It is now 16 years since Paul Black and Dylan Williams wrote the publication Inside the Black Box and shook the world of education with the importance of Assessment for Learning. To many it was common sense that we must find out what students know before approaching content to be learnt. Teachers certainly already did this on an individual, one to one basis with students but over the last 10 years we have developed many ways of assessing the progress of large groups of students more effectively. This enables us to pitch and differentiate content more appropriately with whole classes. We must not forget that at the core of Assessment for Learning is the individual student and their own personal learning needs.Common misconceptions
Assessment for Learning is exclusively for the benefit of the classroom teacher and their students. It is not for the benefit of an observer and should not be used merely to signpost progress that has been made. A good observer will see all of the forms of Assessment for Learning that are being used and whether they are effective.
Mini-plenaries are still valuable. At appropriate times they are important in providing evidence as to what students have learnt so that a teacher can decide on the future direction of a lesson. They may also have an important role in memory retention and engagement.Assessment for Learning Do’s and Don’ts
We must look for robust evidence that students have made progress. Self-assessment against learning objectives can be problematic as students will often overstate or understate their own ability. It is better to ask questions of students that really test whether they have grasped a concept. As a learner, often we don’t know whether we have learnt something until we make a mistake.
I find it quite hard to see a better tool than whiteboards in enabling a teacher to see the thoughts of a whole group of students as opposed to one or two individuals. It can be difficult reading a large number of long answers so either mainly short answer questions can be used or students asked to underline the key terms in their answer. Good Assessment for Learning will involve the use of a range of evidence. The most important thing is then that we are able to respond to such evidence effectively.
- Answering questions on whiteboards
- Naming/Matching/True or False activities
- Looking at work that students have completed
- Interaction with individuals whilst walking around a class
- Question and answer
Do we still need learning objectives?Establishing learning objectives is clearly an important part of the planning and differentiation of a lesson as it forces us to think about what we intend to cover in a lesson. This can be open to change however and learning objectives should never constrain a lesson. They can be useful to students who may use them to identify what they need to do to improve in the future but we should perhaps question whether students writing them down in full is an appropriate use of classroom time.
Some of the best lessons I have seen in recent years had learning objectives posed as questions. This has given a real sense of flexibility and dynamism to the lesson. Learning objectives should always be directly addressed by the activities or questions posed in the lesson as well as providing effective challenge for all students in a class.