Assessment for Learning

What is Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for Learning (AfL) can be described as “a way of using informal assessment during ordinary classroom activities to improve learning.” (Gipps and Pickering, 2012, p.234) This type of assessment can take many forms in the classroom, but the learner remains at the forefront, as the outcomes are used to ensure that future planning and teaching can be tailored according to the learner’s strengths and weaknesses. The cyclical nature of AfL – where teaching and assessment become interdependent, roots it in the category of formative assessment. This is opposed to summative assessment – which can be characterised as ‘assessment of learning’ (Crawford, 2012, p.194) and is used to judge overall attainment following periods of teaching.

The Cambridge Primary Review states that formative assessment methods were, ‘the single aspect of assessment for which there was unanimous support from all sources of evidence in the Review.’ (Alexander, 2010, p. 315) This may be because AfL takes into account Constructivist theories of learning – centring around the notion of structuring teaching to take into account a child’s prior knowledge and expanding upon this (Bruner, 1977). The Review goes on to declare that formative assessment ‘fits modern views of how learning takes place, particularly in building on children’s initial ideas and skills and strengthening their engagement with and responsibility for learning.’ (Alexander, 2010, p.315) This supports the idea that AfL, as a formative method of assessment, has proved to be successful in relation to current theories of education like Constructivism and, as such, can be used to improve both the teaching and learning process.

The Assessment Reform Group (ARG, 2002a) outline 10 key principles of AfL. They state that AfL:

Based on the ARG's Principles of AfL

Image Courtesy of DCSF (2008) (here principles 9 and 10 are combined).

Throughout these webpages we will examine AfL in more detail and demonstrate how it can be used to empower the learner and the teacher. We will also outline and evaluate practical strategies for success when using AfL. Building on the principles of AfL outlined by the ARG (2002a) and the Assessment for Learning Strategy (DCSF, 2008), we chose to focus on these areas in order to emphasise the practicality of AfL and the impact it can have on teachers and learners. Perspective is key to this type of assessment and AfL maintains the learner is at the very centre of the teaching process – an idea which is crucial to the provision of effective education.


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