I’m a big fan of analogies, but they can be dangerous things.
The latest big thing in educational assessment is Ladders. As schools struggle to work out how to move forward with assessment in the world after levels, there have been many schools using ‘ladder’ schemes, including two of the three primary schemes in the Assessment Innovation Fund.
This blog is not intended to criticise those schemes at all, far from it. However, there is a risk in using the analogy of ladders that implies a straightforward progression. It is too easy to be tempted to look at a linear list of objectives and presume that each follows on from the last.
I can say with certainty that the team behind the Hiltingbury Learning Ladders scheme have been quite clear about this whenever I’ve heard them speak: the linear presentation shouldn’t imply linear progression through the objectives. Unfortunately, this message won’t necessarily get through to all parties – particularly those who are not teachers themselves.
There are several significant differences between ladders and wall, not least of which is the fact that with a climbing wall, each step may require a different capability or skill.
Significantly, different people reaching the same vertical height have not necessarily mastered comparable skills (cf. National Curriculum levels).
There is often one common way to climb a wall, but that doesn’t prevent some people taking different paths to achieve the same goal – and significantly, achieving the same overall goal (i.e. the top of a wall) can be more difficult if some paths are chosen over others.
In academic terms, my reference of choice is always the knowledge of multiplication tables. In the past, knowledge of tables was a key part of Level 4 number criteria, and yet many students happily reached significantly higher levels on tests without securing this knowledge. It simply isn’t possible to say that the knowledge of tables has a fixed place in a sequence of teaching and learning.
It’s important that teachers understand this, but it’s also equally important that parents, data managers and dare I say it, even Ofsted inspectors understand this. Learning Ladders are great… so long as we recognise that they’re just an analogy, with weaknesses.