Strategies for Success

This section is aimed at providing practical advice for implementing AfL, based on theories and research in effective primary assessment and personal classroom experiences.

 ‘Every interaction with a pupil is an opportunity for AfL, and it is embedded in the on-going dialogue between teacher and pupil that informs and develops teaching and learning.’

(Crawford, 2012, p.194)

With so much going on in the classroom, how do we get the most out of AfL and make sure we don’t miss assessment opportunities?

Planning for Assessment

AfL is ‘completed to inform the planning of future learning and teaching’ (Briggs, 2012, p.191). So, focusing on AfL during the planning process is a key strategy for successful assessment. This includes creating lessons informed by prior class assessment and allowing time for future AfL. Lowe and Harris discuss the ‘integrated nature of planning and assessment’ (2012, p.54) commenting on the importance of planning for opportunities to assess children ‘throughout a lesson’ (ibid).  An example of this might be scripting some targeted questions at a specific point in the lesson, or even planning to observe a certain group/child or take some evidential photos at a particular moment (Briggs, 2012).

Planning, teaching and assessment cycle

The ‘Assessment cycle’ cited by Lowe and Harris (2012, p. 52); showing the interconnectivity of assessment and planning.

Cowan (2009) found that ‘perceived lack of time’ was seen as a major obstacle for student teachers planning for AfL (cited in Hayes, 2011, p.27) So, using time efficiently to get the most out of assessment is crucial. Activities which include a variety of assessment opportunities may increase the chance of capturing meaningful indicators of progress, as well as effectively deploying members of staff with the aim of recording assessment outcomes from discussions etc.

Some strategies you might use could include:

  • Mini-whiteboards – these can be used in lessons such as phonics, so the teacher can see every students’ working, without the intimidation factor of pupils speaking aloud.
  • Discussion – (detailed on page 2) eaves-dropping while pupils discuss a certain topic or question is a great way to assess what particular children in your class might know and understand.
  • Observation – this can be defined against the learning objectives so the teacher can look for evidence of specific skills and knowledge in the tasks children carry out.
  • Photographs – this is an efficient way of documenting work which exhibits the learning objectives and the learner’s understanding.
  • Thumb-o-meter – this can be used to gauge the level of class understanding or confidence in a subject.
  • Human Bar Chart – get the children active and gain a real sense of their prior knowledge and possible misconceptions by getting them to create a human bar chart in relation to specific questions.

Details of some of these techniques, as well as other creative forms of formative assessment are outlined here, by Newman and Flaherty (2012).

How can I keep teaching, learning and assessment focused?

Determine the Success Criteria

The learning objectives we had in mind when constructing these pages can be summarised as:

  • I can identify the benefits of assessment for learning for teachers and learners.
  • I can outline some strategies for using AfL in the classroom. 

By sharing learning intentions with a class, learners can self-assess what they have gained from a lesson and whether this meets the planned aims. As we have mentioned on page 1, negotiating the success criteria with the learners is a key aspect of AfL and can serve to increase pupil motivation and ownership of learning.

‘AfL should promote commitment to learning goals and a shared understanding of the criteria by which they are assessed.’

(Dunn, 2011, p.34)

Learning objectives should be clear in planning and used in all lessons, so that teachers have a defined focus for their lessons and assessment and learners have something to aim for and guide their progress.

There are a number of different formats which learning objectives can take and this can be fitted to different purposes and children. Above, we have included an ‘I can’ statement, which outlines what the learner should be able to achieve by the end of a lesson. A WALT statement, or ‘We are learning to…’ provides a focus for children’s thinking throughout a lesson. This can be effective for group activities, as the wording implies the social nature of the learning process. A success criteria can also be used so that children are aware of particular skills or actions the teacher is looking for, to demonstrate a specific target has been achieved.  

These objectives could be written on the board, on a powerpoint presentation or on a slip of paper to be stuck into the children’s books. However, as Dylan Wiliam mentions in the video below, teachers should also recognise the need for flexibility in some subjects and allow themselves to recognise progress outside of the boundaries set by learning objectives.

How can I get AfL to have an impact on pupils’ learning?

Getting the Most Out of Feedback

David Spendlove emphasises the importance of feedback in ‘causing deep thinking in the learner’; ‘increasing reflection in the learner’; ‘providing guidance on how to improve for the learner’ and ‘negotiating options for the next steps for the learner.’ (2009, p.6) In the video above, however, Dylan Wiliam stresses the need for constructive criticism if a child is to improve and feel confident enough to progress. As he mentions – a list of improvement points may not be helpful; it could appear intimidating and even incomprehensible to a child who has obviously not yet grasped the techniques they are being told would improve their work.

An effective feedback tool, which we have seen used in cases such as this, might be the ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ technique. This is where two points of admiration are pinpointed in the work, then one way in which it could be improved.

Implementing Self and Peer Assessment

The template above can also be used for self or peer assessment by the child, and encourages reflective thinking after a piece of work so that they can identify their own strengths and weaknesses and develop their own ways forward to improve.

Getting children to mark and give feedback on each others’ work ensures they get used to sharing their work with others, gives them a range of ideas for exploring the same kinds of task and gives them a sense of involvement and responsibility in the class learning process. The use of a ‘What a Good One Looks Like’ or ‘WAGOLL’ wall can be used to show children’s work which has met the learning objectives. The children can even be involved in choosing pieces of work to be exhibited.

The provision of three separate marking trays – each marked with an indication of the child’s level of understanding, can also be an effective and efficient way of gauging pupil confidence in particular subjects and tasks. This example was used in a Year 1/2 class and encouraged the children to think reflectively about their work.

From InstaPicFrame!

A simple smiley face printed on a piece of paper with the learning objective, to be stuck into the children’s books, can be used in conjunction with the traffic light method and coloured in to provide an indicator of the children’s understanding.

The children could even turn the mouth of the face into a smile or a frown to communicate their confidence in what they have learnt.


formative assessment

In conjunction with the teacher and student negotiating success criteria, providing an open ended self-assessment board could help learners to identify their own success criteria within the context of a lesson and assess their understanding and evidence for this.

This could be used when thinking about Dylan Wiliam’s thoughts on flexible learning objectives (mentioned above) as children can decide important aims for themselves. This would be more appropriate for an upper Key Stage 2 class.

There are a vast number of strategies for self-assessment, but we have chosen to look at just a small selection here. However, there seems to be no limit to the innovation and creativity which can serve to develop AfL in the primary classroom and improve the teaching and learning process.


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