Teaching approaches: Assessment
Readers working in Intial Teacher Education (ITE), or students engaged on ITE course may find it useful to read the Assessment Overview, which is targeted at ITE providers.
Assessment may take many forms, including whole class, and individual. Readers should consider reading widely, in particular with reference to Dialogic Approaches in addition to the guidance given below. Where appropriate links have been incorporated - if you are a wiki-contributor, please do add further internal links, and if of high quality (especially CC licenced), external too.
What is effective assessment?
Assessment for learning
The notion of 'assessment' is often bound up with ideas regarding examinations, accreditation, perhaps even accountability (e.g. OFSTED, league tables, performance management and so on). However, for some time there has been a growing discussion regarding 'Assessment for Learning' (AfL), or formative assessment. This form of assessment stands in contrast to summative assessment, which is understood to be the form of assessment most often conducted at the end of the unit, which is supposed to represent the understanding of that unit's content at that point in time. Assessment for Learning, in contrast, is targeted at assessing understanding throughout teaching, helping students to understand what stage they are at, and how they might improve. AfL thus involves assessment to provide feedback for improving 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. Pupil learning is the principal aim of schools and assessment for learning aims to provide pupils with the skills and strategies for taking the next steps in their learning;
- involves sharing learning goals with pupils. If pupils 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 pupils to know and recognise 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. Pupils need to understand what counts as ‘good work’;
- involves pupils in peer and self-assessment. Ultimately, learners must be responsible for their own learning; the teacher cannot do that for them. So pupils 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 pupils to review their work critically and constructively;
- provides feedback, which leads to pupils recognising 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. Pupils 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 pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment data (information). Pupils need to have opportunities to communicate their evolving understanding and to act on the feedback they are given. The interaction between teacher and pupil is an important element of developing understanding and promoting learning;
- is underpinned by confidence that every student can improve. Poor feedback can lead to pupils believing that they lack ‘ability’ and are not able to learn. Pupils will only invest effort in a task if they believe they can achieve something. The expectation in the classroom needs to be that every pupil can make progress in his or her learning.
- Based on: Assessment Reform Group (1999) Assessment for learning: beyond the black box. University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education. ISBN: 0856030422. (Adapted from Assessment for Learning Introduction, section What).
Readers should also refer to Assessment for Learning Research Summary and the references contained therein.
How might we use AfL
The following table suggests some teaching strategies that will support the development of assessment for learning in your classroom.
|Key characteristics of assessment for learning
|Sharing learning objectives with pupils
|Helping pupils to know and recognise the standards they are aiming for
|Involving pupils in peer and self-assessment
|Providing feedback that leads pupils to recognising their next steps and how to take them
|Promoting confidence that every pupil can improve
|Involving both teacher and pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment information
(Adapted from Assessment for Learning Introduction, section How).
High Quality Questioning and Dialogue
A key component of AfL is the use of high quality questioning. For guidance in this area readers should refer to the general guidance Questioning Research Summary, and the more practical document on Types Of Question, as well as the resources under the.
With respect to assessment, should specifically note that closed questions, for which pupils may offer (and receive feedback affirming) only one correct answer, are likely to provide limited opportunities for developing understanding of key concepts. It is important to develop questioning techniques which engage higher levels of reasoning, and dialogue. Fundamentally dialoguethat includes students in the sequencing of content - as a cumulative enterprise - may be important, particularly if they are to move from tuition to self-monitoring behaviours. Blanchard suggests that, in fact, the original AfL construction might be revised to incorporate a better understanding of sequencing in the classroom, "The spirit of AfL is instantiated in the way teachers conceptualise and sequence the tasks undertaken by pupils in the lesson…. Formative assessment includes both feedback and self-monitoring. The goal of many instructional systems is to facilitate the transition from feedback to self-monitoring…. Classroom learning […] depends on learners having some understanding of how and why tasks are designed and ordered as they are […]. Dialogue is the medium: dialogue about activity that has yet to start, that is ongoing, and that has been brought to a close." Blanchard (2008, p.145)
Effective Group Work
In whole class contexts high quality dialogue is likely to be bound up with questioning techniques. However, in smaller group activities it is unlikely that the sequence of learning will involve direct questioning from teachers for much of the time. However, group work may still be effective for raising standards for all. Readers should refer to the section on Collaboration and Group Talk for further discussion in this area. A key concern which is often raised with relation to group work and assessment is that it does not stretch the most able, or assist the weakest appropriately. However, research indicates that this is not the case. In particular it has been pointed out (for example by Bob Slavin) that effectively orchestrated group work should make the activity's objective the learning of each member of the group. That is, groups should not be credited for each member being able to parrot the correct answer, or for the group (as a collective) to 'have' the correct answer; groups should be credited only for each member of the group being able to adequately give and explain the correct answer. In creating such an objective, group work encourages stronger students to teach weaker students - which is a stretching task in itself - and maintains ownership of learning.
