What is Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for learning (AfL) creates moments in the lesson for feedback which is then used to improve students’ performance. Students become more involved in the learning process and from this gain confidence in what they are expected to learn and to what standard.

One way of thinking about AfL is that it aims to ‘close the gap’ between a learner’s current situation and where they want to be in their learning and achievement. It is a process by which assessment information is used by teachers to adjust their teaching strategies and by students to adjust their learning strategies. AfL encourages learning and promotes motivation by emphasising progress and achievement rather than failure.

Effective teachers integrate AfL in their lessons as a natural part of what they do, choosing how much or how little to use the method. AfL can be adapted to suit the age and ability of the learners involved.

So how can we do this in class, quickly, effectively and for maximum impact?

1. Bounce Questioning

Open questions need longer answers and often require the learner to provide an opinion. Using the approach of pose (a question), pause (give thinking time), pounce (select a student at random), bounce (move on to another student adding depth to the question) a whole class can be engaged in questioning, with the teacher teasing out the “learning” in class.
E.g. A Physics teacher might ask: ‘What will happen to the flow of water through a hose pipe if a smaller nozzle is fitted to it? Why? Explain in relation to voltage, current and resistance.’

This style of questioning ensures dialogue between teacher and pupil, which leads to effective learning. The questions can also be differentiated to meet the needs of different students . If you discuss ideas with your learners, you can get a clearer view of what understanding they have about a topic and correct any misunderstandings in live time.

Image result for question bouncing

2. Mini Whiteboard Closed Questioning

A closed question requires a short answer, such as remembering a fact. The answer is usually right or wrong. As teachers we often don’t give enough ‘wait time’ and answers can often be diluted as a consequence. Students need to process a question then ‘find’  and link the correct information to it. Give them time!

One way to increase ‘wait time’, and to ensure the whole class is actively engaged, is to ask your learners to write down the answer to a closed question on a mini whiteboard (or piece of paper/tablet) and hold it up. This immediately gives you feedback about who understands, who does not, and therefore what the next steps in the learning might be.

In an AfL classroom, finding out what learners do not know is as valuable as finding out what they do know. This knowledge will help you to see what material your learners need to spend extra time on to make sure that they all understand.

Image result for mini whiteboards

3. Self-reflection

You may have heard of ‘traffic lights’, ‘thumbs up thumbs down’, ‘two stars and a wish’ and ‘smiley faces’ but ultimately they all have the same outcome; students  reflecting on their learning, identifying what they have done well, how confident they feel in their learning and what they want to do next to progress with achievement.

I like to use the Post-It approach

Post it

4. Peer Assessment

Peer assessment, when executed well, empowers  learners as they begin to think like a teacher. They are able to dissect criteria to identify what they need to do, and by coaching others, examine and suggest next steps in learning. However, students need to be ‘trained’ in peer assessment to avoid making comments like ” well done”, “not your best work” or “this doesn’t make sense”!

@teachertoolkit suggests the following 7 tips for effective peer assessment

  • Have clear assessment criteria
  • Develop the assessment criteria with students
  • Use anonymous examples of work
  • Vary the work they assess
  • Model responses
  • Allow time to respond
  • Provide feedback on their peer/self-assessments


5. Misconception check

Present students with common or predictable misconceptions about a concept/topic you’re covering. Ask them whether they agree or disagree and to explain why.




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