Practical Assessment: Circuit Building

I love this set of lessons. They are fun for me (now I have mastered the classroom management of it) and instill a confidence boost to the kids early in the year, whilst also ticking lots of management boxes. 

It goes like this:

At the start of their electricity unit, I like to find out what level of prior knowledge my year 6 group have. They were previously taught this topic in year 4 but much of that information whittles away because it is not something an average  9/10 year old comes across in their everyday lives. 
I start by asking them to draw a circuit at the start of their very first lesson. They tend to look at me like I’m crazy. I can actually see their panicked thoughts, ‘You haven’t taught us anything yet!’, ‘I don’t want the first thing in my book to be wrong!’ and ‘What’s a circuit?’ all flash through their eyes. Yet, they persevere, take on the challenge and draw something. I then tell them no one got it correct. Firstly, because they didn’t and secondly, so they all know they are in the same boat. We then celebrate the fact that their book WILL show progress and learning the next time they tackle that task. 

Here are some of the fruits of their 4 minute (timed) labour. 

During the next lesson, I break out the surprise circuit building assessment. (Cue the groans and moans). 

 There is skill in how you handle this task to make sure the rest of the class don’t riot while you assess 4 pupils at a time. 

1. Give everyone their electrical safety comprehension sheet which they will do, independently, while others are tested. 

2. Go through the answers (verbally) to electrical safety comprehension very quickly. 

3. Ban anyone from asking questions during the assessments. This is VERY important or you will be mobbed by questions whilst trying to assess the kids and ensure that one kid is not doing something they shouldn’t at the back of the room. 

4. Give the whole class the practical assessment sheet and ask them to write on their chosen level; easy, medium or hard in ballpoint pen. They are not allowed to change this.  I have this rule to prevent the first wave of kids who are assessed from saying, ‘Don’t do hard! It’s sooooo hard!’ and causing others to self doubt. 

5. Turn on the chill out music and/or digital noise meter. I prefer the chill out music as I find they get more work done,  and stay calm(er) under pressure. 

6. Set up 4 stations, each with a basket of components. Make sure dividers separate the stations so no cheating can occur. I set the desks up so the assess-ees have their backs to the rest of the class. Therefore, I can see the rest of the class while I make progress notes on the assessment and the kids building the circuits are not distracted. 

7. I choose my first 4 students, sit them down and set up their books so their practical assessment sheets face me.

This allows me to make notes on their progress while they build.  

8. I have 4 laminated copies of a task sheet which tells them which circuits to build. There are 3 different versions, hard, medium and easy. In truth, they are the same circuits but presented differently. I look at the level they chose in their books and pass them the appropriate task sheet each. No one else knows what level they chose. 

9. I start the timer for 3 minutes and 10 seconds. (I LOVE MY MEGA TIMER!). Ready, set… build!

10. When a circuit is built, I tick off the child’s sheet. If they ask for help or build incorrectly I make a note of it. 

11. After the time is up, each child reflects on how they did and how they could improve. 

12. We will reassess (in exactly the same way) in 4 weeks and see a dramatic improvement. 

I love this activity because:

  • I know exactly what level all the kids start at. A bit of prior knowledge assessment will never set a teacher wrong. 
  • Everyone has to get involved. With teaching girls I find some shy away from the practical side because they aren’t as confident as others in their group. They can’t do that here!
  • Kids, parents and SMT all love to see progress and self reflection. This is on the second page in their books and will scream progress when we reassess in 4 weeks. It’s a huge confidence boost for the kids to be reassured they have learned something. As it is at the front of their books they will see ‘I can improve and learn!’ whenever they open their books. 
  • Not all kids are great at written tests. The nature of this test allows those who may not always shine to do so. Another confidence boost right at the start of the year. 
  • Knowing that the re-assessment is coming up everyone is on task when it comes to any circuit building practical lessons. They all want to improve. This makes my follow up lessons a lot easier to manage. 

Love, cuddles & death states,


Minimising Low Level Disruption

When the Head Teacher showed around prospective parents (unannounced) I would always cringe. I took a quick look around my (often chaotic) classroom and tried to see it through a strangers eyes.

My ideal world when post-chalk & talk discussions occur.
My ideal world when post-chalk & talk discussions occur.

Often things were going swimmingly – mainly because the bulk of my lessons are pupil centred and have everyone actively involved in a task of some sort. On rare occasions though, I was caught instructing the class. It was then that I cried inside. Why? Three words: Low Level Disruption.