Group Talk - a Method for Assessment?
Thus in the context of group work, group talk can be understood to have a number of benefits for assessment Why do it? What are the benefits to the learner?
- Higher-level thinking Pupils are challenged to defend, review and modify their ideas with their peers. It encourages reflection and metacognition (thinking about one’s own thinking). Pupils often communicate ideas better with other pupils than with teachers.
- Assessment for learning Effectively reveals the progress of the pupil to the teacher, encouraging the pupil to self- and peer-assess while allowing the teacher to plan more effectively. As such, group talk complements methods embraced as Assessment for learning.
- Illustrating science in action Working scientists use group talk – in class it models how they work, supporting the teaching of the ‘ideas and evidence’ aspects of scientific enquiry.
- Developing the whole child The ability to resolve disagreements is a life-skill. Pupils become more reflective as they try to arrive at a consensus by expressing different points of view; or work collaboratively to explore ideas, plan and make decisions. Further, it supports the development of literacy.
- Pupil motivation and emotional involvement When argument is taking place, and pupils are actively prompted and provoked to defend a point of view – by the teacher and by others – it raises the emotional involvement in a topic, so that pupils are more engaged. In essence, they are being encouraged to ‘care’ about the science viewpoint they have, and to take a stand for or against it, even if they concede to others along the way. These features are more common in good English, RE and humanities lessons.
- Variety and learning styles Can be used as an alternative to written or practical work (for example, experiments), or just listening as the teacher explains and demonstrates. Group talk encourages the use of different learning styles and thus can be inclusive to pupils excluded from more traditional (and often written) activities. (Adapted from Group Talk - Benefits for Science Teaching, section Why).
Use of ICT
Assessment is one area where ICT has had significant impact. This impact has not always been strongly pedagogic in nature; Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black have raised concerns that the use of some ICT has detracted from the aims of AfL in favour of highly granular, summative forms of assessment which are fed into computer systems, monitored, and analysed using statistical approaches not appropriate to their level of data. Readers should refer to the section on Tools for some ideas on how to integrate Technology into the classroom.
Whole Class Technologies
However, where used effectively ICT can provide useful support for AfL both in and out of the classroom. Interactive White Boards (IWB), for example, provide useful visuals for Whole Class dialogue and questioning. Significantly, IWB screens can also be recorded for future use, allowing a shared space (or 'improvable object') for dialogic talk which encourages children to understand the cumulative nature of learning. A Cambridge project (http://dialogueiwb.educ.cam.ac.uk/) explored this topic in more detail, and the website provides some detail on 'Using the IWB to Support Classroom Dialogue'.
One way in which ICT may be effectively used to support assessment is in the use of automated feedback systems. These are typically for shorter (closed) questions, although some feedback can be automated for longer sorts of question. Feedback systems can provide a range of response types, some of which may encourage pupils to think about how their answers were come to, or why they might be wrong (or right). These systems may also be useful for 'diagnostic questions' - questions for which wrong answers may indicate a particular sort of distinguishable confusion to be addressed.
Many Virtual Learning Environments have powerful feedback functions built in to them, and there are a range of other tools which may be useful and go beyond such inbuilt features. Even if feedback is not automated, technology can support 'drag and drop' commenting, and maintaining a record of such work over time, which may form a useful point of discussion with students.
