Improving progress through AfL
Dr Joanna Goodman reflects on the role and application of
Assessment for Learning
on assumptions that testing reveals objective truths but this can be disputed as “tests modify or even create that which they purpose to measure” (hanson, 1994). therefore assessment is complex, because it can
stand for different approaches to the gathering of evidence and is so ingrained in the whole educational process, it would be too simplistic to refer to it just as a measuring device without considering it as part of the learning process. Effective assessment could be more precisely viewed
as a process of asking questions about learning and educational outcomes; a process in which understanding of children’s learning can be used to evaluate and enrich the curriculum on offer (drummond, 1994;weeden et al, 2002). As this expanded view of assessment puts the
child’s interests in the centre, it could be argued that it moves closer to recognising assessment as a tool for enriching children’s learning and development, and as such could be viewed more in terms of assessment for learning. In improving learning through assessment, Black
and wiliam (1998) suggest the following factors: a) effective feedback to pupils; b) active involvement of pupils in their own learning; c) adjusting teaching to take account of assessment results; d) recognition of influence of assessment on pupil motivation and self- esteem; e) self-monitoring and correction by pupils. over recent years, much has been written about the
role of Assessment for learning (Afl) in improving progress and how schools should use it to maximise achievement and learning sustainability. At the national level, following the findings of the
Assessment Reform Group (ARG) on the positive impact of formative assessment on improving learning, the idea of Afl was embraced by the-then Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) which defined it as “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there” (ARG, 2002). Since then, schools have been trying to implement
Afl into their everyday practices with different degrees of success regarding the various stages of implementation. At first, as with any new initiative, the idea of Afl
met with some scepticism from the teaching profession as the lack of in-depth understanding of the theory and principles underpinning Afl, and often inadequate training, meant that teachers often felt that it would mean more work for them, especially regarding the expectations of giving feedback in terms of comments for improvement. My practical experience, lesson observations and
academic research into the use of Afl in everyday practice confirm that still in some settings today, where Afl is being implemented, there appears to be only ritualised understanding of the processes behind it and the principled understanding can be harder to grasp. In providing information for schools, the QCA
(ARG, 1999; 2002) adopted the main Afl principles, as mentioned above, based on research-based evidence (Black and wiliam). these principles recognise the importance of assessment for learning to classroom practice and advocate that Afl should become part of effective planning of teaching and learning, and a key professional skill for teachers, because at the core of it is the involvement of learners in their own learning processes. Effective teaching should provide pupils with
constructive guidance on improvement to enable them to become reflective and self-managing. these principles are important because they summarise the essence of Afl and bridge the gap between educational research and the actual practice by identifying for teachers what is crucial to Afl and why it is important to strive to make it part of effective classroom practice. this type of assessment is imperative for learners, because through their involvement, it helps them to
SecEd • January 12 2012
hE tERM “assessment” is often associated with an objective process of measurement (drummond, 1994; linn and Gronlund, 2000) and of obtaining information (desforges, 1989; Rowntree, 1987). this gathering of information often rests
Cambridge university Press.
• Assessment Reform Group (2002). Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles: Research-based principles to guide classroom practice. Cambridge:university of Cambridge School of Education.
• Black, P. and wiliam, d. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. london: Gl Assessment.
• Boekaerts, M. (1995). Motivation in Education. the British Psychological Society.
• Boekaerts. M. (2002). Motivation to Learn. Educational Practices – 10. International Academy of Education. unESCo booklet.
• desforges, C. (1989). Testing and Assessment. london: Cassell Education ltd
• drummond, M.J. (1994). Assessing Children’s Learning. london: david Fulton Publishing.
• dweck, C. (1986). Motivational Process Affecting Learning. American Psychologist. 41(10): 1040-48.
• hanson, F.A. (1994).testing: Social Consequences of the Examined Life. CA: university of California Press.
• linn, R.l. and Gronlund, n.E. (2000). Measurement and Assessment in Teaching. (8th ed.). n.J.: Prentice hall.
• Rowntree, d. (1987). Assessing Students: How shall we know them? london: Kogan Page.
• Stobart, G. (2008). Testing Times: The uses and abuses of assessment. oxon: Routledge.