Low Level Disruption (in my world) is a pupil playing with their neighbours pencil case, passing notes, having a quiet conversation, voicing their idea without raising their hand (shouting out), doodling, suddenly getting out of their seat to pick up a dropped pen, swinging on their chair, slipping a peek at their phone…. These basic behaviours which aren’t exactly bad, but they look bad when an outsider is watching!

I reflected on my lessons and pinpointed the peak times when LLD occurred. A lot of it happened during class ‘discussions’, a time after I have finished my ‘chalk and talk’ where pupils are encouraged to ask questions. As a matter of fact, I rarely got a descent question during these sessions. The vast majority of hands raised were for procedural clarifications, toilet requests or pupils ‘showing off’ their knowledge with ‘did you know?’ statements or long winded loosely linked stories. No wonder the rest of the class switched off!

So what did I do about this? – I took away the time and tools pupils used to participate in Low Level Disruptions. Basically, I eliminated the items they fiddled with and cut down on the ‘discussions’ & ‘what are we going to do?’ questions! I now use these rules:

  1. On your desk should only be a pen, pencil and ruler. Pencil cases go on the floor, tucked under the desk. There is no need for a 6-part puzzle eraser shaped like a hamburger.
  2. Mobile phones are not allowed. If they are seen (even if they are turned off) they are confiscated and passed to the office for the rest of the day.
  3. Instructions are quick and (as much as possible) involve the pupils. This can be in demonstrating, answering random-name questions or chanting the steps in a procedure.
  4. I have written instructions on the board (to get rid of those kids who ask questions for things I have already gone over). They are very clear and list the names of equipment, amounts and what to do when finished.
  5. Questions are only accepted after everyone else has started the activity. This dissuades the story-tellers as only I will be listening to their amazing anecdotes and frankly they would rather get on with the activity.
  6. No-one is allowed to use the toilet during my lesson. Ever. (I would allow a note from the school nurse though).
  7. No-one is allowed to see the school nurse during my lesson. Ever. (Unless they are injured during my lesson. A sore tummy can wait.)
  8. When pupils enter the room, during settling time, they are made aware if they are working in pairs, individually or groups during that lesson and have time during settling time to identify who they will work with. (I found that this was all they were concerned about when I was demonstrating how to do a practical and therefore they didn’t listen to what they would shortly be doing). I convey this information by writing it on the board.
  9. I have an ‘open/close’ sign on my board which says ‘Yes we are doing a practical experiment today’, ‘No, we are not doing a practical experiment today.

All Low Level Disruptions are subject to my Consequence Escalation Protocol. I try my best to be consistent with it.

My Consequence Escalation Protocol

Each lesson is a fresh start.

  1. First LLD: Warning. Name is written on the board.
  2. Second LLD: Warning: tally mark is added next to their name.
  3. Third LLD: move seat: I have a special seat away from everyone else reserved for this moment. If that seat is is use I move a desk under the white board at the front of the room and sit them there. Form teacher informed.
  4. Fourth LLD: out of the room: they take a bubble timer and sit in the corridor away from their friends. Hopefully a member of SMT will come across them and reprimand them. Once the timer had ended they come back into the room. They are supposed to listen carefully whilst outside. I use the timer because I have a tendency to forget children are out there! If I remember they are out there and it is safe to do so I will have a short conversation about their choices in the corridor. Form teacher & parents informed.
  5. Fifth LLD: Sent to a different classroom: they will stay here for the duration of the lesson. They take work with them or work is sent with another child after they have left. SMT, Form teacher & parents informed. A lunchtime reflection detention is also set.

Sanctions for LLD & Poor behaviour choices

The first 4 can all be done non-verbally. Writing a name on the board, adding a tally mark, taking a child’s book and moving it to a new desk, handing them the timer and pointing at the door. Only when they get to step 5 do I verbally reprimand them. A quick recall list of everything they did to result in being sent out of the room, tell them where to go (prearranged at the start of term with another member of staff) and a quick ‘we’ll speak about this later’.

There is the notion that some children listen better while doodling or fiddling with something in their hand and therefore I try not to give a sanction for this type of activity unless it is distracting others or they jump out of their seat to retrieve a dropped piece of stationary.

By analysing my lessons I discovered the common types of LLD and when they occurred. I then acted to take away the common tools used for LLD and reduced the time that was available for it. For those who still found the ways and means to disrupt others learning my sanctions protocol (when consistently applied) helped to make even those resilient offenders reconsider their actions.

I’m sure I’ll now discover other times when LLD rears it’s ugly head but that will be something else to tackle in the constant learning curve which is teaching.

Love, cuddles & death stares,