Quizzes and Clickers
Quizzes are, of course, an obvious way to provide automated feedback. These may also be setup for 'in class' use via clickers, other similar devices, or mobile phones (and of course, mini-whiteboards). The advantage in this context is the ability to use responses to orchestrate dialogue around the whole class response system, and to extend the learning beyond the type of 'closed question' system which can be common in online multiple choice quizzes.
Some tools may also provide for such dialogue online in the context of quizzes and other activities such as shared extended writing. A number of tools (e.g. Google Docs) provide chat functions alongside document areas, while others allow collaborative authoring in different ways (e.g. wikis, see for example [article] on the Thinking Together approach and the use of wikis).
Such tools may be used for a range of activities, including multimedia creation, question and answer forums, and collaborative writing activities - on which more below.
Collaborative tools for orchestrating dialogue
Some research has explored the use of collaborative tools for structuring and orchestrating dialogue (on and offline) in constructive ways. The [project] is exploring some possibilities here with respect to dialogic talk. The [Building] approach has also used software (paid) to engage students in structuring their claims collaboratively to construct new knowledge. Teachers may find that any resources which aid in 'argument mapping' and constructive turn taking (e.g. concept mapping software such as [] or many 'forum' based interfaces which may be preinstalled on a VLE).
Assessment for Learning and Writing
Assessment is often focussed on written assignments. While understanding the concepts one is writing about is important in this process, there are also specific skills related to conveying understanding and meeting assessment criteria in written forms. Since writing involves the integration of several processes, re-reading to revise is important (Norwood, Hayes and Flower 1980). Chanquoy (2001) shows the positive effect of returning to writing after the event. The time delay seems to help, but the techniques for revising need to be explicitly taught, that is modelled by the teacher. Glynn et al. (1989), behavioural psychologists researching in New Zealand classrooms, found considerable evidence that positive oral feedback has an impact on both motivation and the amount written. This was found to be more significant when errors were selectively targeted and when pupils were involved in error correction and praised for this. The research suggests that teachers’ comments should be organisational, encouraging, constructive, challenging and push pupils’ thinking. The work of Black and Wiliam (1998) and Black et al. (2002) looks at formative assessment and its relationship to raising standards in pupils’ learning. They comment that effective feedback needs to make explicit to pupils what is involved in producing high-quality writing and what steps are needed for improvement. They suggest that pupils should be actively engaged in the thinking and discussion involved. (Adapted from Improving Writing - Research Summary, section Assessment). For further guidance on Improving Writing, refer to the document Improving Writing - Research Summary. Teachers should consider taking a range of approaches to assessing writing, and working with pupils to assess each other's writing.
Assessment for Learning and Reading
Over the last decade we have become increasingly aware of the importance of metacognition in learning to read (Baker and Brown 1984). One of the characteristics distinguishing younger readers from older readers, and poorer readers from fluent readers, is that younger and poorer readers often do not recognise when they have not understood a text (Garner and Reis 1981); that is, there is evidence that they are not actively aware of their own level of understanding and are therefore not able to make an autonomous decision to use a strategy to enhance their understanding. Other readers show a greater awareness of their own level of understanding for they will stop when a text does not make sense to them. Some will then go on to select from their range of strategies that which might help overcome their problem.
In shared and guided reading sessions we can model for pupils how fluent readers monitor their understanding and use strategies to clarify their own understanding. These may range from semantic strategies to work out a troublesome word to sophisticated reflections on whether the meaning is deliberately obscure (as in a mystery) or perhaps challenging the author/text because the reader thinks they are incorrect. Such teacher modelling is an important part of the learning opportunities within reading sessions. (Adapted from Improving Reading - Research Summary, section Assessment).. For further guidance on Improving Reading, refer to the document Improving Reading - Research Summary.
|Changing KS3 Questions for Engaging Assessment
A large set of questions grouped by topic, paper, and national curriculum levelTest questions are often seen as uninteresting and useful only to assess pupils summatively. This resource however allows questioning(ta) to be used to support pupils’ revision, creativity and higher order(ta) problem-solving in class. The tasks could be conducted via whole class(ta) discussion(ta) or assessment(ta), perhaps using mini-whiteboards(tool), or in small group work(ta) situations.
