Using effective AfL strategies at Key Stage 3 develops pupils’ capacity to learn & increases attainment levels
Assessment for Learning or AfL is widely used in education today, but teachers do have difficulty implementing AfL strategies successfully. One of the key difficulties indentified in using AfL was that pupils need to know why and how they are being assessed. Pupils need to see the benefits of the assessment methods being used in a way that they can easily understand. To address this, Teachers need to work more closely with pupils to make informed decisions on how they can implement AfL effectively within a group. This paper discusses current views on using AfL from pupils’ perspectives and how we as Teachers may be struggling to implement AfL successfully to improve learning.
The purpose of this research was to indentify how to use AfL techniques successfully within a selected group. By reviewing existing evidence on using AfL in the classroom, it is evident that one of the most important aspects of using formative assessment was to communicate with pupils to ensure they understood how and why they were being assessed. As a trainee teacher it is important to focus on personal development, but more importantly on pupil progress.
In our training, using AfL is indentified as one of the most effective ways to track pupil progress and improve learning. Having a theoretical view of AfL is one thing, but trying to successfully implement AfL strategies in the classroom environment as well as raising levels of attainment is a challenge for many teachers. By focusing on developing AfL techniques and working very closely with the pupils, it was hoped that the theory could be put into practice.
On commencing this study, it was believed that not only would this inform teaching, but more importantly see an increase in pupil learning and hence the level of attainment within a group. By specifically focusing on one group and seeing positive results and improvements in teaching and learning, it was hoped that the same methods and results would automatically occur across all classes.
Based on current research, it was thought that an improvement in practice and ultimately in pupil learning and levels of attainment could be achieved by effectively implementing assessment for learning strategies in the classroom. As part of initial teacher training it must be seen that having constant observation and feedback on teaching and learning will help with improving the implementation of AfL strategies and how assessment for learning techniques can be used to raise attainment levels within a control group.
The research was carried out at an inner city school with 1250 pupils. It was decided that this study would be carried out using a year seven control group studying ICT across two terms. The group consisted of twenty seven pupils with national curriculum base and target levels between three and five.
In the first of the two terms pupils were taught artwork and imaging using an image editing software package that they had not used before. The pupils were observed for a number of lessons while a colleague taught the lessons. Teaching commenced for the last four weeks of the term and it was agreed with the head of faculty and key stage three coordinator that pupils would be assessed using an end of unit summative assessment task.
The main part of the research on how improving the use of AfL in the classroom was carried out in the second term when pupils learned control and how to sequence instructions using a game making software package. As with the previous unit of work, pupils had no previous knowledge of this software package and both terms lasted for approximately the same length of time. Careful thought and planning went into verbalising how the national curriculum level descriptors related to pupil tasks in a way that pupils could easily understand. By doing this, it was believed that there would minimal variance of how the assessment objectives were conveyed to the pupils across both terms. The reason for this was so that pupils knew what they needed to achieve their individual target levels before completing any work that would be assessed.
It is believed that although the work carried out in each of the units of work did vary, the level of difficulty for the group was similar. Tasks covered in both units could be seen as fun activities, and it was evident in the teaching practice that there was no major preference amongst the pupils of what they were learning in either teaching term.
There is a vast amount of research supporting the use of AfL in the classroom, indeed GTCE (2007) states that there is ‘clear evidence that assessment for learning (AfL) strategies are effective at improving pupil learning’. Accepting this theory without adapting practice for particular class groups and learning opportunities could be seen to be naive. The GTCE questions how teachers can be supported to effectively use AfL for ‘learning practices’. They go on to say that in positive results obtained from using AfL ‘research studies involved relatively small numbers of teachers who were involved in intensive professional development in AfL practices with the researchers’ [and that training like this is] ‘not always available in schools’.
Black et al. (2003:7) support the fact that AfL is an effective strategy to raise pupils levels of attainment with an array of research. They have indentified and summarised studies that have produced ‘quantative evidence that innovations in formative assessment can lead to improvement in the learning of students’.
In chapter three of their paper, they show how they indentified the need to work closely with partners i.e. ‘local education authorities (LEAs), schools and teachers willing to take part in such a venture’. When working closely with their partners to focus on developing the ‘implementation of formative assessment in the normal professional practices of teachers and to explore the advantages of such implementation’.
They indentified one of the key aims of their research as the need ‘to design in-service training (INSET) to replicate the implementation’. In chapter four when they focus on putting their ideas into practice, their research draws on the ideas of Brown and William (cited Black et al. (2003:30)) who identified the following four techniques used in AfL: ‘questioning, feedback, sharing criteria and self-assessment’ as the key incentives for teachers to change their practice. By indentifying these four techniques as a basis for their research they were able to revise the criteria and focus on the practicalities of using these techniques within the classroom. They drew on the original findings of Brown and William and focused on improving the use of AfL by devising the following techniques:
- feedback through marking;
- peer and self-assessment by students;
- the formative use of summative tests.
It was interesting to compare the findings of Black et al. with observations on teaching practice. When AfL was addressed on Inset day, there was a strong focus on how learning opportunities were designed so that teachers could form an opinion on individual learners’ progress with regards to the APP framework. However, there did not seem to be the same focus on the techniques that teachers would actually use to assess learning. By observing this, it could be seen that the GTCE’s theory that specific training on AfL was not available in all schools, could be supported. Although Black et al. indentified the need to understand how teachers used AfL most effectively in practice and to train teachers how to do this, it could be seen that there is a case to suggest that this is not being addressed on a national level.
