“It is more important to find out how responsive a child is to intervention than to focus on what she already knows.” (Lidz, 1991, Practitioner’s Guide to Dynamic Assessment).
Dynamic assessment (DA) is interactive and concerns an exploration of a young person’s actual (independent) level of development (and problem solving) as well as their level of proximal (or potential) development (ie that which is possible, given support by an adult or more experienced person). In essence it involves the identification and detailing of interventions which assist and encourage the process of learning.
Whilst an educational psychologist in training at the University of Newcastle, I had the opportunity to explore and apply the theories and methods of DA to a significant degree. Work was undertaken both in seminars with fellow trainees, and practice in school settings.
The Impact on Subsequent Practice
The training referred to above was delivered by Fraser Lauchlan whose approach inspired me to extend my skills and include DA approaches in my work in schools where it was felt relevant. More recently, as part of my current Specialist Senior Practitioner Role for Learning at One Education, colleagues were canvassed regarding areas of educational psychology which might be developed by the team and DA emerged as a particular are of interest. This has led to the formation of a special interest group to extend knowledge and expertise of the key skills and ideas involved within our working group at One Education.
Subsequently, the approach of Lauchlan and Carrigan (2013) has been considered with a view to providing a framework to revisit the issues involved in undertaking DA. It is hoped that this will also be a useful tool to inform the support given to staff in school and to parents. Below is a summary of the aforementioned work.
The rationale behind Lauchlan and Carrigan’s work was to address criticism that the evidence acquired through DA was not easily shared with teaching staff, parents and children, especially due to the technical terms used and the volume of information typically generated. Consequently the processes involved were streamlined with the detail to be disseminated selected on the basis of pragmatic value.
The framework proposed is described as a practical resource for putting DA into action and it is recommended that this involves four key elements:
To explore the performance of the child with respect to specific cognitive and affective learning principles.
The summary of findings in a meaningful and practically relevant way.
The adoption of strategies that are directly related to cognitive and affective learning principles identified as in need of development.
Evaluation of the work undertaken with the child and subsequent modification of interventions as deemed appropriate.
It is proposed that the following cognitive learning principles can be appraised through DA and specific checklists are outlined (such as this one adapted some time ago at One Education and based on Lauchlan and Carrigan’s work).
As can be seen, the key cognitive learning principles are: communication, comparative behaviour, efficiency, exploratory behaviour, justification of response, memory, nature of response, planning, problem definition, recognition, reflectiveness, spatial orientation, transfer of learning, and vocabulary.
Similarly the affective learning principles are listed as: accessible to assistance, attention, concentration, confidence in correct responses, flexibility, frustration, tolerance, motivation, presentation, task perseverance, and vitality and awareness.
Specific assessment tasks are selected that facilitate the gathering of evidence reflecting the learning principles referred to above. These may be curriculum-based activities or those specifically devised for the purpose of DA.
In acknowledgement of the perspective of teaching staff, parents and children, Lauchlan and Carrigan suggest foregoing the production of lengthy reports. Instead, there should be a simple, direct and brief summary of the learning principles in need of development, linked to a clear description of relevant strategies. It is recommended that three learning principles are prioritized for input and that the relevant summary report takes the form of a ‘one-page profile’.
A bank of strategies is provided to support those working with the child to develop the relevant skills associated with the learning principles. For example, a series of questions is outlined that can ‘script’ the support provided by teaching staff or a more experienced adult working with the child. With respect to the learning principle of ‘exploratory behaviour’ the child might be asked (routinely) ‘Is there another way to do this?’ Concerning ‘planning’, the question might be ‘Where do you start?’ in the context of classroom tasks. Other strategies involve both verbal and visual prompting to encourage problem solving and self-reflection by helping the child to ‘stop, slow down and think’ or to identify the steps needed to complete a specified goal.
The need for a thorough review of both the learning principles identified for intervention and the strategies implemented is emphasised so that the ‘one-page profile’ can be modified and extended depending on progress (or the lack of it).
Our special interest group met recently to consider the process of embedding the approach in the activities of our service (as part of a forthcoming CPD session) and the following potential actions were highlighted:
- The need for a ‘pilot scheme’ undertaken by interested practitioners to explore relevant assessment resources and to become familiar with the ideas and concepts of DA as well as practical skills
- The regular dissemination of DA approaches
- Work undertaken that highlights the relevance of the outcomes of DA to classroom practice
- Awareness raising to ensure colleagues in schools, parents, young people and relevant local authority staff are aware of the potential of DA
- Team members to be given the opportunity to consider the strengths and weaknesses of DA in comparison to standardised assessment.
Lauchlin, F. (2012) Improving learning through dynamic assessment. Australian Edcuational and Developental Psychologist 29(2), 95-106
Lauchlin, F. and Carrigan, D. (2013). Improving Learning Through Dynamic Assessment. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Lidz, C. (1991). Practitioner’s Guide to Dynamic Assessment. Guildford Publications