Assessments: helpful or a hindrance

Educational institutes around the world use assessment to measure student performance and learning outcomes, with international assessments such as PISA gaining increasing popularity. Much debate has taken place about the genuine value of assessment, from primary assessments to international tests like PISA. So, is testing really helpful to students? Or does it get in the way of learning? We decided to investigate.


What is assessment and why do we need it?

Often, assessment is confused with testing. Testing is just one form of assessment. Students can also be assessed by various methods such as project-based learning and phenomenon-based learning.


Assessment is an important part of education, helping policymakers and industry thought leaders determine whether curriculum goals are being met. Assessment is the baseline against which decisions about learning outcomes, educational policies, curriculum standards and, yes, even funding are made. In short, its importance hinges on the fact that it provides measurable results.


Is assessment helpful?

While assessment is invaluable to policymakers and educators, the real question stands: is it helpful to students and teachers? The answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why:

  • Assessment helps educators determine if learning goals are being met.
  • Assessment helps us understand the efficiency of the latest pedagogies and teaching methods.
  • Assessment identifies students who are struggling academically, allowing schools and educators to provide them with extra support.
  • Schools need support too. Assessment can help policymakers to identify schools that need extra funding for professional development or classroom supplies etc. For example, reports show that only 19% of low-income students met the ACT test benchmarks.
  • Assessment also helps teachers develop achievement goals when planning their lessons.


So when does assessment become a hindrance?

The biggest concern with assessment is the competitive pressure nations put on their schools and teachers to get better scores. When educators and nations begin to use test results as a source of competition rather than growth, they unwittingly skew the basic purpose of assessing students, which is to evaluate their progress and support them in overcoming their weaknesses.


Another trend stemming from international testing is the tendency to blame teachers for poor test outcomes. Teachers form the backbone of educational systems, often working long hours beyond their working days to help support students. The purpose of tests like PISA ought to be to ultimately support teachers and help them manage their workloads. However, parental and social expectations often lead to criticism of teaching styles or methods, casting doubt on teachers’ ability to do their jobs well. This, in turn, translates into teachers quitting their jobs and/or a drop in teacher recruitment.


Assessment can work incredibly well when it is used to evaluate learning goals and progression. It only becomes a hindrance when it is used to bring down teacher morale and put pressure on schools to compete with other others around the world.

To Do

Life of a teacher

A teacher can play many roles in their lifetime. The ancients used to rever their educators, with many historical societies sending their children off to live with teachers for years. Teachers thus played the role of parent, guide and educator, all in one. The modern student may not live with their teacher, but the modern teacher’s role isn’t vastly different to their predecessors – only the context has changed.


“If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.” – Barbara Colorose


Much of a teacher’s job involves observing: recognising those who need a helping hand and those who need a patient ear. Colorose’s words resonate with many teachers who reach out to children with dysfunctional backgrounds. There are teachers in the world who work in war-torn countries, and those who teach in remote parts of the world where children struggle to eat. Some teachers manage classrooms bursting with boisterous children, and some spend hours and hours a week on lesson plans to stay ahead of schedule – only to have to start all over again when the format changes without notice. There are also teachers dedicated to working with children with learning difficulties. Each of them are equally important, and we’ve put together a list of 8 aspects of a teacher’s life to acknowledge their important contributions to education.


1. Parenting.

Most kids spend three-quarters of their waking hours in school with their teachers. Many teachers therefore take on several responsibilities associated with being a parent, whether it’s the simple things – such as teaching children good manners and respect – or the more complicated ones, such as looking out for their physical and mental well-being or keeping an eye out for hidden signs of distress.

Most kids spend three-quarters of their waking hours in school with their teachers. Many teachers therefore take on several responsibilities associated with being a parent, whether it’s the simple things – such as teaching children good manners and respect – or the more complicated ones, such as looking out for their physical and mental well-being or keeping an eye out for hidden signs of distress.


2. Managing patience.

Teachers tend to run a daily marathon in terms of patience. This doesn’t just apply to the students, though ‒ teachers have to deal with ever-changing state, educational and school policies; they have to cope with the possibility of sacrificing yet another weekend to lesson planning, they have to accept that there’s no space in the budget for the school trip they spent weeks planning; they have to deal with parental expectations… The list goes on.


