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iPad Teaching

Thinking about assessment

How to build quality digital assessment workflows in one-to-one iPad schools.

Assessment in the Sparkjar Platform
David Kirtlan

David Kirtlan

David is an Apple Professional Learning Specialist and former school leader. He now works as a consultant supporting schools in defining and implementing an effective EdTech strategy.

Early on in the discussion about bringing iPads into a school, thoughts rightly turn to the topic of assessment. It usually begins with the simple question ‘how do we get work off the iPads for the teachers to mark?’. However, this is really just the beginning of the conversation, and the answer is actually about changing attitudes and expectations about day-to-day teaching and learning practices and what is possible with digital workflows.

Sharing work between students and the teachers is of course fundamental to teaching and learning, and there are a few ways of achieving this digitally on iPad, from a simple use of AirDrop (bluetooth sharing of files between devices) to more comprehensive and flexible services, such as Sparkjar.

Thinking specifically about assessment and feedback, Sparkjar offers simple, yet highly effective tools that can have real impact when used consistently.


Sparkjar’s tools to embed annotations, text and verbal feedback into documents.

As students share their work, tools are available to the teacher to quickly embed feedback into the document, whether that’s hand-written annotations, text or verbal audio feedback. These are immensely flexible and powerful tools, that are incredibly quick and easy to access. As feedback is added by the teacher, the student is notified and can review the comments.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Being able to add annotations and even text into documents, is similar to working with paper-based workbooks, and provides a level of familiarity that even technology nervous teachers can relate to. Straight away though, we can push the level of feedback further with the digital tools. We can annotate text documents, but also diagrams and artwork without worry of ‘damaging’ the original document. This also applies to adding our feedback annotations to photos, or even screenshots of video evidence submitted by students. Think about a PE lesson where we can add a still frame of high jump practice, for example, and annotate where the position of the limbs should be to help achieve the task. This functionality adds genuinely new dimensions and possibilities to teaching and learning.

If we move on to think about embedding verbal feedback into the same documents, this is also a real game changer for a lot of teachers. We can now talk to the student and explain easily our thoughts on their work to deepen their understanding. Embedding audio feedback into documents, images, diagrams, eBooks etc can be a powerful tool. Students who rarely glance or take note of written comments from teachers, are now hearing their voices explaining the feedback, which is instantly harder to ignore and more impactful. Not only that, but the speed at which teachers can add verbal feedback often encourages them to expand on their thoughts and give richer and more personalised comments.

Now we have thought about the basics of assessment and feedback on iPad, we can start to think about the wider school assessment strategy. Having these assessment tools available for work that is created digitally is fantastic for teachers, and will have an impact on achievement, but what about more traditionally produced work? Well, we can still use the same tools if we routinely ask the children to photograph paper-based work and upload that too. That way, teachers have the same feedback options available there, and it crosses the divide between paper and digital work.

Taking these tools a stage further, schools I’ve worked with who have embraced these approaches across the whole school have seen a real impact on achievement. This whole school approach does often mean a re-think of the school assessment strategy, and any effective approach needs to be consistent and rigorous throughout the entire school as well as being used routinely.

We’ve looked at using the feedback tools in Sparkjar for assessing digital and paper-based work, and allowing teachers to quickly embed powerful feedback directly into student work. Students also get access to these annotation tools, and this is a really powerful dimension as well.

As teachers, we know that self-reflection is important, and can lead on to real gains in progress. We can make use of these features of Sparkjar for self-assessment, by asking students to complete the work first, but then to self-reflect on their own work using the annotation tools before the teacher sees it. This extra step of embedding comments and thoughts on their own work, what went well, what they struggled with, and where they might need extra support, in preparation for the teacher to develop this into meaningful feedback and support, helps them to develop their own understanding of their strengths and areas that they might need to work on. If used routinely, and throughout their school journey, then this is an important skill that will impact on their progress and achievement.

I’ve worked with a few schools now that have established a school-wide system for the children to embed their feedback into their documents, in an easy-to-use ‘code’ for younger children to understand. Using the emoji keyboard, the schools have devised particular symbols to have specific self-reflection meanings and ask the children to simply embed these text objects into their submitted work at appropriate points.


For example, the different coloured ‘heart’ emojis could have different meanings for KS1 children. 

At the other end of the age spectrum, KS5 students could be encouraged to self-reflect using objectives from the scheme of assessment of the relevant GCSE exam board. Of course, you will devise your own lists for your school. You may well have different codes for specific subjects or key stages. You could ask the children to highlight aspects of grammar, or transferable skills with symbols.

Teachers can then follow up these self-reflections with their own comments to support learning, and the children will make the connection between this and their own understanding of their work.

This is all about giving ownership of the learning to the children, and the key to success here is all about consistency, routinely giving children time to upload their work and self-reflect on it before the teacher looks at it for assessment.

Used in the right way, these simple tools that we’re starting to take for granted on iPads, can have a real impact on learning across the entire school. So going back to the original question asked by a lot of teachers, ‘how do we get work off the iPad to assess?’, well, we don’t need to... it’s that shift in assessment strategy and embracing the digital flexibility that iPads provide that really can have the biggest impact on learning.

If you would like more information or a demonstration of how Sparkjar supports digital assessment workflows, please get in touch with our team.

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Find out more about David here

And you can read David's other articles in this series:

  1.  It's about the teacher not the app
  2. Getting all staff engaged with iPad teaching
  3. Sustaining use and developing skills
  4. Live video lessons: an on-going role in education

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