The main source of work about Assessment for Learning (AfL) was undertaken by Paul Black and Dylan William in 1998 and their work, ‘Inside the Black Box’, was based on research on various assessment techniques in the classroom. Assessment for learning is any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting students’ learning (Black et al, 2004). They proposed Assessment for Learning (AfL) that explained to the students what they needed to succeed, how to have productive discussions in class, teacher feedback that helped students to progress in their learning, provided opportunities for students to learn from each other and devised strategies that encouraged students to take responsibility for their own learning (CI, 2017).
Furthermore, Assessment for Learning (AfL) is an informal, continuous, formative assessment approach that seeks to improve learning through assessment and informs day to day decisions (CI, 2017). Teachers are encouraged to integrate a number of assessment strategies into their pedagogy, including sharing explicit criteria and enhancing feedback, in order to improve learning and raise educational achievement (Jahan, 2017). Seeing that I have based my main assignment on this topic as well, I found this module extremely useful and will incorporate elements of both in this learning diary. AfL uses assessment strategies such as: questioning, sharing criteria, self and peer assessment and these will be elaborated on below.
AfL also helps the students understand what successful work looks like and what they can do to be able to attain it. Hence, it enables learners to be more aware of criteria and how best to meet these. With AfL, students are involved in their learning and there is interaction and feedback between teachers and learners. This focus on AfL is due to its potential to improve student learning and hence has become a highly valued assessment approach over time (Earl & Katz, 2013).
At my current school, it is a school-wide focus that teachers have had professional development training on and is part of our school improvement plan in terms of increasing students’ current results and overall weightings. We have also actioned this in terms of doing peer observations and learning from best practice. As a teacher, I have observed a skills gap in my EAL students being able to conduct self and peer assessments and hence this deserves more attention and improvement. I realise also that more scaffolding is required for EAL learners to be more proficient in AfL strategies; hence, I have made this a priority in my lessons.
Based on my integration of AfL in school, I have students frequently work in pairs and groups so that they have an opportunity to brainstorm and discuss their ideas. The rationale is that dialogue and discussion with each other will increase interaction and depth of thinking. Leo Vygotsky, one of the pioneers of social constructivist theory, supported the role of talking in learning. Vygotsky argued that knowledge is constructed through social interactions and that learning is a collaborative activity (Amineh & Asl, 2015). Mercer (2010) also argues that a social group is vital for the learning process since it is through talking and discussing opinions and new ideas that students are able to progress in their learning. Consequently, collaborative learning is key in my lessons. Students are given an opportunity to share their ideas when in discussions and feedback to the whole class. Based on research by Jiang (2009), collaborative learning is a term that can be used interchangeably with cooperative learning as well as group work. Groupwork is part and parcel of collaborative learning and the term is still being used in some research to indicate collaborative learning as an umbrella for such instructional techniques. Personally, in my lessons I include paired work with same ability and mixed ability groups. These groupings are based on data that we gather on their lexile levels.
AfL helps students to understand what successful work looks like and what they need to do to attain it (Hattie, 2012). Research suggests that integrating this pedagogical approach in learning practices has the ability to develop students’ metacognition and launch them in the direction of autonomous learning (Christopher et al, 2012). The other AfL assessment strategies I apply in my lessons are self and peer assessment. Self-assessment is important in learning as it gives the students the ability to manage and control their own learning and develop the capacity to work metacognitively (Black et al, 2004). Self-assessment works well when paired together with peer assessment as the students may also receive feedback from their peers which they may accept more easily than feedback from the teacher (Kyriacou, 2009).
All my learners are EAL students and with this is mind, I make sure I take cognisance of this when planning each aspect of my lessons from the vocabulary attainment to the writing tasks. I also ensure that I respond positively to pupil diversity seeing individual differences as opportunities for making the lessons manageable for all. By using AfL techniques, I set tasks which scaffold the learners’ work better and provide the support necessary for them to complete the task at hand. Thus far, learner comments and feedback are positive and confirm that they feel more responsible for their own learning and they even suggested keeping a daily journal going forward. Groupwork further ensures that they are at the helm of their learning and I can see that with AfL strategies our roles as teacher and learners has changed in my classrooms with me facilitating the discussions more.
Reflecting on these AfL strategies that I have incorporated has further taught me the following lessons that I will take forward in my teaching:
- More understanding of how to plan and implement the curriculum to incorporate more groupwork, scaffolding and self/peer assessments aiming for constant improvement.
- Being able to ensure that my learners fully understand the learning intentions and steps to success so that they know the expectations of each lesson and how this ties in with the exam criteria.
- Greater flow in my lessons from the beginning, transitions and the plenary of the lessons and ensuring sufficient question and reflective time. Here, I need to ensure that there are not too many activities whereby less time is given for the marking and feedback elements.
- More examples and scenarios that focus on the learners’ recurring mistakes and monitor progress. This will help them gain more confidence for the exams.
AfL luckily is a whole-school initiative at my school and has greatly helped with me being able to conduct and reflect on my teaching. I do believe that school leadership is supportive of AfL professional learning and development and we have a supportive peer observation approach. The above factors have been conducive to me improving my AfL strategies and reflective teaching.