Empowering Learners

aim for the stars

This section outlines how AfL can empower learners and improve motivation and ownership of learning. Strategies for empowering learners are explored further in our Strategies for Success section.

As teachers, we know all too well that the dreaded words ‘assessment’ and ‘testing’ can cause anxiety and panic to spread across the classroom, with many of our pupils believing that how ‘well’ they do reflects how ‘clever’ they are. Simply ‘measuring’ learning can detrimentally impact our pupils’ learning and achievement by lowering their motivation and self-esteem (ARG, 2002b).

However, we believe that with its focus on deepening and furthering learning” (Clarke, 2005, p.8), AfL redefines the meaning of ‘assessment’. We believe that by focusing on learning rather than attainment, AfL can empower all learners.

So how does AfL empower learners?

According to constructivism and social constructivism (Bruner, 1977, 1996; Piaget, 1975, cited in Moore, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978), learners actively construct knowledge rather than simply receive it. Children therefore learn most effectively when they are able to actively participate in their own learning (Brookhart et al, 2008; Moore, 2000), and constructivism and social constructivism state that children have much to gain from this. As Hall and Burke (2003) demonstrate:

“Learning involves acquiring new ways of participating, and with those new ways come new identities for the learner.”

(Hall and Burke, 2003, p. 9)

AfL provides learners with opportunities to take control of their own learning, assessment and achievement (Clarke, 2005; Hargreaves, 2005). With its focus on learner participation, AfL builds on the principles of constructivism and social constructivism by placing the child at the centre of the learning process.

By enabling learners to actively participate in their own learning, AfL:

  • Fosters motivation
  • Heightens self-esteem
  • Promotes understanding of goals and success criteria
  • Helps learners know how to improve
  • Encourages reflection
  • Gives learners a voice
  • Involves learners in decision making
  • Develops the capacity for self-regulated learning

(ARG, 2002a; Clarke, 2005; Harlen and Deakin Crick, 2003)

In line with constructivism and social constructivism, Brookhart et al (2008) suggest autonomythat giving learners the power to shape their own learning can significantly enhance learning. All learners ‘do’ or understand things differently and by allowing learners to take control of their own learning, AfL enables them to adapt learning to their own strengths, needs and interests. This allows learning to become much more personal, meaningful and insightful, as learners construct new knowledge and understanding of subjects and of themselves as learners.

 “When students are given the power to shape their own learning, the learning that occurs is often much more powerful than that which would have transpired if the teacher had directed learning.”

                                                                          (Brookhart et al, 2008, p.52)

For these reasons, we believe AfL empowers learners more than any other classroom based practice.

So how can AfL improve motivation and ownership of learning?

There are a number of ways AfL does this. However, here we have chosen to focus on the following two methods:

  • Negotiating the success criteria with learners
  • Supporting learner autonomy

These methods build on the principles of constructivism and social constructivism by demonstrating how ownership of learning and collaboration with ‘more able’ others can enhance learning by allowing learners to reconstruct previous knowledge in order to develop new understandings (Bruner, 1977, 1996; Piaget, 1975, cited in Moore, 2000; Vygotsky,1978).


Negotiating the Success Criteria with Learners

Learners must understand the aims of their learning, where they are in relation to these aims and how to ‘close the gap’ in order to achieve these (DCSF, 2008; Sadler, 1989). Sharing success criteria enables learners to understand what they are aiming to achieve (DCSF, 2008). However, negotiating the success criteria with learners enables them to truly own their learning.

As the learners and teachers demonstrate in the video below, when learners are involved in the construction of success criteria they are able to effectively monitor, evaluate and further their own learning and the learning of others (DCSF, 2008; Gipps and Pickering, 2012). This therefore facilitates peer and self assessment, which as we outline below, are two methods that vitally support learner autonomy.

autonomy sign

Supporting Learner Autonomy

Peer assessment

Peer assessment is vital for self assessment as assessing someone else’s work enables learners to fully understand how to assess their own work (Tanner and Jones, 2003). By encouraging children to review and reflect on each other’s work, peer assessment allows learners to collaborate to  further develop their knowledge and understanding .

Dylan Wiliam suggests in the video link below that the strength of their relationships allows peers to be as, if not more, critical than teachers. Peer assessment can therefore heighten self-esteem by enabling learners to have their efforts recognised in a constructive way by other learners.

self assessmentThrough self assessment learners become reflective and self-managing learners who can independently evaluate and improve their own work (ARG, 2002a; Harlen, 2007). In this way, self assessment empowers learners to take charge of their own learning and provides them with the key skills to become autonomous, life-long learners (ARG, 2002a; Harlen, 2007; Tanner and Jones, 2003).

As Dylan WIliam discusses in the video below, “activating students as owners of their own learning and teaching resources for one another” has enormous benefits for all learners involved and is vital for effective learning to occur.

The Benefits of Self and Peer Assessment by Dylan Wiliam

We believe that empowering learners is key to effective learning and teaching. Throughout this section we have shown you how AfL empowers learners so that they can become:

Self and Peer assessment

Image Created by Authors using Wordle

To find out how AfL can empower YOU as the teacher, click on our next section entitled Empowering Teachers


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