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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Planning for Learning: Formative Assessment. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds ANDREA: In order to secure greater student achievement and engagement, formative classrooms involve teachers planning for when and how they will assess, evaluate and provide feedback to their students’. These approaches will be linked to the learning aims of the lesson and the language of learning will be prevalent throughout all interactions. Hattie and Timperley proposed three questions to consider which they say help this process. The questions they suggest are “where am I going?”, “How am I doing?’ and ‘where will I go to next?”. In an ideal learning environment both teachers and students will be working to seek answers to these questions.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds So when we are planning for learning it is less about thinking about the tasks the students are engaged with, and more about planning for what is the best way to enable all the students to develop their understanding. Tasks then become a means of scaffolding and building the learning by giving students a chance to experience, practice, apply or develop understanding in order to consolidate, unpick or challenge their ideas. We will be exploring a number of different approaches that link to these questions as we progress through the course and seeing how our teachers planned to address these questions with their students.

Formative planning leading to formative action

Planning for formative opportunities and supporting learning can be considered in terms of a continual process of gathering and responding to evidence. This involves identifying the learning goals, assessing progress towards those goals and adapting the teaching to enable learners to make better progress.

As Andrea introduces in the video, both teachers and students will be working to seek answers to the three questions below:

Three questions: 1. Where am I going? (What are the goals?). 2. How am I doing? (What progress is being made towards these goals?). 3. Where do I go next? (What activities need to be taken to make better progress?).

Adapted from: Hattie and Timperley (2007).

In order to help students have clarity in terms of ‘where they are going’, learning intentions work best if they are decontextualised. This helps students ‘see’ the main idea related to the learning, and helps them to be better placed to apply it to different contexts. So unless the context is essential for the skill being learned about, we recommend removing it.


The topic the students are covering is osmosis.

Where am I going?

The goal of the learning for the lesson is: How does osmosis occur in potatoes and what factors affect it?

A better learning goal for this lesson would be: How does osmosis occur in all plants and what factors affect it?

In this way students will understand that osmosis is a fundamental process in all plants and not just potatoes. They will then be better placed to apply their thinking to any plant context provided, rather than just thinking osmosis is something that occurs in potatoes.


Can you think of a learning goal that you share with your students where there is a context mixed in? How could you share the learning goal in a way that will help your students apply their learning to differing contexts and subjects?

Share your examples of contextualised and decontextualised learning goals in the comments and discuss whether you think this will help your students’ learning.

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This video is from the free online course:

Planning for Learning: Formative Assessment

National STEM Learning Centre