Assessment no longer needs to involve keeping the kids in silence for three hours. Well, not all the time anyway! Terry Freedman explores how visualisers could be used instead.

In case you haven’t come across visualisers, here is a brief explanation. It’s a device which allows you to project things onto a screen. Now, my use of the word “things” is not an example of my being too lazy to think of a more appropriate or definite word. “Things” or, if you prefer, “objects”, fits the bill nicely. While the interactive whiteboard and other technologies allow you to show digital items on a screen, such as a website, a drawing, a photograph or text, the visualiser’s main strength lies in enabling you to show physical objects on a screen.

Visualiser, by kev_hickey_uk,

What sort of objects? Well, anything. Place a page of text on the visualiser, and everyone in the class will be able to see it. Place your coffee mug on it, and everyone will see that too! Place half of an apple you’ve just bisected and everyone will see it, pips and all.

However, it’s not just another form of still photography, because you can demonstrate a process in real time. Think about what that could translate into: live annotation. In other words, you could place a page of text on the screen, and then start annotating it there and then for all to see.

But what does this mean for assessment? Stephanie Homewood, ICT and MFL Leader at Engayne Primary School in Havering, firmly believes that visualisers have a role.

I think that visualisers are fantastic for assessment as they are instant feedback for the child.”, she says. “The children become more independent in their assessment of their own and each others' work, using the visualiser to highlight areas of strength and to identify areas for improvement. I have used it as a great tool for self evaluation and progression.

For a start, the visualiser lends itself to an interesting variation of the standard sort of pupil presentation, which usually involves three or four children standing in a line taking it in turns to talk about PowerPoint slides, followed by a class discussion. Using a visualiser, they could take it in turns demonstrating different aspects of their work in a much more immediate and lively fashion. For example:

  • Fiona shows a map she drew, as part of a history project on the theme of ‘Battles’. The class can discuss whether or not the map could have been improved in some way.
  • Jimmy comes up and draws over the map to show where the advancing army came from. The other pupils in the class can ask him questions to test whether he really knows what he is talking about!
  • In a different lesson, Jenny can place a pot she made on the visualiser, and the other pupils can comment on it and grade it according to a rubric which they themselves may have helped to create.

Stephanie Homewood has found that using visualisers for assessment has had the most impact in literacy, and has also used them in maths. For example:

  • After writing a descriptive setting, Lucy puts her work under the visualiser. The rest of the class write down all the adjectives and adverbs she has used, to assess her level of description. They comment on particularly good examples and add them to their own word banks.
  • Henry comes to the visualiser with a 3D shape. He points to the features of the shape and explains them to the class. The other pupils signal if they disagree with him (by putting their hands on their heads), allowing him to consider his explanation and adapt it if he has made a mistake.

These suggestions have literally just scratched the surface. The bottom line is that by allowing you to show something to the whole class at once, the visualiser makes it very easy to talk about it. And that, of course, is at the heart of assessment for learning.

Don't have a visualiser at your school? Have a look at the RM Educations range of Visualisers

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