Some Ideas about Teaching
Assessment for Learning
Suggestions for an AfL
This was posted in response to a teacher who had been
asked - for an observation lesson - to 'teach an AfL lesson', and who
wondered what this meant; no one on the forum seemed to have any idea:
As I understood it, AfL - Assessment for Learning - was
originally all about the assessment process of getting to pupils to
understand why - in a particular assignment, piece of classwork or
assessment piece -they had gained the level they had gained, and what they
needed to do to advance to the next level. At thsat time it was essentially
something that the teacher did on his exercise books, after the lesson was
finished. We started highlighting 'passages that demonstrated the level'
when we were marking, and adding 'Ways you can improve' after we had marked
each piece of work. I have to admit, that WAS a hell-of-a-sight better that
'try to work more neatly next time'.
Then - again as I understood it - AfL then became all linked up with
the idea of a plenary, because that was when the teacher assessed the
progress made by the pupils, and used that information to make sure that his
next lesson was the relevant next step for the pupils in the class. Thus AfL
became part of the process of lesson planning, because it was informing the
best way to prepare the next lesson(s).
And the latest I had heard - again as understand it - was that you
had to do mini-plenaries throughout your lesson, so that you could make sure
that not only was the next lesson the next step, but that the next step in
the lesson was the right 'next step' for the pupils. By this, AfL was being
integrated into the TEACHING process, because it was something the teacher
was doing to guide his teaching throughout the lesson.
Nevertheless, even though we were seeing a developing concept, the concept
of AfL was of something which SUPPORTED the children's learning - something
which you applied TO your lesson plan.
I have never before heard of the idea of an AfL lesson per se - an
AfL lesson for AfL's sake!
So was Siobahn being asked simply to teach a normal lesson, but just one
where she would demonstrate that she was using AfL principles in the
marking, the planning and the delivery of her lesson ... or has the concept
of AfL had moved on, and that now we were supposed to be able to teach 'AfL
Posted on Nov 20 2006, 09:56 PM
You will find that AFL just
does what good History teachers have been doing for years.
Your biology guy seems to have muddled up AfL and the T&L element of the
Secondary Strategy, although they clearly go together.
At the heart of the Secondary Strategy is the three-part lesson.
1. You start by
telling the pupils what they are going to learn. This is best done when you
put your teaching objectives for that lesson into 'pupil'speak'. At my
school we distinguish between the 'teaching outcomes' that the teacher wants
to achieve, but we tell the pupils the 'learning outcomes' in terms of the
practical skills/facts they will appropriate. If possible, you are supposed
to wrap this up in a stimulating activity at the start of the lesson. This
is called the Starter.
2. Then you
teach the lesson as interestingly and effectively as you can, doing all
those trendy things you are supposed to such as differentiation, VAK, ICT,
literacy and numeracy etc.
3. Finally, you
finish by doing something to help you (and the pupils) see to what extent
they have learned what they were supposed to learn. This is called the
Great mystique has accumulated around the Starters and the Plenaries, but as
long as you keep in the forefront of your mind what they are there to do
they are easy enough to get your head around. (Or, in Scotland, your heed).
Into this comes the altogether ordinary concept of AfL.
It grows out of the fact that you had discrete, attainable, identified
teaching aim(s) when you started the lesson.
AfL is therefore for the teacher, and for the children.
AfL has three elements:
1. As a teacher,
you are continually assessing the learning of your pupils as you go along
anyway, and you are letting this affect the way that you deliver the next
sentence, never mind the rest of the lesson. It is a continual adaptation of
the lesson plan to meet the pupils' learning needs as you see then learning,
or failing to learn, as you 'go along'.
2. By doing a
plenary session, you (and the pupils) can take stock at the end of the
lesson of how well the pupils appropriated the content and skills you were
trying to teach them, and this allows you to reflect on your teaching and to
plan the next lesson so it is appropriate to the pupils' needs.
However, by far the most important element of AfL is this:
3. WHEN YOU MARK
THE PUPILS' WORK, you mark it in a way which not only tells the pupil how
well they performed (= how well they appropriated the skills and facts they
had to learn) but you tell them what they need to do to get better.
This is called 'target-setting'.
Again, a mystique has attached itself to target-setting, because clever
people have had to make a living out of it, but the idea is simple enough at
its base level.
The key to good target-setting is knowing step-by-step/ level-by-level what
are the steps by which a pupil can improve their performance. Your marking
therefore recognises that the pupil has demonstrated such-and-such a skill
in their work, but adds that with just a little change and adaptation they
can learn how to such-and-such ... and that must be the next step they take,
so you write it down as their 'target'.
History teachers, as I said, have been used to marking in 'levels' for
decades, so they find this really easy.
Its the biology teachers that scratch their heads, because all they think of
progress is in terms of more facts.
History teachers think in terms of a taxonomy, which is what it's all about.