3. Multitasking.

All teachers juggle multiple tasks every single day. Primary teachers, in particular, have to teach several subjects, which means extensive lesson planning along with huge amounts of marking and feedback. Often, this results in teachers covering subjects or areas that they have little to no experience in. Which takes us to the next point…


4. Learning on the go.

Teaching a subject requires you to learn first: no teacher is born with a knowledge bank that stretches from photosynthesis to classroom pedagogy. Researching the subjects to be taught involves a lot of study and continuing professional development (CPD) sessions.


5. Protector.

A role most people often don’t associate with teachers, and yet many teachers are natural protectors of their students: they not only take care of their students’ intellect and mental wellbeing, but also their safety. In the simplest scenarios, this involves making sure students cross the road safely on a class trip and wear appropriate safety equipment during science experiments. Unfortunately, sometimes this responsibility can stretch to safeguarding a student from school bullies or even from an abusive parent.


6. Low pay, high pressure.

Ask any teacher and you will learn that they work far more than their scheduled hours and way beyond their job descriptions – all without overtime. They bear the pressure from state policies, educational reforms, school policies, parental expectations and their own personal lives. Add this to the fact that most teaching jobs are notoriously poorly paid, and you can see that finding success as a teacher is often a labour of love and determination.


7. The power to change lives.

Katherine Johnson – the woman responsible for manually calculating the trajectory of the first spaceship launch, and many further NASA missions – was influenced by her school geometry teacher and her college professor. Both encouraged her and guided her towards success in life. Luckily, Johnson is just one example of many. Studies continue to show the profound influence teachers have on their students when it comes to choosing careers.

Katherine Johnson – the woman responsible for manually calculating the trajectory of the first spaceship launch, and many further NASA missions – was influenced by her school geometry teacher and her college professor. Both encouraged her and guided her towards success in life. Luckily, Johnson is just one example of many. Studies continue to show the profound influence teachers have on their students when it comes to choosing careers.


8. Little glory.

Let’s face it, there are no accolades to being a teacher. There are no songs sung, no trumpets blown, and the movies don’t even come close to what it’s really like to be a teacher. And yet it’s one of the most influential jobs in the world. The next time you question if it’s all worth it, though, do remember you have a whole office full of people at Twig Education who are always rooting for you!

Front View Of A Cute Boy Doing Yoga On A Bench

Five ways to help you (and your students!) remember things

The importance of formalised assessment tests in recent years has led to a competitive race between nations to get top marks. How does this affect students who are already struggling with examinations and the pressure to do well? There’s now evidence pointing to the rise in exam stress and mental problems among primary school students sitting exams.


A lot of examination stress stems from the sheer pressure to do well – and, as a result, many students experience temporary memory block during exams, where they struggle to remember what they have learnt. People also often have trouble remembering things because memory is related to concentration, which means that multitasking can actually lead to forgetfulness. With this in mind, it would hardly be surprising to learn that many teachers suffer a certain degree of forgetfulness: they deal with tremendous pressure, mounting workloads, student concerns and parental expectations, a host of administrative duties, lesson planning and preparation, and marking. Teachers are constantly juggling several things at once. While we can’t really reduce the amount we need to memorise on a day-to-day basis, we do have some control on how we choose to manage it. Here are five ways to ease the memory load and help your students to remember things too!


1. Visual learning

One study conducted by neuroscientists at MIT shows that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds – the first evidence of such rapid processing speed. There’s also evidence that visuals are directly stored in the long-term memory, as opposed to words, which get stored in the short-term memory. This information, coupled with the fact that nearly 65% of the population are visual learners, means that integrating visuals can not only help us learn better but faster. There are several ways we can integrate visual learning, such as by using images or drawing pictures, but the easiest is through educational films. It makes a great revision tool too, as long as the visual content is in line with what you’re reading.

2. Memory tree

Here’s what we know: it’s easier to remember a lot of information when it is broken down into a number of much smaller pieces of information. It’s also easier for the brain to take in this information if it’s represented in the form of a diagram (just look at how successful Mindmaps are). Finally, building connections between existing knowledge and new knowledge helps us to learn more effectively. How can we compound this information into one great strategy to improve our memory recall? We use a memory tree! Start with the trunk: draw a basic line or two to mark out a concept, then move on to connect the branches – ideas that are linked to the main concept. Each new idea forms a new branch attached to the trunk. Eventually, as you learn more or read further, you can build on your ideas by attaching leaves to the corresponding branch.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

We are not fans of rote learning, nor do we recommend it. What we do believe in, however, is revision. If students learn information efficiently, a couple of revision sessions should be more than enough to retain that information for a long time. But it is important to choose the right method of revision – too often, educators are kept busy focusing on innovative teaching methods to pay much attention to revision. And if revision is a chore, students won’t do it – or worse, do it in an ineffective manner, wasting their own time. Fortunately, there are easy and fun ways to incorporate revision into the lesson that allows you to gauge how much students have learnt, and serve to reinforce concepts in students’ minds. Educational quizzes, games, classroom discussions and activities are all great examples of revision tools. You can even use educational films again to help the class revise!

