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14.2: Characteristics of and use of AfL
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The following key characteristics identify assessment for learning in practice.
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. Student learning is the principal aim of schools and assessment for learning aims to provide students with the skills and strategies for taking the next steps in their learning;
- involves sharing learning goals with students. If students 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 students to know and recognize 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. Students need to understand what counts as ‘good work’;
- involves students in peer and self-assessment. Ultimately, learners must be responsible for their own learning; the teacher cannot do that for them. So students 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 students to review their work critically and constructively;
- provides feedback, which leads to students recognizing 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. Students 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 student in reviewing and reflecting on assessment data (information). Students need to have opportunities to communicate their evolving understanding and to act on the feedback they are given. The interaction between teacher and student is an important element of developing understanding and promoting learning;
- is underpinned by confidence that every student can improve. Poor feedback can lead to students believing that they lack ‘ability’ and are not able to learn. Students will only invest effort in a task if they believe they can achieve something. The expectation in the classroom needs to be that every student can make progress in his or her learning.
How might we use Assessment for Learning?
Key Characteristics of Assessment for Learning and Teaching Strategies
- Share learning objectives at the beginning of the lesson and, where appropriate, during the lesson, in language that students can understand
- Use these objectives as the basis for questioning and feedback during class discussions.
- Evaluate this feedback in relation to the achievement of the learning objectives to inform the next stages of planning.
- Show students work that has met the criteria with explanations of why
- Give students 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 students’ work which show work in progress as well as finished products
- Give students clear opportunities to talk about what they have learned and what they have found difficult, using the learning objectives as a focus
- Encourage students to work/discuss together, focusing on how to improve
- Ask students to explain their thinking: ‘How did you get that answer?’
- Give time for students to reflect upon their learning
- Identify with students the next steps in learning
- Value oral as well as written feedback
- Ensure feedback is constructive as well as positive, identifying what the student 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
- Identify small steps to enable students to see their progress, thus building confidence and self-esteem
- Encourage students to explain their thinking and reasoning within a secure classroom ethos
- Reflect with students 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 students 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