professional discussions that occurred during workshops led to the adjustment of a number of assessment tasks to ensure that individual learning needs were being better addressed. A particular focus involved extending tasks to ensure that students have a greater opportunity to achieve 'A' standard results through a better understanding of a wider range of assessment concepts and principles.
Knowledge and skills gained as a result of completing the course also led to taking on more of a leadership role in curriculum development in the College. A lot of time was spent with colleagues reflecting on their teaching practices and possible ways of improving assessment practices. Of particular interest were other subjects falling under the Design and Technologies learning area, such as Home Economics as it has traditionally been taught, and moved away from, the Health and Physical Education learning area. Work was also done with staff from the Junior School as they are now incorporating the Design and Technologies framework into their courses.
- Airasian, P. W., & Russell, M. K. (2008). Classroom assessment: Concepts and applications.
- Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 81-112.
- Moon, T (n.d.). The Role of Assessment in Differentiation. Theory into Practice, 44(3), 226-233.
- Tomlinson, C. A. (2011). The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.