4. Practical tasks

As the old Chinese proverb goes: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Converting classroom lessons into hands-on, physical activities is a great way to learn. Educational experts call it kinesthetic learning: learning through physical activities. If your school doesn’t have a large lab to accommodate a myriad of experiments, don’t worry. There are lots of activities that can be done by a simple run around the school backyard or even local trips into the city.

5. Love what you learn

It might sound like a cliché, but we really do remember what we are truly interested in. Ever wonder why you forget phone numbers but can quote your favourite song word for word? It’s entirely down to how much it interests you. So the trick to getting your students to remember scientific facts? Get them to love science. It might not initially seem the easiest thing to do, but the rewards are well worth the effort!
Lynching of bluefin tuna.

Tuna with a side of plastic

Do you think that you would ever consider eating plastic? It turns out that if you eat fish, you probably already do! Currently, studies have shown that a third of fish caught in the UK contains plastic. All plastics are polymers, which means that they don’t ever truly decompose. Instead, they break down into tiny particles called microplastics, which are then consumed by unsuspecting fish and other marine life. In this way, plastic enters the food chain, slowly working its way up to humans.


Why exactly is plastic bad for us?

When plastic breaks down under UV exposure from the sun, it releases certain toxins such as PCBs (carcinogenic pollutants), pesticides and flame retardants into the ocean. The surrounding marine life consumes these microplastics before being consumed in turn by us – so not only are we eating plastics, we are also ingesting the toxins associated with them.


For years there have been worries over the environmental impact plastic has on the environment, and especially on marine animals. Governments all over the world are finally taking measures to curb plastic waste, but it will take more than taxes on plastic bottles and bags to control the damage. As with so many of these problems, the solution lies in awareness and education – and not just with adults, but with children, too. It’s essential that we teach our future generations the importance of sustainability, recycling, and environmental conservation. With our help, they might be able to work towards a solution to our problem with plastic, saving the planet in the process.

Small open book filled with delicate hand made paper cuttings depicting city scene which is lit by sunlight casting shadow of city on white background behind.

Five ways to reimagine your classroom successfully

Education today exists within a paradox. New pedagogies and technology may have ushered in dramatic changes in the classroom, but core structures of classroom teaching remain unchanged and grossly out of date. The internet has changed how we seek out information. It has also changed how young people learn. Standardised tests may make it easy for countries to track educational progress, but they also put a tremendous amount of pressure on students, and in turn on their teachers.


There are creative teachers out there, determined to help their students, but the current system makes it increasingly difficult for them to apply their creativity. The existing school and classroom structures don’t leave much room for imagination, and technology ends up being used just as another superficial tool. Every revolution begins somewhere. While it’s essential that school structures change, there are things that teachers and educators can do in the meantime to help themselves and their students in embracing change and reimagining education.


Here are five ways you can do it now:


1. The difference between the right way and doing it right

For years we have worked with our cemented beliefs on how knowledge should be imparted: a teacher faces a group of students sitting in rows. We’ve always regarded this setup as the right way to do things. However, we forget that students have agency, which has been further enabled by the internet and social media. This means that students now have various means to find information, and at startling speeds. The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage, imparting their wisdom. So how do we do things right? Teachers need to accept a shift in their role. With so much information on the internet available for students, it’s sometimes difficult to make sure that what they read is always accurate. This is where teachers need to guide students towards reliable, well-known sources of knowledge, teaching them to draw their own logical conclusions. Learning how to use technology correctly has never been more important.


