We think most teachers would agree that their main aim is to improve the learning of children in their class. Black and Wiliam’s 1998 review of AfL established that it led to an improvement in pupil attainment. Through adopting an embedded system of AfL, teacher is empowered to achieve better results for the children in their class, and become a better teacher.
Photo Courtesy of ACTS Chicago
Improved attainment is linked to economic growth and quality of life (Clarke, 2011). By giving children the skills to become “lifelong learners, with transferable skills,” AfL could be seen as “the educator’s dream” (Clarke, 2011, p.8).
There are a range of key elements that a teacher needs to embed into classroom practices in order for AfL strategy to have a positive and lasting effect on children’s learning. The late Professor Ted Wragg, who was a British educationalist and advocate for AfL, talks in this video clip about the importance of embedding AfL practices into classroom practices to achieve the proven benefits of it:
In order for teachers to bring those benefits into the classroom, in this section we have focussed on how the teacher can facilitate an enabling learning environment, by the way they interact with their class through dialogue and questioning:
It is the teacher’s role to encourage children to voice their thoughts and feel reassured that they will be listened to in class discussions. The teacher needs to develop a learning environment where children feel at ease enough so they can talk openly and take some risks, enabling the misconceptions and learning gaps to be identified (Quarter and Taylor, 1999). Black and Harrison (2004, p.9.) believed that well-managed, open classroom discussion helped children to “reveal their current understanding and be helped to firmer understanding”.
Questions asked by teachers and children are a central part of classroom dialogue. Chin (2004) believed that teacher’s questions could “explore and scaffold ideas, steer thinking…. advanced student’s understanding” while questions from children can help them to “fill recognised knowledge gaps and solve problems” (Chin, 2004, p.107).
Strategies a teacher can employ to enhance the impact of teacher questioning can include:
Wait time. Budd and Rowe (1974, cited in Harlen, 2006) recommend a wait time of up to 9 seconds to encourage more thoughtful responses from children in class.
No hands up. Black and Harrison (2001) recommend this technique as it encourages every child to pay attention and consider a response in case they are asked.
Further Benefits for the Teacher
From discussions we have had with practising primary teachers, AfL brings a positive effect for the teacher in many ways, not least the improvements it can bring to effective planning. These elements are explored further in the Strategies for Success section.
From September 2013, the government have set out a new requirement explained here in a DfE press release that teacher’s pay should be linked to their performance, with a strong emphasis on children’s attainment levels. Pay increases, linked to performance, will commence from September 2014. With the proven effect on pupil learning and attainment which stem from adopting embedded AfL practices into the classroom, teachers would be well advised to ensure it lies at the heart of their teaching.
The positive impact of AfL in the classroom is cyclical and self-fulfilling. “A good climate is needed for AfL, while AfL itself promotes a good classroom climate”. (Pyle and Hodgson, 2008, p.10).
Research strongly indicates that the teacher who successfully embeds AfL into their classroom practice is more likely to work in a happy, positive and enjoyable classroom environment for both children and teachers alike.
For further information on tried and tested AfL practices, click on to the final section of our website, Strategies for Success.