When entering a class at the beginning of the year
When entering a class at the beginning of the year, we will know what we are teaching but not yet who we are teaching. It stands to reason that in a class of 20 individuals, despite being of similar age, no two pupils will be on exactly the same academic standard; no two pupils will have the same background knowledge, experience or skills. Aside for this, different people have individual learning styles; some are more visual (prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding), some aural (prefer using sound and music), some verbal (prefer using words, both in speech and writing), some physical (kinaesthetic – prefer using body, hands and sense of touch), some are more logical, some social and some prefer to work alone. If we want to reach every pupil and help them to be successful, we need to tap in to their individual strengths. In a cohort of 20 learners, there is usually at least one who has ADD (Attention deficit disorder), and perhaps also one on the Autistic spectrum, coming up from the previous year with their own IEP (individualised education program). These pupils are, in a sense, easier to prepare for because there will be a history with individually tried and tested methods for managing their learning and behaviour that will follow them through their school life. But then there is the actual differentiation, and getting it on the right level, that will be the challenge.
“Initial assessment is a process designed to create an interesting and relevant programme of study for your learners”. (Wilson, 2014 pg61) It is an important tool to find out about the personality of the learners, as well as identifying their skill gaps and measures their level at the start of the year. Initial assessment gives an overall idea of level, e.g. ‘working towards Level 1’. It is a holistic process, during which you start to build up a picture of a learner’s achievements, skills, interests, previous learning experiences and goals, and the learning needs associated with those goals. Diagnostic assessment helps to identify specific learning strengths and needs. It determines learning targets as well as appropriate teaching and learning strategies to achieve them. Diagnostic assessment looks at specific skills within the level and may also highlight the need for a more specialised assessment, e.g. for dyslexia.
Equally important, is the necessity to ‘inform learners of their current ability and development needs’ (Machin, 2016 pg67). It is crucial for the learners to know themselves, understand their strengths and skills, as well as having knowledge as to what level they are on at the beginning of the year when the initial and diagnostic assessment is done. This self-awareness will encourage the learners to work together with their teachers to achieve their maximum potential.