|Using Assessment to Raise Achievement in Maths
Learning goals; self & peer assessment; effecting questioning; marking and case studiesThis resource explores approaches to assessment(ta) in maths, including the sharing of learning objectives(ta), group work(ta), whole class(ta) assessment, questioning(ta) and more. Four case studies serve as useful discussion prompts to share practice(ta). This .doc version of the QCA's 'Using assessment(ta) to Raise Achievement in Maths' allows schools to select parts of the document that are most relevant to them.
|Assessment for Learning
Research shows that good practice in assessment for learning can bring about significant gains in pupil attainmentAssessment for learning has been defined as the process of interpreting evidence to decide where learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there. When assessment(ta) for learning is well established in a classroom, pupils are actively involved in their learning; able to judge the success of their work and to take responsibility for their own progress.
|Diagnostic Questions in Maths Teaching
Using questions to probe what pupils do, and do not, understandThese questions provide a useful starting point from which to think about the use of diagnostic questions(ta) for assessment(ta) for learning and whole class(ta) dialogic teaching(ta). They may be useful for teachers in their own right as sample questions, or to think about the best way to deliver feedback, use ICT tools effectively, and support learners through assessment. In this context the questions should be considered with a critical eye. Teachers might like to think about:
Teachers might take this as an opportunity to engage in sharing practice(ta) to think about how to use such questions in the classroom - perhaps using mini-whiteboards(tool) or ICT tools - and outside of them, perhaps using quiz(tool) or voting(tool) software.
|Giving Oral Feedback
Developing good practice in giving oral feedbackThis resource discusses giving oral feedback, particularly in the context of assessment(ta), which could include whole class(ta) discussion(ta) or group talk(ta), as well as questioning(ta) contexts.
|Sharing Learning Objectives and Outcomes
What will they achieve - outcomes, objectives, and their importanceThis resource highlights the link between learning objectives(ta) and assessment(ta) for learning, and explores ways to engage in planning(ta) for, and write good learning objectives - which identify the learning to take place, as opposed to just the activity with which the pupils will engage.
|Giving Written Feedback
Effective methods for written feedbackThis resource discusses written feedback in the context of assessment(ta) and giving clear learning objectives(ta) from any feedback given. While such feedback is often on homework(ta), the resource is intended more broadly than that.
|21st century show and tell
A DEFT case study with Dinnington Comprehensive, RotherhamThis cross curricula(i) case study focusses on Digital Literacy, in particular using E-skills(i) to: support skills in writing/recording for a target audience and to improve communication and research skills through the process of creating OER(i)s. The case study illustrates issues involved in the use of video(i) for educational purposes, with an emphasis on students producing and releasing OERs. The method could also be used for self/peer assessment(i) with pupils.
One of the lesson ideas from the case study is available as a separate resource at Creating Instructional Videos.
|Which material makes a good parachute?
A simple investigation into parachutes and air resistanceThis activity supports a number of learning types:
|What makes a good paper airplane?
|What floats and what sinks
Is getting in the bath a way to lose weight?This activity supports a number of learning types:
|Building bridges from a piece of A4 paper
A bridge too far...This activity supports a number of learning types:
Thinking about 'force' in the national curriculumThis sessions engaged pupils in inquiry(ta) using the scientific method(ta) to explore force. It offers opportunity for teachers to use higher order questioning(ta), whole class assessment(ta) and to engage pupils in effective group work(ta) for investigation.
|How DNA is sequenced: the stages
The complexity and scale of genome sequencingStudents match diagrams of the stages of DNA sequencing with a list of text descriptions of the process. The lesson can involve students discussing in pairs / group work(ta), followed by a teacher or student-led plenary. Students would share ideas, come to a consensus and check the ‘whole class(ta) response’ with their version. The teacher's questioning(ta) can focus on scientific method(ta) and use of scientific language(ta). The lesson idea provides opportunities for the effective use of assessment(ta).
