If your school is in the PiXl group, you may well be encouraged to make use of personal learning checklists, or PLCs, to use one of many PiXL acronyms. On the face of it, these seem like a good idea. What possible objection could there be in breaking down the examination specification into the key knowledge and skills required, followed by students rating themselves as Red, Amber or Green against a particular statement? Red for the weakest areas and green for the strongest areas. As a result of this, the theory goes, students and teachers can see immediately where the strengths and weaknesses are. Teachers can focus on weaknesses and students will eventually be able to colour all criteria in green, resulting in a top grade in the examination.
The first problem I discovered when I looked at this, is that examination criteria are incredibly vague. Even when you try to break down the criteria you end up with a series of statements which replicate one of the biggest problems with national curriculum levels; they are so vague as to be almost meaningless. Here are a few examples for modern languages which I have come across:
Can compose a written piece of over 300 words
Can compose a written piece of over 200 words
Very detailed writing
Writing is relevant to topic content
A range of opinions and justifications (more than two)
Clear communication with no ambiguity
Wide range of structures
Wide range of vocabulary
What does “very detailed” mean? What is understood by “coherent”? What is understood by “wide range”? The mind boggles!
To be fair, there is some flexibility in the system, as a teacher can devise their own checklists. At first, I thought I could cope with this. Instead of a load of vague waffle about skills, I would choose some statements relating to use of grammar. But even here, I ran into problems. Take a statement like “Can form and use the subjunctive”. In what contexts? With which verbs? Moreover, if a student thinks they have mastered it, they could give themselves a green colour coding. But the subjunctive requires practice before it can be safely stored in long term memory. As I see it, students could be giving themselves green lights for all kinds of things which they think they have mastered, but which actually need much more practice.
OK – so why not just allow red and amber codes? Again, there are many grammar concepts which I don’t expect students to get after one or two lessons. According to the PLC mentality, I will then be asked to provide intervention for students who are colouring in statements in red. In a number of cases, it won’t be “intervention” which is needed, simply more practice, which will come in the course of normal lessons. Students will be looking at a sea of reds and ambers and feeling inadequate for not having ticked off skills and knowledge which take considerable practice (that word again!) to master.
The whole approach seems to be from a different era, a time when APP was fashionable and children needed to show rapid progress by ticking off grids. The PiXL organisation itself does not seem to have engaged with the rationale for removing levels – possibly because it was founded by senior leaders who never saw anything wrong with levels in the first place.
So what should we be doing instead? l would suggest the solution is very simple. Whenever a student submits a piece of work, we mark it and give individual feed back for that particular piece of work. The difficulties individual students have could be many and varied. They lost marks for missing out past participles in one piece. In another, their word order might be at fault. Rather than ticking off grids and colour coding statements, feedback will be personal to each student. I am no fan of personalised curricula, but I do believe in personalised feedback.