Assessment for Learning: Where are you on the continuum of implementation?
manage their own learning, which is a skill for life rather than just for passing examinations (Stobart, 2008). In order to have a better understanding of principles
which encourage pupils to learn and why some pupils are more successful than others, extensive studies into the psychology of learning focused on motivation and, in particular, on the association between motivation and learning outcomes (Boekaerts, 2002; dweck, 1986). Research indicates that motivational beliefs, which
act as a frame of reference for pupils’ feelings and actions in a given subject or task, result from learning experiences and act as favourable contexts for learning, where students are not motivated to learn in the face of failure, but students who have positive beliefs about their capacity to learn have higher achievements (Boekaerts, 1995). therefore teachers who are effective at assessing
where pupils are in their learning and who are able to communicate these levels of attainment followed by “next steps” guidance on improvement, engage pupils in their learning in a positive way and increase pupils’ self-motivation to learn and achieve. this approach produces particularly impressive
learning gains when working with less able pupils as it reduces their anxiety of failure and, instead, creates an environment where everyone is able to move to the next stage in their learning, whatever it may be. when working with more able pupils, this approach
encourages further learning as it does not put a ceiling on achievement, as a grade does, and identifies for learners their next learning goals. learners who are well-motivated are capable of
using their self-regulatory skills effectively for higher achievement, whereas learners who are not skilled, or not inclined, to use self-regulatory skills, are poorly motivated and over-reliant on teachers. therefore the involvement of students in their learning (e.g. through self-assessment, peer-assessment or self-reflection) is a key element of the Afl practice, which can be overlooked where learner autonomy becomes procedural, rather than an aim in itself, for example through explicit learning objectives and time for self-evaluation. Schools thus face a crucial challenge of developing
strategies of working successfully within the system of high-stake tests, for certification and accountability purposes, and developing self-regulated learners through formative practices.
• Dr Joanna Goodman has a doctorate in education from King’s College London. She is an educationalist with curriculum expertise, assessment in particular, and leadership development. She is an experienced senior school leader and a school inspector.
• Assessment Reform Group (1999). Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box. Cambridge:
Talking CPD Looking beyond the bars
Phil Parker on the importance of teaching students
employability skills and how staff secondments to business can help
You wouldn’t release a lion that had lived in a zoo all its life into the wild. People who have been imprisoned for a long time likewise struggle to integrate into society. Both examples illustrate the same point. You can’t expect an institutionalised mindset to instantly adapt to a new environment. there has to be a period of integration to allow
the new context to appear familiar enough that any skills, knowledge and personal qualities can be embedded. Yet we do that with young people. the unemployment figure for people aged 16 to 24
has hit the million mark. Statistics show an increasing number of those young people have become nEEt (not in education, employment or training). My contention is that all these things are
connected. Young people are institutionalised in education; they live a life which is devoid of any other context than learning. their perpetual focus is on achieving exam qualifications. At the age of 16, perhaps 18, we release them into the wild and wonder why one fifth of them struggle to make a decent living. If we are to prepare young people for adult life,
they need to see secondary education as a period of transition. Research from Birmingham university shows that young people decide their careers in year 8. they do so from their limited life experiences. As a profession we need to ensure we coach that
transition more effectively. this involves giving teachers the opportunities to find out for themselves what it is like beyond their institutionalised bars too. Secondments to firms provide insights into what students need to develop to be successful after
leaving school. I know it’s expensive to release staff for extended periods of time but I believe it should be seen more as an investment. I had been teaching for over 20 years and, I
freely admit, had got rather stale in my thinking and teaching. I saw my role as getting the best exam results for my students. But then as an English teacher I was tasked to introduce media studies into the curriculum and landed a two-week placement at the BBC. It opened my eyes – and my mind. It caused me to think of ways I could bring the experiences I was having back into the curriculum. It made me realise my role was about facilitating the transition to employment. one school I know instructed its staff to spend
a training day in another school, to find out what other schools were doing. why not do this with local businesses? It would remind every teacher why they’re in the business; it would give them a chance to hear employers’ perceptions of the young people who turn up for interview. In a Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
survey a year ago, 57 per cent of employers were unhappy with the level of “employability skills” demonstrated by school-leavers – skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication, organisation. Personal, learning andthinking Skills went some way towards addressing this issue but they have gone the way of all things since the government changed. let’s just emphasise this point – employers want
more young people with “employability skills”, yet education has dumped the idea. not surprisingly, the CBI has launched in its
latest report, Action for Jobs, the idea of a form of validation to be called Employability Schools. I am working with the CBI to identify schools that might be used as case studies for this. My motivation is to create a smoother transition between employment and education, a transition which begins with training that addresses institutionalised thinking by both teachers and learners.
• Phil Parker, an ex-senior leader, is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd which works with schools eager to develop rounded young people by transforming the way teachers and students learn. Visit www.studentcoaching.co.uk
• weeden, P., winter, J., Broadfoot, P. (2002). Assessment for Learning: What’s in it for Schools? london: Routledge.
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