Author: Michelle Bambawale
Formative assessment or assessment for learning is a familiar term in education. Most teachers know the theory but struggle with the practice. I felt the same, till I took this Assessment for Learning Masters’ class, and experienced it firsthand.
For the first class, we had to read an article (Black, 2009) on formative assessment and were encouraged to posit our own theory. I did my homework, thought I had understood the concept and was ready for the teacher to explain it to us in class. Much to my surprise, she put us in groups and told us to discuss our ideas with each other, compare notes and see if we agreed or disagreed. I did not want to listen to what my peers thought! I just wanted to listen to what the teacher had to say. I wasn’t ready for either autonomy or peer learning.
Activating students as instructional resources for one another and activating students as owners of their own learning
I tried to ask the teacher questions directly, she guided me through the process of taking control of my own learning and peer learning, she asked questions like: ’What does your group think?’, ’Have you asked your peers?’ ’What do you think?’ I was required to redirect my attention to the group and construct my own learning based on the reading and the discussion. I felt very frustrated after this first class and hoped things would change, and we would be back to a lecture format. They did not.
For the next class, the reading was quite challenging, hence I really hoped the teacher would explain, it was on the power of feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). She used a jigsaw reading in the classroom for us to discuss and understand the article. Left with no option and no teacher teaching, I decided to focus and slowly realised that I was learning from my peers.
Eliciting evidence of learners’ achievement
After about four classes, we were given an assignment to write a short paper on what we thought assessment for learning was and how we could use it. I had to push myself to reflect on the class and analyse the ideas and strategies used and how they had been effective. I was beginning to develop my own ideas, beliefs and theory on assessment for learning. I was learning from my peers and through self-reflection.
Providing feedback that moves learning forward
Over the course we worked on goal setting using the following steps:
- Setting personal goals: this was an individual activity as everyone was at a different place in their learning and also had different goals for themselves.
- Finding strategies to reach our goals: for me, these included reading related research papers, watching videos and discussing with my peers.
- Providing support: the teacher used several techniques like wait time, pair and share, and exit slips.
- Providing feedback which was timely, focused and precise and deepening learning by asking probing questions and suggesting readings.
- Reflecting on progress to develop self-assessment skills.
On reflection, I realised our teacher had used all the strategies for formative assessment in action in the classroom and I had learnt them through experience. I encourage you to do the same: reflect on your own teaching practice and try these strategies in your classroom. Empowering learners to take control of their own learning will enable them to do better and feel better about their own learning, just like I did!
Some ideas for self and peer assessment in the language classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/jvl-narasimha-rao/self-assessment-peer-assessment
Easy assessment for learning ideas you can use
More ideas on Assessment for Learning
Read how to run a jigsaw reading in your English classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw-reading
Watch Dylan Wiliam elaborate on the five strategies discussed here in this blog, from his book Embedded Formative Assessment
Read Black and Wiliam’s original research paper ’Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment‘ to understand how assessment for learning can work in the classroom.
Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press. Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.
Black, P. a. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability (formerly: Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education).