AFLA - Assessment for Learning in Africa: improving pedagogy and assessment for numeracy in foundation years

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The low level of numeracy skills of millions of poor and marginalised students, particularly in developing nations, is of international concern. This project focuses on improving these through developing teachers' and teacher trainers' pedagogical and assessment skills in extremely deprived urban areas in South Africa and Tanzania. Eighteen schools and three training colleges will be involved.

Our approach is to develop classroom materials for primary school numeracy and use these as the basis for workshops and for the development of teacher learning communities in each area. The workshops will focus on how formative assessment ('Assessment for Learning') can be used to enhance the quality of the teaching and learning of numeracy. The aim is to improve teachers' own numeracy skills and their understanding of how numeracy can be more effectively communicated to their students. The workshops and teacher learning communities will draw on the extensive experience which has been generated by the implementation of Assessment for Learning internationally. One task for participants will be to adapt this experience to the limited resources of schools in slum areas (for example, large classes and few materials).

The project team includes researchers with extensive experience of implementing formative assessment internationally, numeracy specialists and academics based in the two countries who are familiar with local conditions. The work will take place over three years beginning in April 2016 and has four phases. The first is a preparatory phase in which participants are confirmed and briefed and materials are developed. Baseline testing is conducted. The second phase (January to March 2017) sees the implementation of the workshops in both countries, the establishment of teacher learning communities along with visits to schools by mentors. These continue in the third phase (April - December 2017) along with the analysis of the workshops and a second round of tests. The final phase (January 2018 - March 2019) incorporates interviews, visits and the production and dissemination of findings.

To monitor the impact of the project, the team will develop a variety of instruments. These include classroom observation schedules which monitor the fidelity of the implementation, contextually relevant SES measures, and numeracy tests for use in the classrooms. The tests will provide pre- and post- implementation data, matched to control schools, which will allow evaluation of the impact of the project on numeracy outcomes. The data will also be used to benchmark standards against other tests. Further analyses relating outcomes to demographic data will be conducted.

The wider impact of the project will be in providing new knowledge and expertise in an under-researched area: how to support the pedagogy and assessment of teachers working in challenging areas with limited resources. This includes producing material which can sustain implementation locally. A book for practitioners and teacher educators will be written for practitioners and teacher educators. Other outputs will include podcasts of best practices in classrooms and writing for a range of media outlets as well as interviews and other media appearances.

We know a good deal about the teaching of numeracy and productive Assessment for Learning. However this has been largely based on well resourced education systems. This project deliberately involves itself in far more challenging circumstances in order to develop ways of contributing to teaching and learning in the more marginal and disadvantaged circumstances in which millions of students find themselves.

AfL and assessment literacy are central to successful pedagogy. Therefore AFLA has important implications for a wide audience in SA, TZ and developing countries more generally. Our impact strategy has been influenced by Tikly & Barrett's (2011) values-based approach to educational quality, Sebba's (2006, 2007) work on policy impact and Black & Wiliam's AfL impact plan (2003, 2005).

Impact Upon Learners

Rarely are the children involved in research properly recognised as a stakeholder group (Elwood & Baird, 2013), but we see them as important beneficiaries of this research. AFLA will have impact upon numeracy outcomes for the children involved in the project. AFLA is designed to be scalable beyond the project and therefore has the capacity to have a broader impact. Learner participation and feedback are recognised as features of good teaching in Sub-Saharan Africa (Tickly & Barrett, 2011).

Impact Upon Practitioners in Schools

Traditional, didactic teaching is particularly difficult to change in Sub-Saharan Africa. AFLA is designed to address methodology for helping teachers to shift from traditional pedagogic styles to learner-focused approaches. As such, it will impact upon practitioners within the study and provide an evidence-based, contextualised approach for practitioners beyond the project. AFLA will also impact upon teacher capacity in assessment literacy, building communities of practice and subject knowledge.

Impact Upon Practitioners in Teacher Colleges

How teacher educators can build capacity in assessment and related pedagogy is little discussed in the literature, but AFLA builds upon Kanjee's 'AfL district capacity development programme'on this topic in SA. Content of educational programmes, associated materials and theoretical insights regarding how professional communities are established in this area will be of interest to those running teacher education programmes in a wide range of settings, particularly in developing countries.

Impact On Teacher Organisations in South Africa and Tanzania

Professional development of teachers and its impact upon learners are topics of central concern to teacher associations, including teacher unions in both research settings. As such, AFLA will engage with teacher associations to ensure that they are consulted and informed about the project and its findings. Engagement with professional organisations is key to sustainable impact upon practice and upon policy (Sebba, 2007).

Impact Upon Policy at District Level

Changing teaching and assessment practices within schools is problematical if those changes do not articulate with the wider structures within which the school operates. As such, it is important that AFLA has an impact upon policy not only at national level, but local to the schools. District officials are therefore a beneficiary of the project and how they can support the capacity development aspects of AFLA will be a crucial aspect of the impact of the project more widely.

Impact Upon Policy at National Level

Governments in a wide range of countries have engaged with AfL (Australia, Chile, England, Estonia, Holland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Peru, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden) and it is a legal requirement in Norway. However, few documented research programmes have successfully influenced national policy on AfL in developing countries. This project team is experienced in working with policy-makers in these contexts and in the course of their work will engage them with AFLA. Exam boards policies affect learning and teaching. We also intend to influence policy through examination bodies. Ndalichako was the previous CEO of the exam board in TZ (NECTA) and Kanjee has worked extensively with the exam boards in SA. National assessments can be counterproductive for AfL practices and we will seek to work with exam boards to gain a better understanding of the ways in which national systems could better complement AfL practices and vice versa.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
ES/N010515/1
Project Status: 
Active
Fund Start Date: 
Friday, April 1, 2016
Fund End Date: 
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Fund Currency Code: 
GBP
Fund Value: 
634,667
pedagogy
Literacy-and-Numeracy