Assessment for Learning Introduction

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Assessment for learning

  • is embedded in a view of teaching and learning of which it is an essential part. Assessment for learning is not something extra or ‘bolted on’ that a teacher has to do. Pupil learning is the principal aim of schools and assessment for learning aims to provide pupils with the skills and strategies for taking the next steps in their learning;
  • involves sharing learning goals with pupils. If pupils understand the main purposes of their learning and what they are aiming for, they are more likely to grasp what they need to do to achieve it;
  • aims to help pupils to know and recognise the standards that they are aiming for. Learners need to be clear about exactly what they have to achieve in order to progress. They should have access to the criteria that will be used to judge this, and be shown examples or models where other learners have been successful. Pupils need to understand what counts as ‘good work’;
  • involves pupils in peer and self-assessment. Ultimately, learners must be responsible for their own learning; the teacher cannot do that for them. So pupils must be actively involved in the process and need to be encouraged to see for themselves how they have progressed in their learning and what it is they need to do to improve. Teachers need to encourage pupils to review their work critically and constructively;
  • provides feedback, which leads to pupils recognising their next steps and how to take them. Feedback should be about the qualities of the work with specific advice on what needs to be done in order to improve. Pupils need to be given the time to act on advice and make decisions about their work, rather than being the passive recipients of teachers’ judgements;
  • involves both teacher and pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment data (information). Pupils need to have opportunities to communicate their evolving understanding and to act on the feedback they are given. The interaction between teacher and pupil is an important element of developing understanding and promoting learning;
  • is underpinned by confidence that every student can improve. Poor feedback can lead to pupils believing that they lack ‘ability’ and are not able to learn. Pupils will only invest effort in a task if they believe they can achieve something. The expectation in the classroom needs to be that every pupil can make progress in his or her learning.
Based on: Assessment Reform Group (1999) Assessment for learning: beyond the black box. University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education. ISBN: 0856030422.

The following table suggests some teaching strategies that will support the development of assessment for learning in your classroom.

Key characteristics of assessment for learning Teaching strategies
Sharing learning objectives with pupils
  • share learning objectives at the beginning of the lesson and, where appropriate, during the lesson, in language that pupils can understand
  • use these objectives as the basis for questioning and feedback during plenaries
  • evaluate this feedback in relation to achievement of the learning objectives to inform the next stages of planning
Helping pupils to know and recognise the standards they are aiming for
  • show pupils work that has met criteria with explanations of why
  • give pupils clear success criteria and then relate them to the learning objectives
  • model what it should look like, for example exemplify good writing on the board
  • ensure that there are clear shared expectations about the presentation of work
  • provide displays of pupils’ work which show work in progress as well as finished product
Involving pupils in peer and self-assessment
  • give pupils clear opportunities to talk about what they have learned and what they have found difficult, using the learning objectives as a focus
  • encourage pupils to work/discuss together, focusing on how to improve
  • ask pupils to explain their thinking: ‘How did you get that answer?’
  • give time for pupils to reflect upon their learning
  • identify with pupils the next steps in learning
Providing feedback that leads pupils to recognising their next steps and how to take them
  • value oral as well as written feedback
  • ensure feedback is constructive as well as positive, identifying what the pupil has done well, what needs to be done to improve and how to do it
  • identify the next steps for groups and individuals as appropriate
Promoting confidence that every pupil can improve
  • identify small steps to enable pupils to see their progress, thus building confidence and self-esteem
  • encourage pupils to explain their thinking and reasoning within a secure classroom ethos
Involving both teacher and pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment information
  • reflect with pupils on their work, for example through a storyboard of steps taken during an investigation
  • choose appropriate tasks to provide quality information (with emphasis on process, not just the correct answer)
  • provide time for pupils to reflect on what they have learned and understood, and to identify where they still have difficulties
  • adjust planning, evaluate effectiveness of task, resources, etc. as a result of assessment

Task 1 What does the research tell us? 20 minutesResearch demonstrates that good practice in assessment for learning can bring about significant gains in pupil attainment.

As you read through the summary of research on pages 19–21, consider the key factors that improve learning through assessment and reflect on your current practice with a class of your choice. Highlight the points in the text for which you are already developing effective practice in assessment for learning.

Task 2 - 20 minutes Assessment in everyday lessons Watch video sequence 12a, part of a Year 7 music lesson. As you watch the video look for examples of the key characteristics of assessment for learning (pages 3–4) in action. The sequence is not meant to demonstrate every aspect of assessment for learning but you should be able to identify a number of the techniques used.

Having read the research, watched the video clip and reflected on your own practice, you should now have a broad overview of what is involved in assessment for learning. You may find some areas of your practice that are well developed and others that could be developed further. The activities in this unit expand on the principles and strategies in more detail and will help you to implement assessment for learning in your classroom.

The intention is not that you adopt all of the techniques at once but that you work through the ideas over a period of time with one or two of the classes that you teach. Eventually, as the strategies become secure and you identify the benefits of each, assessment for learning can become embedded within normal practice. As the research indicates, there is some evidence that assessment for learning has a bigger impact on pupils who have made slower progress in the past. This is hardly surprising since it is these pupils who often have found it difficult to recognise what is expected.