The place you look to see if a member of staff has understood AfL is their
comments on the pupils' work.
What you SHOULD see is a skills/work-related comment directing the pupil
usefully to try something which will allow them to improve the quality of
their next piece of work.
All in all, actually, it's hard work to get your staff to start writing
meaningful targets when they are marking the pupils' work. Those who haven't
or won't 'get it' cannot get beyond 'be neater', and 'try harder'. Good AfL
assessment-comments are SMART.
As you introduce AfL, you will find the following problems:
1. you cannot
write a meaningful AfL comment on every piece of written work the pupil
does. There is far too much work involved.
- setting key 'assignments' which you close-mark in an AfL way - and the
rest of the pupils' work in their exercise books you mark as you always did
in a 'must try harder' way.
2. in a subject
like History, where there are a number of different strands, it's really
hard to set a meaningful target for the next piece of work, because (if, say
for instance, the piece of work was on the evaluation of sources) your
comment relates to THAT SPECIFIC skill. But the next piece of work is a (for
instance) narrative/description - so your 'target' is completely irrelevant
until halfway through next term, when you revisit evaluation of sources.
- use a generalised 'levels' markscheme such as
THIS ONE - actually these are
quite good because not only do they make it really easy to identify the
skills evidenced in the pupils' work, but they make it REALLY OBVIOUS what
skill the pupil has to try to appropriate next (i.e. the PUPILS can declare
their own targets for the next piece of work).
and where you want to be more detailed in your approach to a particular
- design your syllabus in chunks, so that you manipulate the content so that
you address and re-address the same skill for a while, to give the pupils
time and opportunity to improve in a particular skill before you move on.
This, actually, is not a bad thing.
Good things about
1. It make
teachers THINK about what they are trying to get the pupils to achieve in
EVERY lesson, and to monitor whether the pupils are achieving that, and to
think about what each child has to do to get better (and tell them this).
This isn't a bad thing AT ALL!
2. It REALLY
helps the pupils improve. Done well, they really get the idea of what they
should be trying to do in a particular kind of question, and - when you have
got your advice sorted - there is a great sense of satisfaction as they
So that's all AfL is .. what GOOD History teachers have been doing for ages.
Posted on: Oct 27 2005,
AfL is a MAJOR aspect of the Key Stage 3
strategy and - yes - it's going to be MAJOR in Ofsted inspections.
It's about building formative assessment into your lesson-planning cycle,
and about setting subject-relevant short-term 'soft' targets for pupils.
You lesson-planning should BEGIN by formulating the (NC/ skills-related)
assessment you intend to set for this lesson/section of the syllabus.
You then start the lesson knowing exactly what you want the pupils to learn
- and communicating this to them.
When they have done the work, you will be able to see to what extent they
have appropriated the skills/knowledge you wanted, and your written (or
verbal) comments should then give them 'soft targets' that you would like
them to try to achieve next time as they either work towards the
skills/knowledge they failed to reach this time, or (having appropriated it)
the next step beyond that.
It gets you beyond the 'Beautiful neat work, well presented - keep trying'
comments that festoon most exercise books.
This markscheme will allow you
to build this into your NC summative assessments; by presenting the NC
levels as a hierarchy, it allows the pupils to identify what they have to do
next to move up to the next level.
Posted on: May 15 2005,
Actually, I have no problem
with levels or assessment.
You have to use them with common sense, and make them your servant, not your
At Greenfield we teach - actually - primarily for enjoyment and fun! After
that, I would hope we do a good job of teaching the pupils the skills and
facts of History. We set classwork and regular homeworks for all the reasons
classwork and regular homeworks should be set!
But, every now and again, we set the pupils an assignment. These vary
between 3 and 6 a year, depending on the age and ability of the pupils. We
try to set assignment tasks that the pupils will find challenging and
We find we can mark most (though not all) of them by using this
generic markscheme, which is essentially a
distillation of the key elements of the level criteria. Actually, it makes
marking quite easy: it directs your attention towards the key historical
elements (and away from things like presentation, effort and length) - all
you do is tick the elements you have seen, and indicate on the pupil's
assignment where you saw the critical ones (ie the ones at the margin).
The pupils understand it as well, and their next targets become REALLY
clear! They are the next couple of skills on the list. (I am aware of all
the stuff about non-linear progression etc., but - let's face it - the whole
list is just a list of common-sense ways to write a good assignment, eh?)
We record the marks, and at the end of the Key Stage we look across the
levels the pupils have got, and come up with a best-fit judgement.
It gives us a yardstick for summative AND formative assessment. The pupils
enjoy demonstrating what they can do, and like to know how good (or bad)
their effort was. It satisfies everything that parents and SMT could ever
want to know about how the pupils are doing. And it is easy to set and mark.
What's the problem?
Posted on: Jul 7 2004,