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Assessment for learning in practice

While there is no formula that will guarantee learning for every student in every context, there is extensive, well-documented evidence about the kinds of teaching approaches that consistently have a positive impact on student learning.

At the heart of assessment for learning is the concept that students who truly understand and are involved in their learning have accelerated rates of achievement. Assessment-capable students know what they need to learn, where they are with that learning and what their next learning steps are. To create the dynamic in the classroom that enables students to take charge of their learning, teachers need to have, or to develop, a genuine view of both the students and of themselves as learners. They must build their own capacity, and also enable students to build theirs, for learning to learn.

Assessment for Learning builds on the work of many educators across the world, but in particular on the work of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam in their 1998 seminal research report, Inside the Black Box . In this article the authors document the results of an extensive survey of the research literature on formative assessment to conclude that: “We know of no other way of raising standards for which such a strong prima facie case can be made on the basis of evidence of such large learning gains”. Read more articles, go to the  Research and readings  section.

Explore the general elements of Assessment for Learning in this Powerpoint slide show.

PowerPoint icon. Exploring Assessment for Learning (PowerPoint 404 KB)

Use the links below to access the inter-related capabilities deemed crucial for making a difference to student learning.

Developing learning-focused relationships
The success of teaching and learning is founded on the relationship built between teacher and students. The teacher manages the motivational climate of the classroom and fosters and builds a learning-focused relationship with students where there is shared ownership and responsibility for learning. This provides students with maximum opportunity to build their own motivation to learn. 
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Having shared clarity with students about what is to be learnt
For students truly to be able to take responsibility for their learning, both teacher and students need to be very clear about what is being learnt, and how they should go about it.

When learning and the path towards it are clear, research shows that there are a number of important shifts for students. Their motivation improves, they stay on-task, their behaviour improves and they are able to take more responsibility for their learning. 
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Gathering and using assessment information effectively
Teacher and students understand that assessment, both informal and formal, is central to teaching and learning and use it formatively at all times to determine where students are with their learning. Teachers can gather dependable information, aggregate and analyse it, and use it to further teaching and learning for individuals and groups of students.
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Effective feedback
Specific, descriptive feedback is necessary for improvement and success. How teachers provide suggestions for improvement is critical in ‘closing the gap’ for students. Giving effective feedback involves the use of proven strategies and techniques to close the gap between a student’s current state of learning and the current desired goal. 
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Student self and peer assessment
Self and peer assessment is about revision and improvement. It enables students to independently assess their own and other students’ progress with confidence rather than always relying on teacher judgment. When students self and peer assess, they are actively involved in the learning process and their independence and motivation is improved.
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Reflection on the learning
Active reflection requires both teachers and students to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching and learning process. It is about monitoring every aspect of the process (planning, teaching, learning, assessing, and student achievement) so connections can be made about what has worked well and what has not been so successful, so that teaching and learning adjustments can be made.
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Shared clarity with students about their next learning steps
For students to understand where they are headed with their learning, they need to have the 'big picture' of learning at the beginning and throughout lessons or units.

As teacher and students discuss the plan about where the learning is headed, they can address the question: 'After we have learnt this, what do we need to learn next?' Students can and should play their part in ensuring that the teaching and learning has direction for them.
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