Assessment for Enquiry: Supporting Teaching and Learning in Primary Science

Kendra McMahon, Daniel Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reports on findings from a two-year project – ‘Improving Science Together’ (IST) – undertaken in 20 primary and 4 secondary schools in Bristol, UK. The project was funded by AstraZeneca PLC as part of the national AZ Science Teaching Trust initiative, and had as one of its aims the development of science teaching and learning through targeted assessment and ‘focused teaching’ of specific enquiry skills. The research team made participant and non-participant observations in every school and held interviews with teachers to find out how they responded to using this approach, and how they managed its implementation. Our data suggest that participation in targeted assessment and focused teaching has increased teacher confidence and led to a greater willingness to undertake investigative work in the classroom. Another effect observed has been enhanced clarity of learning intentions in science lessons and the provision of more appropriate scaffolding of children’s learning. This has led to assessments of specific scientific enquiry skills becoming more useful in helping teachers to identify and communicate effectively to children how to improve. Children in observed lessons had a clearer understanding of what was expected of them and so were more motivated and likely to remain on task. The implementation of the strategy has been most effective where teachers have understood the importance of providing opportunities to carry out whole investigations that enable the children to apply their full range of skills as independently as possible. For this reason it has also been more appropriate for teachers of the 7 -11 age group than for 5-7 classes, as developing skills in isolation from an enquiry context can be less meaningful for younger children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-39
Number of pages11
JournalScience Education International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2003


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