Combining two approaches

A powerful way to improve student learning is to combine the first 2 approaches - 'assessment for learning' and 'assessment as learning' - as the actions for both teachers and students are included in these 2 approaches.

Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there. Assessment Reform Group (2002)

Assessment 'for learning' and 'as learning'

Research has identified 3 key processes integral to effective assessment 'for learning' and 'as learning':

  • establishing where learners are going in their learning - 'where am I going?'
  • establishing where learners currently are in their learning - 'where am I now?'
  • establishing what needs to be done to get learners to where they are going - 'how can I close the gap?'
Based on these, Stiggins, Arter, Chappius & Chappius (2007) present a useful framework of 7 strategies to use assessment as a tool 'for learning' and 'as learning'. It provides a sequence for introducing and implementing the 3 key processes and incorporates essential components recommended by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

These strategies reflect a progression that unfolds in the classroom over time.

Students will have trouble engaging in later steps (such as assessment) if they have not had experience with earlier steps (understanding learning targets and reliably assessing work).

Similarly, it is much harder for students to communicate their progress if the learning targets are not clear, if they're not adept at assessing their work, and if they don’t know what they need to do to improve.

Framework of strategies

  1. Give students a clear vision of the learning goal/s - 'where am I going?'
  2. Use examples and models of both strong and weak work
  3. Offer regular and descriptive feedback - 'where am I now?'
  4. Teach students to self-assess and set goals - the descriptive feedback provided in strategy 3 above models the kind of evaluative thinking we want students to be able to do themselves.
  5. Design lessons to focus on one learning goal or aspect of quality at a time - 'how can I close the gap?'
  6. Teach students focused revision
  7. Engage students in self-reflection and let them keep track of and share their learning.

Give students a clear vision of the learning goal/s - this helps to establish: where am I going?

  • share the learning goal/s (target/s, intention/s, aim/s) with the students at the start - before teaching the lesson, or giving the assignment or doing the activity.
  • Use language that students understand - and check to make sure they understand.
  • Ask students what they think constitutes quality in a product or performance learning goal.
  • Show students how their thoughts match with the scoring guide or rubric you will use to define quality.
  • Provide students with scoring guides that are written so they can understand them.
  • Develop scoring criteria with students.

Use examples and models of strong and weak work.

  • Use models of strong and weak work – anonymous student work, work from life beyond school, and your own work.
  • Begin with work that relates to strengths and weaknesses that students commonly demonstrate.
  • Ask students to analyse samples of work for quality and then to justify their judgements.
  • Model creating a product or performance, showing the true beginnings, the problems you run into, and how you think through decisions on the way.

Offer regular and descriptive feedback - this helps to establish: where am I now?

  • Ensure feedback reflects student strengths and weaknesses with respect to the specific learning goal or goals they are trying to achieve in a given assignment.
  • Identify what students are doing right, as well as what they need to work on next.
  • Don’t focus on everything that needs correcting, all at once.
  • Narrow comments to the specific knowledge and skills emphasised in the current assignment.
  • Pay attention to how much feedback learners can act on at one time, independently.
  • Decide what to teach next based on the other problems in their work.
  • Show students where they are on their path to attaining the intended learning.
Additionally, help students answer the questions: 'what are my strengths?', 'what do I need to work on?' and 'where did I go wrong and what can I do about it?'.

Teach students to self-assess and set goals - the descriptive feedback provided in strategy 3 models the kind of evaluative thinking we want students to be able to do themselves. To teach students to self-assess, ask them to:

  • Identify their strengths and areas for improvement before they show their work to you for your feedback.
  • Write in a response log or reflection journal at the end of the lesson, recording key points they have learned and the questions they still have.
  • Using established criteria, select a work sample for their portfolio that proves a certain level of proficiency, explaining why the piece qualifies.
  • Offer descriptive feedback to classmates.
  • Use your feedback, feedback from other students, or their own self-assessment to identify what they need to work on and set goals for their future learning.

Design lessons to focus on one learning goal or aspect of quality at a time - this helps to establish the final process - how can I close the gap?

  • If you are working on a learning goal that has more than one component, scaffold learning by narrowing the focus of lessons to help students master each of the separate components, making sure students understand that all of the parts ultimately must come together.
  • Offer feedback focused on the component you have just taught. This narrows the volume of feedback that students need to act on at a given time and raises their chances of success.

Teach students focused revision

  • Show students how you would revise an answer, product, or performance, and then let them revise a similar example.
  • Begin by choosing a piece of work that needs revision on a single aspect. Ask students to brainstorm advice for the anonymous author on how to improve the work.
  • Then ask students to revise the work in pairs, suggesting how to make it stronger for the particular aspect discussed.
  • Ask students to work on a current product or performance of their own, revising it for the aspect being studied. Give feedback just on the revised aspect.

Engage students in self-reflection and let them keep track of and share their learning. Engage students in tracking, reflecting on, and communicating about their own progress. By reflecting on their learning they deepen their understanding and will remember it longer.

Students could:

  • detail how they solved a problem or created a product or performance
  • write a letter to their parents about a piece of work, explaining where they are now and what they are trying to do next
  • reflect on their growth - 'I have become a better reader this year. I used to … but now I …'
  • help plan and participate in conferences with parents and /or teachers to share their learning.

How to use assessment "for learning" and "as learning"

When using both assessment: "for learning" and "as learning", the Ontario Ministry of Education (2014) also suggests teachers need to do the following actions:

Plan and share:

  • plan assessment concurrently and integrate it seamlessly into the instruction
  • share the learning goals and success criteria with students so everyone has a shared understanding of the goals and criteria as the learning progresses.

Gather and give:

  • gather information about student learning before, during and at (or near) the end of instruction
  • give and receive specific and timely descriptive feedback about student learning.

Develop and engage

  • help students to develop skills of self and peer assessment, and
  • engage students in individual goal setting, monitoring and reflecting on learning.

Access more information on these important actions at Actions to take.

  • NSW Education Standards Authority: Assessment for, as and of Learning.
  • Stiggins, R. J. Arter, J. A. Chappuis, S. & Chappius, S. (2007). Classroom assessment for student learning - Doing it right. Doing it well. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.
  • Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario's Schools.
  • Assessment Reform Group. (2002). Assessment for Learning: 10 research-based principles to guide classroom practice. London: Assessment Reform Group.
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