The raw material of assessment is ‘evidence’ of learning.  Gathering and interpreting evidence, then using it to improve future learning is called assessment for learning (AfL).

The different ways in which evidence is collected and the degree to which it is used immediately or saved (recorded) for future use are both aspects closely related to the teaching approaches in use.

Evidence derived from ‘process-based’ teaching and learning, as described by Imray and Hinchcliffe, (2014) can be said to arise ‘naturally’ from teacher/learner interactions.  This is typified by intensive interaction (Nind and Hewitt, 1994) where the teaching response is continuously modified according to evidence of the learner’s interests and actions. Throughout the session, evidence (potentially of any kind) is registered, interpreted and acted upon immediately by the ‘teacher’ in a ‘real-time’ and exploratory fashion.

Evidence also emerges from the less ‘intensive’ experiences on offer to learners across the curriculum and throughout the day. As well as what is first-hand and classroom-based, some of this evidence will come from observations reported to members of the teaching team by others in school (such as dinner staff) or members of the family. With so much evidence potentially available, it has to be filtered so that what is selected and retained is likely to be what seems new, different, surprising or revealing.  It is not always possible to act immediately upon such insights so they need to be recorded in some way, perhaps in a diary format, if they are not to be forgotten.

Where teaching is directed towards more specific goals – for instance ‘learning intentions’, targets within an individual education plan (IEP), or outcomes specified in a curriculum topic or unit, the degree to which evidence is filtered or selected may be much greater. This is because the focus of attention is likely to be more narrowly on evidence which relates to the particular goals being sought. In addition, equipment, structure and support may all have been carefully selected or controlled in order to elicit a particular response from the learner. The recording format may also be more formally tailored to the purpose.

Sometimes, a deliberate decision may be taken to observe a learner or an activity in a particular way. The method of observation and recording might then both be very tightly defined in order to elicit and note very specific evidence. Examples are the use of ‘time-sampling’, frequency-counting, or a schedule such as the Affective Communication Assessment (Coupe O’ Kane and Goldbart, 1998).

Use of a video or digital camera for the purpose of capturing evidence can support a naturalistic approach or capture something more specific or elicited.  Framing the action so that what matters is shown and controlling the camera itself usually demand some attention from a member of the teaching team so this may have an impact on teaching and learning, changing it to some extent from the norm. Imray and Hinchcliffe believe “there is an extremely strong case for … a static and permanent digital camera that can view the whole class .. for any and all classrooms involving pupils with SLD and PMLD” (Imray & Hinchcliffe, 2014, p.38). Many might consider this intrusive but from a more practical perspective a wide-angle lens, (which they recommend) trained on the ‘whole class’, whilst providing a record of what happened in class, is unlikely to capture nuances such as the facial expressions of an individual even if s/he does happen to be facing the camera at the right moment.

In the dominant assessment paradigm, a source of evidence is still seen as being primarily an educational ‘product’ of some kind – typically, the written response to a test, a drawing, a ‘piece of work’ or an answer to a question.   However, in the case of learners with PMLD, evidence in the form of a ‘product’ is rarely obtainable.

Photographs may be favoured as a means of ‘evidencing’ what learners have done (an approach much used in creating portfolios for ‘accreditation’).  Undoubtedly, photographs can help parents to understand what their child does in school but the pursuit of photographic evidence can mean that the focus of the team shifts away from AfL (using evidence to promote the learner’s future learning) towards merely providing proof that they did something or ‘covered’ prescribed content. ‘Work scrutiny’, a method of examining evidence for external accountibility, betrays a similar focus on product and is sometimes inappropriately extended to special schools and specialist settings by those not familiar with PMLD

For learners with PMLD, a photo may do no more than demonstrate that they were present for the experience.  Although a facial expression or body language might reveal something about the learner’s response, these clues are often very difficult to discern when a child or young person has PMLD, and they can be misleading.  The trouble with evidence in the form of a photographic ‘product’ is that it is momentary (literally a ‘snapshot’) and the ‘process’ of learning we are seeking to evidence invariably extends beyond it (in both directions).

This is not to say that photographs and video clips are not useful and important but neither they nor any other form of evidence can stand alone and be educationally enlightening.  There will always need to be a narrative of some kind which provides context and clarifies its significance.  It is the narrative that matters most.

Creating a narrative takes time and requires attention which cannot then be maintained on the teaching and learning.  Various strategies exist for addressing this dilemma. The use of ‘post-it’ stickers is widespread and effective. Not only can a brief record be made on a post-it, but records can then be moved easily (sorted, categorised or filed by individual learner, curriculum area or learning intention).   Several apps are now available for the computer and tablet to facilitate capture of photographs or video together with a short accompanying narrative.  It may often be unrealistic to compose a meaningful narrative when something important has just occurred. Recording may therefore have to be delayed to some degree.  There is an advantage, though, in that this provides time for the teacher (or member of the teaching team) to process what has occurred and to reflect on what it signifies.


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