2. Focus on goals rather than method

We know every person learns in a different way. While some students might grasp a concept immediately, others may need more guidance. Similarly, one student might excel in one subject and struggle with another. So how do we make sure that students get a rounded learning experience? By focusing on the learning outcome instead of the method. For years now, we have focused on set ways of teaching students, where the teacher writes on the board while the students study their textbooks. This means that most modern classrooms are actually following a design set to prepare students for the industrial age. The use of technology hasn’t yet changed that process as much as it should – students seem to have simply upgraded to e-books or reading on tablets. A good way to break away from rigid teaching structures is for teachers to experiment with a variety of pedagogies and mediums to see which combination helps students learn in the best possible way. These can include educational films with a flipped classroom or group rotation, contextualising lessons using topical news, and melding practical exercises and projects to theory (think NGSS ).


3. Learning-centered goals

In our previous blog post, we talked about a growth mindset and how to implement it in your classroom. Learning-centered goals fall squarely within a growth mindset territory. Often students struggle under pressure to manage better grades. Most don’t understand why they’re going wrong despite persistent efforts. This leads to loss of belief in one’s ability and eroded confidence. Teachers can help students get around this by focusing on learning outcomes rather than performance outcomes. This might mean allowing your students more time in class to come to their own conclusions, or allowing them some space to struggle with concepts and theories while they try to figure them out. In the case of a student who struggles with a subject or assignment despite their best efforts, a teacher can acknowledge that student’s effort before sitting them down and helping them figure out what they are doing wrong. This kind of approach allows a teacher to give support while simultaneously allowing the student to learn from their own mistakes.


4. A good education is not just limited to curriculum

It comes down to a difference between qualification and education. A good qualification shows that a young person performed well at school, but a good education gives them the skills needed to do well in adult life. Problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate effectively are all vital qualities that employers seek in employees. These skills also heavily contribute to helping young people develop a well-rounded view of the world, helping them to become good citizens. Unfortunately, curriculum doesn’t always cover all the important skills that young people need to learn in life. A teacher keen to provide a good education to their students should take on the responsibility of trying to teach these skills. Luckily, it can be easily done. Encourage class interaction during lessons through open discussions, group assignments and paired project work. For example, a teacher can introduce global warming by assigning a educational film as homework (flipping the classroom in the process), before moving on to an open discussion about the film and what the class understood about the topic. This can then be followed by dividing the class into groups and tasking them to come up with three examples of situations that they think have come about due to global warming. Groups can discuss their findings as a class before the teacher moves on to a more traditional style of lesson.


5. Build links and connections

Thanks to technology, today we are living a world that is intrinsically connected, where grassroots programs such as rooftop gardens can impact global issues such as sustainability or depletion of fossil fuels. NGSS puts an emphasis on teaching young people to become good citizens. The best way to teach students to connect with a bigger community and become better citizens is to let them experience both first hand. Teachers can enlist help from local citizen science organizations to create projects that convert classroom lessons into practical, real-life applications. This helps students learn the practical applications to classroom theory alongside developing important social and communication skills. It also provides them with practical experience and a means to achieve measurable results in what they accomplish in the real world.

The word CAN'T, with the 'T cut off to spell CAN

Why developing a growth mindset is important – and how to implement it in the classroom

Academic culture and a myriad of social factors can often lead children to think that intelligence is inherent. Statements such as “You’re born smart”, “Boys are naturally better at maths” or “Some children just have scientific brains” are not only negative but also very damaging to growing minds – even for those claimed to be blessed with a so-called “scientific brain”. And let’s face it, the STEM urgency that led to an educational rush to prepare children with a scientific aptitude for STEM careers didn’t help, either. At this point, it makes you wonder about the other students – the ones who were deemed not to have the scientific aptitude for STEM careers. What of them? Aren’t they worthy of pursuing STEM dreams, too?


Let’s start with the basics: every child, as a human being, is born intelligent. We all have different aptitudes for a number of different things. So it is pointless to differentiate children based on what we believe to be their “inherent intelligence”. The same goes for scientific aptitude. All children are born curious and with the need to find answers. (Why else do they put things in their mouths or stick fingers in electric sockets?) Going on this logic alone, every young person is worthy of following a STEM education and career. Granted, some children might exhibit a more open interest in STEM than others, but it is also true that every child has the capacity to develop an interest in science.


30 years ago, Carol Dweck and Ellen Leggett put forward a theory that children’s learning behavior and beliefs had a lasting impact on their learning outcomes. She suggested that those with interests in performance get discouraged by hardship, while those interested only in learning seek out challenging tasks in order to learn more. Dweck’s paper also proposed that those with learning goals persisted despite failure and continued to have faith in their abilities, while those with performance goals were often easily discouraged upon encountering failure and doubted their abilities. Dweck coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to describe each of the aforementioned learning and intelligence beliefs, respectively.


