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Inside the black box

Inside the black box
The research on Assessment for Learning was started for this present type of work that’s been going on in classrooms in 1998, when Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam published a 70-page research article summarising all the findings from different researchers in this area for the previous 10 years. What they did then, which was really helpful to teachers in schools and lecturers in colleges, is to create a booklet called Inside the black box, which is some 20 pages explaining the work they found in their research. The ideas that are contained in the booklet Inside the black box revolutionised how we conceptualise classroom assessment. What it allowed us to do was to think about the formative use of assessment evidence.
And that’s what we now actually integrate into Assessment for Learning practice. So doing this course and using the ideas from inside the booklet will help you ask questions or design activities to find out what’s inside your student’s heads. This will enable you to get feedback on your learners’ thinking. And this will be key in helping you make those decisions about next steps. Because it’s when teachers can use this evidence to decide what to do next that Assessment for Learning really works. And this provides a more tailored way and a more tailored approach to teaching and learning.
This is very in keeping with the drive of the new national curriculum in science, which asks us to help learners study fewer things in more depth. So finding out about their thinking will help you make those decisions. And doing this course will particularly strengthen your Assessment for Learning practices.
In this video, Chris Harrison gives a very brief overview of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam’s research into assessment for learning.
As Chris explains, Dylan and Paul’s research was the basis for their influential ‘Inside the black box – Raising standards through classroom assessment’.
We will return to ‘Inside the black box’. But after watching this video, in the next step we’d like you to consider a concrete example of assessment for learning in action.

Self-audit of your understanding of assessment for learning

Being able to assess your own development is a crucial part of professional practice. To help you review your current practice and thinking on assessment for learning, we’ve created a self-audit for you to complete before you do more on the course.

How to approach the self-audit

  • There are no right or wrong answers. Answer honestly about where you are now, not where you want to be.
  • Your answers will help you to identify what areas of practice you need to focus on the most as you progress through the course.
  • Save a copy of your responses.
At the end of the course we will ask you the same questions: you can then compare your responses and see how much progress you have made. This will also help the course team understand the impact of the course more generally.


  1. Access the self-audit task and complete it.
  2. At the end of the survey, click My responses.
  3. Click Download as PDF.
  4. Save the PDF where you will be able to retrieve it to review at the end of the course.
GDPR statement: STEM Learning will be the data controller for any personal data submitted, not FutureLearn. Further details on the opening page of the self-audit task.

What’s in the self-audit

The self-audit asks you to look at your practice using the statements below:
  • I can explain the main principles of formative assessment.
  • I can explain the benefits of using intentional dialogue in the classroom for both teachers and students.
  • I use questions to gauge levels of understanding rather than to see who has the correct answer.
  • I plan for and include questions that challenge students’ thinking to promote constructive discussion in my lessons.
  • I use group work throughout my lessons to encourage students to talk about their thinking.
  • I limit the amount of talking that I do in class and ensure I listen to students’ own talk.
  • I give students thinking time before asking them to respond to questions.
  • I allow all students to participate in the lesson when answering questions.
  • I can explain the characteristics of hinge-point questions.
  • I can explain the difference between hinge-point questions and questions that are intended to promote constructive discussion.
  • I am confident about writing hinge-point questions.
  • I include hinge-point questions in my lessons.
  • I am confident about interpreting the evidence elicited by hinge-point questions.
  • I include in my lesson plans details of what I will do depending on how students respond to the questions that I ask.
  • I act effectively on the evidence about student learning that my questions elicit.
  • I know where to find hinge-point questions created by other teachers for my subject area.
Feel free to discuss the statements via the comments on this step.
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Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching

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