Can all numbers be made in this way? For example 9=2+3+4, 11=5+6, 12=3+4+5, 20=2+3+4+5+6By definition, a problem is something that you do not immediately know how to solve, so learning how to solve something unfamiliar is not straightforward. Tackling an extended problem is difficult.
This lesson gives pupils an opportunity to engage in mathematical thinking(ta) and develop their higher order(ta) thinking skills on a problem that is accessible but which has interest. For example, the problem is presented in diagrammatic and numerical ways.
The plan suggests several visualisation(ta) methods to present the same underlying task. It should be useful for teachers to compare these different presentations and either to select the one that they feel will be most useful for their pupils or explore ways for the pupils to see the links between the different methods. The assessment(ta) ideas, using other pupils' solutions from the NRICH website are widely applicable to other problems too.
|Classifying and organising living things using images
Find different ways to classify living thingsThis lesson offers opportunities to explore ways to classify living things as well as characteristics which might be relevant, and how to address difficulties that may arise when trying to classify things in this way. The activity may be enhanced by the use of ICT(i) software (e.g. Picasa) but could be carried out with paper-based resources.
This lesson presents a good opportunity for small group work(ta) and some inquiry(ta) into how we classify; and why some classification methods might be more useful, or more scientifically interesting than others. There is also a good opportunity to use different sorts of questioning(ta); to encourage pupils to question each other; to engage in peer assessment(ta) and to focus discussion(ta) on the scientific method(ta) using key vocabulary(ta).
|Heating and Cooling Materials
What happens when you heat and cool materials.In this inquiry(ta)-based lesson plan, students devise a ‘fair way’ to compare (mostly) physical changes in materials such as cheese and chocolate. They ask and answer questions about how to heat the materials and about using materials of the same size and shape. They also predict how substances may change and observe what actually happens.
The purpose of the lesson is to both support Year 2 students work on changing materials and to develop their ideas about ‘fair tests’. The activity thus offers an opportunity to assess(ta) how well students plan a test and observe change.
|Developing Progression in Primary Science
Progression and the wonders of 'one-ness' and 'two-ness'A first part on ‘developing progression in science investigations’ could be used to prompt discussion on how far we expect pupils to develop, and the sorts of inquiry(ta) which encourage this.
The second part, 'indicators of Level 1 and 2ness', provides a useful set of criteria for assessing national curriculum levels. These criteria prompt thinking about assessment(ta) levels in curriculum development(topic). A concrete outcome of the activity may be to keep such criteria in a mark book for day-to-day use.
|Progression and questioning techniques in primary science projects
Measuring force and measuring progress.This resource provides an overview of the Year 6 scheme of work - 6E Forces in action and includes some experiment examples. The experiments could be run in class, with increasingly advanced objectives(i) including students' use of language(ta), the factors they discuss, the way they use equipment, assessment(i), etc. This resource can work as standalone lesson ideas / science projects /inquiry(i), or to illustrate progression of concepts through a scheme of work or curriculum planning(i) document.
|Sampling techniques to assess population size
|Getting Your Formulae in Shape
Solving a card sort for perimeter, volume and area formulaeThis resource provides an opportunity for some revision of shape formulae - perimeter, area, and volume. It encourages pupils to engage in effectivereasoning(ta), and group talk(ta), and could be used as an effective assessment(ta) tool. The task could be differentiated(ta), or extended for a whole class by cutting the 'formulae' lines off the bottom of each hexagon, and asking students to match these to the shapes, prior to matching the shapes to the formulae type.
|Organising images for a narrative
Write an essay without wordsThe lesson encourages students to think about how to portray their knowledge through narrative(ta) - which may engage some students who would usually be less interested. The lesson encourages students to think about how to capture valuable information and ensure that key elements are highlighted while not 'overloading' the viewer with data. The lesson can be tailored to any age group - for younger pupils the task could be to take before and after photos and label them. More advanced pupils might explore time-lapse photography. Pupils should be encouraged to think about how this relates to the scientific method(ta) The task is interactive and could be conducted as a group work(ta) activity or as an element of an inquiry-based learning project. It could also lend itself to whole class(ta) dialogue(ta) and the use of ICT(i) including 'clicker' response systems for assessment(ta) and questioning(ta).