Teaching approaches: Assessment

From OER in Education

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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.

1 What is effective assessment?

1.1 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.


AfL thus

  • 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.

2 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 Teaching strategies
Sharing learning objectives with pupils
  • share learning objectives at the beginning of the lesson and, where appropriate, during the lesson, in language that pupils can understand
  • use these objectives as the basis for questioning and feedback during plenaries
  • evaluate this feedback in relation to achievement of the learning objectives to inform the next stages of planning
Helping pupils to know and recognise the standards they are aiming for
  • show pupils work that has met criteria with explanations of why
  • give pupils 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 pupils’ work which show work in progress as well as finished product
Involving pupils in peer and self-assessment
  • give pupils clear opportunities to talk about what they have learned and what they have found difficult, using the learning objectives as a focus
  • encourage pupils to work/discuss together, focusing on how to improve
  • ask pupils to explain their thinking: ‘How did you get that answer?’
  • give time for pupils to reflect upon their learning
  • identify with pupils the next steps in learning
Providing feedback that leads pupils to recognising their next steps and how to take them
  • value oral as well as written feedback
  • ensure feedback is constructive as well as positive, identifying what the pupil 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
Promoting confidence that every pupil can improve
  • identify small steps to enable pupils to see their progress, thus building confidence and self-esteem
  • encourage pupils to explain their thinking and reasoning within a secure classroom ethos
Involving both teacher and pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment information
  • reflect with pupils 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 pupils 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

(Adapted from Assessment for Learning Introduction, section How).

3 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)

4 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.


5 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).

6 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.

6.1 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'.

6.2 Automated feedback

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.

6.3 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.

6.4 Collaboration

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.

6.4.1 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 [[1]] or many 'forum' based interfaces which may be preinstalled on a VLE).

7 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.

8 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.

9 Relevant resources

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