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Teaching and Learning Theory

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How can teachers of your subject specialism use assessment to improve their students' learning? Why is this important? Explore and critique one theory of teaching and learning that relates directly to assessment.

Assessment is crucial for both the educator and the student to gauge the level of learning and to help plan to develop and progress their understanding. Assessment is important not just to ensure learners leave gain a grade on completion of a course but to ensure the students have learnt and developed their knowledge. However, a great deal of assessment within the education system does not improve the students learning. They are hurdle's which must be jumped through and thus damages students learning and limits educators creativity. This essay will look at how assessment can be used to improve student's learning within Sociology and will do so by using Vgotsky's theories of teaching and learning.

There are numerous forms of assessments that educators can use to assess their students learning and to track their progression. When teaching Sociology I have used various methods such as observations, questioning, discussions, essays, gap fill exercises, presentations, short answer questions and so on. Each method is useful but must be used in relation to the depth of knowledge on a topic, the level of students and the context (individual, small group, whole class). Throughout the essay I will refer to different types of assessment and how they are useful dependant on the stage of the students. Thus, it will be argued throughout that assessment must be "a part of instruction to support and enhance learning" (Sheppard 2000: 4).

As with many courses, in A Level Sociology they are four stages of assessment - initial, diagnostic, summative and formative. However, at the college where I teach the initial and diagnostic assessment are college wide and fixed. The initial assessment is carried out at interview where the learner completes a short piece of free writing and diagnostic is considered to be whether the set homework has been completed in the first three weeks. Therefore I shall focus on summative and formative assessment within my subject specialism as this is where I have an ability to construct and influence assessment. Briefly, summative assessment is at the end of the course, generally creating a grade and is assessment of learning, for example the national AS Sociology exam in May. Whereas formative assessment is an aid to learning, in other words it is assessment for learning. It benefits myself and the students in order to help plan teaching and learning, track development and encourage students to reflect on their strengths and developmental needs.

Within this essay I shall utilize Lev Vgotsky's theories of teaching and learning to develop my understanding and practice within assessment to improve student's learning. Vgotsky, a psychologist in the early 20th century, has had a great impact in the creation of the socio-constructivist and socio-culturalist school of educational theory. Socio-constructivist school focuses on collaborative methods of learning and claim people learn through the relation to context and with regards to the society that they interact with. As with all theoretical perspectives, Vgotsky's theories are a framework to help understanding, he did not include all factors and his theories need to be updated and revised with time. A great deal has changed in the way assessment is used within education but the insights and the ideas that Vgotsky developed still have a great importance. I will also reference the work that socio-constructivist have accomplished in updating and developing assessment theory from Vgotsky.

First, to outline the three key ideas that Vgotsky developed through his research and writing. First, that learning is a social activity and he wrote "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level" (Vgotsky 1978: 57). This is what he called the genetic law, Matusov et al's updated criticize this by arguing that socioculturalists do not privilege the individual level (2000: 224). However, this is a misunderstanding of Vgotsky, as explained by Liu and Matthews, Vgotsky had a dialectical view of the world both the social and the individual are important and effect the other, one is not more important that the other (2005: 392) . This is a critical point for assessment as it underpins the idea of needing to allow students to relate to an idea and use it and then take on those ideas, then they will be able to access 'higher' levels of analysis and evaluation.

Secondly Vygotsky developed the notion of the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) this is a person who knows more or has a greater understanding of something who can help guide others. This is useful in understanding how assessment can be seen as an MKO guiding them and giving them tasks to see how independent they can become and is useful in using group work and observing how some students can act as MKO's to others which benefits both students.

Finally the notion of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) this is where learning happens, it is the phase that a person must go through from not being able to do something, to learning, to being able to do it. As Vgotsky states "it is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers' (Vgotsky 1978: 33). Through using the notion of the zone of proximal development you are developing assessments that are not only measuring what they have already learnt but you can assess "the 'buds' ...of development rather than the 'fruits' of development" (Vgotsky 1978: 33)

Below is a table created by Pearson & Gallagher (1983) which demonstrates how this works

Teacher Regulated Supported Practice (Scaffolding) Student Regulated

Future Development

(What a student is not yet able to do)

Teacher modeling & Think-Alouds

I do, you watch

Zone of Proximal Development

Assisted Development

(What a student can do with support)

Classroom strategies

I do, you help You do, I help



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