Research School Network: Diagnostic assessment in primary literacy The EEF’s Caroline Bilton explains how to make effective use of diagnostic assessment in primary literacy teaching.


Diagnostic assessment in primary literacy

The EEF’s Caroline Bilton explains how to make effective use of diagnostic assessment in primary literacy teaching.

by Research Schools Network
on the

I’m listening to children read and talking to them’. 

When asked, what are you doing about assessment now your schools are fully open again?’, almost every English lead gave this same answer.

Is this the most important lesson we learnt from our work to identify new starting points for children post lockdown 1?

Whilst we know summative and formal assessment have their place in the classroom, time spent administering and marking numerous formal assessments may have proved to be less valuable than anticipated. Assessment that informs teaching, and responds to the needs of children, is a vital tool for recovery.

The suite of EEF literacy guidance reports recommend that teaching and learning is based on high quality information, collected through observation and assessment. This information about the child should be built over time and include observations in a range of settings and, where appropriate, a range of different assessment types.

Recommendation 7 of Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 reminds us that teaching should respond to the changing needs of children. This requires teachers to collect accurate and up-to-date information about pupils’ current capabilities so that they can adapt their teaching to focus on exactly what each pupil needs to progress.

Effective diagnosis of need — a classroom based worked example

Ongoing formative assessment during class teaching: A class teacher is concerned about a child who, when asked questions about what they have read independently, often answers I don’t know’ or I can’t remember’. The child can decode all the words they encounter. They also appear to have good understanding of the individual words read.

Further individual assessment: On further investigation, when the child is reading aloud to the class teacher, it is noted that they lack appropriate phrasing or interest in what they are reading. The teacher asks the child to continue reading aloud and counts the number of words per minute. Whilst the child can decode the words in the text, the rate at which they are reading is significantly below the number expected in Year 3. They are also struggling with appropriate expression, pace, and smoothness, including a difficulty chunking words into meaningful units.

Effective diagnosis: From whole class to individual observation and assessment, the teacher now has enough information to add a focus on reading fluency to literacy teaching.

Action: The EEF Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2 guidance report recommends supporting pupils to develop fluent reading capabilities. It suggests that most pupils will benefit from being explicitly taught rather than just being encouraged to practise individually.

Using this advice, the class teacher plans a series of actions to support the child’s progress with reading fluency.

They include:

• the use of repeated reading of texts in class; parental support with this is also encouraged.
• increased opportunities to develop fluency through modelled reading — whole class and peer groups.
• enlarged copies of texts on the interactive board in the classroom allowing children to follow the text as it is read aloud.
• Cross-curricular opportunities to develop reading fluency when singing in music lessons.
• choral reading using multiple copies of texts.

The teacher decides these strategies, alongside any short opportunities for individual reading with feedback, are an appropriate set of actions to begin to address the issue identified. Ongoing regular monitoring of progress is also undertaken.

This worked example highlights that the process of identifying need is ongoing. It is reliant on the teacher weaving assessment into all teaching, and adult-child interactions, within and beyond the classroom. Even time spent on playground duty may offer a valuable piece of the jigsaw!

This process should not be hurried, there is every reason to explore slowly and carefully. We may consider that there are gaps only to find that with support and practise comes greater confidence and fluency. Looking for strengths which can prove to be vital foundations for new learning is an essential aspect of this too.

As always, it is high-quality teaching with assessment woven through it, which will support the work of teachers, and the efforts of children and families to succeed and recover in these challenging times.

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