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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds Well, there are two or three sorts of change that have happened in classrooms as the results of assessment for learning. One is to involve pupils in understanding what they’re aiming at. That is to give them some sort of target criteria so that they can begin to manage their learning because unless you know where you’re going, you can’t really steer yourself. There are different ways of doing that, and it’s a sensitive matter. It can be done mechanically, in which case you’re setting up rules. That probably doesn’t work as well as trying to help them develop rules.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds So for example, if children look at a piece of written work or an oral presentation from two or three of them and then are asked, put them in order. Which do you think is best? Which do you think is weakest? And then explain why. Why did you think that was better than that? In the course of doing that, you begin to tease out, exchange, share, and grasp what counts as the criteria of quality because it’s not enough just to have an abstract statement that this is the target. You have to understand what it looks like if you’ve achieved that target and what something which is halfway there looks like and why it’s only halfway there.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 seconds So it’s that sharing and that building up the understanding that matters. That’s the first area. The second area would be the way a teacher interacts with the whole class, where there has to be a change from question, answer, question, answer, question, answer– that sort of dialogue– which can look quite impressive. But it’s actually not helping children to think much because their responses are short and episodic and don’t reflect much thinking. Whereas you can think of a classroom in which a question is asked and children are encouraged to talk about it. And then what happens is there are far more pupil words in ratio to teacher’s words than there were before.

Skip to 2 minutes and 8 seconds And secondly, pupils are now talking in sentences and even in paragraphs, whereas in the old type of back-and-fro, quick-fire dialogue, they are only issuing brief phrases. And until you’re talking in sentences, you’re not actually thinking or learning through expressing your thinking. So that learning through talking and that learning which implies an interactive dialogic classroom matters a great deal. There’s a third area, or rather there’s a third dimension to this. And that is about how a pupil feels in a classroom. Do they feel confident that what they say can be respected? Do they feel safe enough to take risks? Do they feel OK doing that and not scared that they’ll be made to look stupid? And that’s a more subtle thing.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds It’s about the way a teacher gives feedback to pupils and is quite delicate. Perhaps the best example we’ve had, just as an anecdote, is a pupil who said to one of our researchers, “now I know she’s interested in what I think, not in whether I’ve got the right answer.” And for a pupil to make that change is to establish a climate of trust so that thinking, speculation, and misconceptions can be brought out.

What is at the heart of assessment for learning?

To sum things up:

  1. Assessment for learning strategies help teachers use questions and activities to collect information on what learners, do, don’t and partly understand.
  2. From the evidence, that is, what the students say and do, teachers can make judgements about where students are in their learning and so plan the next steps more effectively.
  3. Student dialogue is useful in providing this evidence, and carefully planned questions help teachers focus in on specific problems and difficulties.
  4. At the same time, this process reveals to students where their strengths and weaknesses lie in a particular topic, so that they can see where they need to make particular effort to move their learning forward.

We also encourage you to review the video above which shows Paul Black’s own three minute summary of assessment for learning which he recorded in 2010.


Do any of Paul’s observations about the changes in classroom as a result of assessment strike you as particularly interesting?

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Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching

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