Pobble News

Measuring primary-age learners without removing their motivation

by Jon Smith
on December 17, 2015


Last week’s release of British primary school league tables underlines the progress made in improving children’s reading and writing over the last 20 years, with the vast majority of pupils now making the grade.

But not all children are hitting that benchmark – and literacy is a fundamental skill and right. The ultimate objective must be to eradicate functional illiteracy, so that no child’s life is blighted by not being able to read and write. Down the line, the impact on employment opportunities and overall happiness as adults is well-documented, and early systematic evaluations have the potential to help educators recognise student pain points.

Working in hundreds of different schools up and down the country every year, at Pobble we’ve witnessed the importance of demonstrating impact; high-performing schools consistently question outcomes and interrogate their own student performance data. Here, though, the key is to provide measurement tools early in the educational journey and then track progress over time. Assessment at the end of the learning process isn’t well set up to facilitate interventions in the moment, as the purpose of these assessments is to uncover aggregate patterns rather than serving individual pupils.

We’ve designed our platforms to help teachers monitor a longer student journey, so that they can catch a student who may be going off-trajectory as early as possible, and provide support whether the student is a reluctant learner, or exceptionally able. Over time, we believe aggregating this granular, individualised performance information can provide perspective alongside larger-scope statistics. We make a point as a company of not focussing solely on outcomes, but on the journey as well, and we are developing educational data frameworks that aim to serve students and schools simultaneously.

Teaching literacy has to be inspiring and motivating, especially for those who might be less enthusiastic. The engine that will help us meet the literacy education challenge is ensuring that every child loves reading and writing, and one of the greatest motivators for children is knowing their work will be seen by a larger audience.

The classroom wall has long been used to endorse great work and provides a huge sense of pride for children. On our platform, we’ve been able to take this concept wider, showcasing pupils’ writing online to make them published authors to a global audience at an age where their world is still relatively contained to their homes, schools, and local communities. Allowing comments to be posted means children also get great feedback – and is further motivation for both the student and the teacher.

That is what giving pupils a purpose is about. In one primary school in Manchester where our teachers work, the faculty told us, “The motivation children get from knowing their work will be published is so powerful”.

Or take the story of Fred Potts, a six-year-old dyslexic boy whose natural confidence and imagination deserted him, understandably, when it came to writing. Eventually, an astute, persistent teacher persuaded him to share some of his work and put his story online, where he won our creative writing competition.

Fred’s father told us, “I am the proudest dad on planet Earth tonight. My lad is a wildly imaginative boy trapped in the body of a left handed dyslexic who suddenly goes into himself, becomes painfully shy, fiddles with his fingers and whispers to himself when writing or reading is required. He tells his overeager mum and dad that he loves writing so that we think he’s doing OK at school. This prize had him jumping up and down like a pogo stick when I arrived to pick him up from school tonight. We were throwing him in the air in his classroom and he went to sleep with the biggest smile on his face. Teaching is life-changing, and I am seeing it happen in front of my eyes.”

That shows the transformational power of great teaching that motivates, inspires and gives purpose, underpinned by clear data tracking progress of individual pupils – and that’s what our work is all about.

Jon Smith is the CEO of Pobble. You can read the original post here.