AfL - Key principles


Assessment for learning is about using assessment in the classroom as a tool to improve students' learning, and is characterised by

  • sharing learning goals with students
  • helping students to recognise the standards they are aiming for
  • involving students in assessing their own learning
  • providing feedback, which helps students to recognise what they must do to close any gaps in their knowledge or understanding
  • communicating confidence that every student can improve
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment

A variety of classroom assessment strategies as outlined below can be considered when planning a lesson or a unit of study. It is important to remember here that the primary intention of the teacher is not simply to gain information about the students' achievements (what they know) but to use assessment to further the learning process. One of the most frequently employed methods of monitoring student progress and achievement is the use of judicious questioning by the teacher.

Sharing learning goals with students

Teachers are usually quite clear about the objectives for a unit of study. Students may understand what to do for individual tasks but be less clear about how these tasks fit into 'the big picture'. They can be greatly helped when the teacher explains the learning goals--what she/he hopes the students will learn and why they are learning it--in words that they can understand. In Sample Assessment Materials 1 (English First Year) the teacher involves the students in the learning intention through the initial brainstorming session and group work. This activity provides a context in which the teacher can convey the learning goal to the students.

Helping students to recognise the standards they are aiming for

Ideally this is done through exemplification of student work. Students should have access to work done by their peers to help them to see what can be achieved. Over the period of the Assessment for Learning Initiative a range of exemplars of student work will be posted on this website.

However, effective marking of student work can contribute significantly to the students' appreciation of the standards towards which they are aiming. Through feedback that is focused on the learning task, teachers can indicate to their students just what is involved in a high-quality piece of work and can point out the steps that students need to take in order to improve--to close the gap between where they are at present and where they need to go. Teacher comments should focus on what has been done well and what needs to be improved rather than on listing the errors that have been made, which can typify some traditional approaches to marking.

Involving students in assessing their own learning

Students need to develop the capacity for self-assessment so that they can become independent learners with the ability to seek out and gain new skills, knowledge and understandings. Teachers can encourage this by providing opportunities for students to assess their own and one another's work, and to review and record their own progress. This helps the students to understand their achievements, identify the gaps in their knowledge and plan for better learning. In Sample Assessment Materials 2 (English First Year) the teacher has drawn up a simple cover sheet for each presentation. This allows the students to record the proficiency level they feel they have achieved for each of the agreed criteria for the presentation.

Providing feedback which helps students to recognise what they must do to close any gaps in their knowledge or understanding

This involves telling students what they have achieved with specific reference to the learning task. It is one of the most important elements of assessment for learning. Assessment without feedback disconnects it from the teaching and learning process; it becomes a classroom routine or a strategy to maintain discipline. Equally, feedback in the form of marks and/or grades can act as a disincentive to students. Research has shown that students respond to constructive comments much more so than to marks or grades. Teachers can help students to improve upon their work by pinpointing their strengths and being clear and constructive about their weaknesses and how they might be addressed.

Communicating confidence that every student can improve

Feedback that focuses on the learning task and that highlights what needs to be done can help to ensure that all students believe they can improve. Not all students learn in the same way, however, and including an element of differentiation by task or outcome in a lesson can allow for students with differing learning styles and strengths to experience success. In Sample Assessment Materials 4 (Geography First Year) the teacher built in a degree of differentiation into the tasks set so that students could choose the format for their presentations from a range of options.

Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment

Teaching and learning do not progress in linear, evenly paced increments. Indeed, a necessary part of the teacher's interaction with the learner/s is his/her judgements about the success of the learning so far and the adjustment in teaching that must be made in the light of those judgements

Classroom strategies in support of learning

Everyday school and classroom activities such as questioning, giving and marking homework and reporting on student progress can play an important part in the way teachers use assessment for learning.

Find out more about questioning

More about homework

More about reporting

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