What is a growth mindset, and why is it important?

Many students tend to give up when they encounter failure and hardship in studies because they believe that it means they are simply not good at the subject, or that they lack the level of intelligence necessary to excel at the subject. This is what is referred to as a fixed mindset. However, students can also have what is referred to as a growth mindset, which states that the brain is capable of overcoming the challenges it faces in new areas of learning. It is possible to develop a growth mindset, and doing so can help a student overcome the hurdles they face in learning and develop the necessary skills to persist. For example, a growth mindset in young girls who struggle with maths can help them recognize the fact that it certainly had nothing to do with their gender. Here, a growth mindset would help them persist in their efforts and try new learning techniques in order to improve their maths skills, rather than give up because they believe that they are genetically doomed to fail at the subject. Similarly, a child from an impoverished background can, with the help of a growth mindset, learn to take his or her individual difficulties in their stride in order to overcome those hurdles. The same concept applies for young people with learning or physical disabilities: a growth mindset works to instill confidence in a student regarding their ability to develop and learn.


Recently, there has been a surge in educators and parents using the growth mindset as a way to encourage performance in young people. While it’s heartening to see the sheer volume of educators keen on helping their children and students, many aren’t implementing it correctly. For most, a growth mindset seems to represent effort or praise. But effort means nothing if it’s merely being used to try out the same techniques that didn’t work for the student in the first place. Another misinterpreting of the growth mindset is that praising a young person for trying anyway will encourage them, when in fact it is often redundant. Praise in itself is positive, but not when it’s being used to cheer up a child who has encountered difficulties. Instead, the student needs to be encouraged to find different strategies that actually work, rather than aimlessly repeating efforts that didn’t work the first time and won’t work the second. In addition to this, simply believing in achieving something is just not enough. Educators and teachers must take into account the social and cultural factors that affect their students. A child cannot be expected to improve if they lack the educational infrastructure to help them do so.


How can a growth mindset be implemented successfully in the classroom?

Let them struggle. It’s a normal impulse for most teachers to step in and help a student who seems to be struggling. However, research now shows that allowing your students to struggle a bit might actually be beneficial for them. After all, nobody grows within their comfort zone. This is where the growth mindset comes in. Teachers and educators need to actively encourage students to take on challenges. The idea is to pull them out of their comfort zone but also make sure they don’t feel abandoned or vulnerable. It’s a fine balance to strike, but a rewarding one.


Failure is okay. Effort is a big part of the growth mindset but it’s not always going to result in success, and that’s completely fine. Praising a child for trying even if they failed is meant well, but what about improving the learning curve? It’s important to acknowledge the child’s efforts and make sure they understand where they are going wrong. Here, language is important. For example, if a child has done poorly in a test, despite their best efforts, telling them “Good job! You tried your best.” is confusing; in the long run, it can lead them to believe that you have low expectations for them. Instead, “I can see you’ve tried very hard. Let’s see how you can improve for next time to do even better,” can help a child recognize what they are doing wrong so that they can learn from their mistakes. It also conveys to them that learning is a continuous process and that there is a real opportunity for improvement. It’s equivalent to telling them: “I know you can do it, and it’s okay if you get stuck, but you need to try first. If you do get stuck, we’ll try a different way of looking at it.”


There is more than one way to learn. Learning isn’t just continuous, it’s also varied. Encourage and guide your students to learn in the way that suits them best: capitalize on their strengths and ask them to think outside the box. Not all children learn the same way; some are visual learners, while others are auditory learners. However, a rigid academic culture can put pressure on children and inadvertently cap their capabilities. Teachers can help counter this by using different teaching mediums such as educational films, quizzes, class activities to teach in class. Using a variety of different pedagogies can also help create a stimulating learning environment. For example, pedagogies such as the flipped classroom encourage students to approach and understand lessons on their own, with the end result of being able to draw their own conclusions.


Finally, it’s important to understand that a growth mindset isn’t just beneficial to children, it’s equally applicable to adults as well. Teachers have a huge responsibility on their shoulders along with mounting workloads. It’s important to extend the same kindness to yourself as you do to your students when they make mistakes. Developing a growth mindset isn’t always easy, so remember that you too will make errors. It’s just as important to learn from your own mistakes as it is for your students to learn from theirs.