Chappuis et al. (2004:8) support the necessity to establish a firm understanding of AfL by indentifying the need for school and department leaders to focus on ‘building the foundation for understanding quality assessment’. They highlight the fact that teachers need to explore assessment and gain an understanding of balancing the ‘quality of assessment’, ‘the power of student involvement in assessment’ [and] ‘assessment of and for learning itself’. They have designed an exercise for teachers to work through as a group in which they should focus on assessment with a particular emphasis on looking for ‘the power of student involvement in classroom assessment’. They ask teachers to explore the following question: ‘What can student involvement accomplish?’ In addition to this they encourage teachers to work together to make adjustments in their ‘vision of excellence in assessment’ [and focus on] ‘striving for consensus’. By saying that we should strive for agreement within a group, Chapius et al. supports previous observations of general classroom practice and again on inset day. It could be seen that perhaps teachers seem to focus on creating assessment opportunities rather than agreeing on a best placed practice to implement effective formative assessment methods in the classroom. This is further supported by Dann (2002:32) who outlines the fact that even though there was an emphasis on developing a national curriculum framework on formative assessment:
the formative nature of assessment, upon which the framework was promoted, was given little acknowledgement. Rather, the process of teacher assessment of the attainment targets became the focus. Initially the link between teachers carrying out the assessment and formative assessment seemed strong. However, throughout much of the 1990s attention was directed away from formative assessment towards a growing pressure on teachers to be more rigorous in their assessment of attainment targets. The emphasis, increasingly, was on teacher assessment and on seeking to ensure that teachers developed the necessary skills to participate in their assessment responsibilities competently and consistently.
The above statement related to a Key Stage one a pilot program were primary teachers had to assess the attainment levels of pupils before they entered secondary level education. To suggest that teacher targets became more important seems appropriate based on the above statement and from observations within secondary schools.
Without categorising a single observation of an inset day at one school as an overall view of how teachers address AfL, more than anything, there does seem to be a focus on achieving an end of unit or indeed end of key stage summative grade for each pupil. It could be seen that most teachers have an underlying opinion of how they are only judged by the grades of the pupils they teach. To contradict this Stiggins et al. (2004:301) made the controversial statement that ‘learning and teaching can take place without grades just fine’. They go on to say that ‘student learning benefits from feedback, but it seldom benefits directly from grading’. One does have to ask the questions “are we really focusing on working closely with pupils on how they are being assessed?” and “should there be less focus on achieving good grades and more focus on using formative assessment to improve learning?” Surely striving to improve learning would automatically facilitate the increase in grades that is so often craved by teachers.
The GTCE (2007) supports the lack of focus on using effective AfL techniques to inform teaching practice. They highlight how ‘few teachers (20%) implemented AfL practices in ways that promoted independent learning by pupils’. Alternatively, the QCDA (2010) states that ‘effective assessment for learning happens all the time in the classroom’ However, the QCDA (2010a) outlines AfL as being effective when ‘pupils show changes in their attitude’ [to] ‘independence’ i.e. independent learning. Surely if only twenty percent of teachers are using formative assessment that promoted independent learning, then we are failing in a very important area of pupil development. Could sharing good practice and developing suitable training programs eradicate this?
The QCDA (2010a) go on to say that, to carry out effective AfL teachers need to ‘know their pupils well, know why pupils make mistakes, and be able to make judgements about next steps or interventions’. This is something in which using AfL effectively and sharing ideas with colleagues from different faculties may address the pupils achievement across the curriculum and help pupils obtain a more rounded education. In support of improving and implementing AfL strategies Capel et al. (2009:301) write that ‘assessment can be used to help teachers to be alert to possible under-achievement by pupils who are ‘coasting’ or who have some temporary difficulties which affect their learning’. This again re-iterates the need to work with other teachers across the curriculum and to use and improve on the ten principles of assessment for learning as outlined by the QCDA (2010b). Three of these principles had to be addressed when exploring how AfL could be used to improve pupil learning and attainment, these are:
- Assessment for learning should be recognised as central to classroom practice
- Assessment for learning should be regarded as a key professional skill for teachers
- Assessment for learning should promote commitment to learning goals and a shared understanding of the criteria by which they are assessed
Without ignoring the other principles of assessment for learning, it is thought that the three highlighted above would be central to exploring the idea that using AfL effectively could improve learning and levels of attainment. At the same time, adhering to the principle that AfL is a key professional skill that is central to teaching practice it was thought that developing these skills would inform and improve practice. Paying particular attention to sharing learning goals with pupils and recognising the need for pupils to know how and why they were being assessed would be paramount in completing this study.
Serafini (cited in Falchikov (2005:32)) describes using traditional assessment as ‘assessment as measurement’. Falchikov goes on to say that a ‘limited number of assessment strategies and techniques’ are used. This does not comply with formative assessment methods such as AfL which tries to compose a more balanced overall view of an individual learner. Falchikov again supports this by going on to say that ‘over reliance on a single technique can have adverse effects, as many aspects of learning are not measured by any one assessment method’. On page 82, Falchikov distinguishes between the characteristics of traditional and alternative assessment using a number of criteria. Those of particular interest are the movement from when assessment was ‘separated from teaching and learning’ [but is now] ‘integrated with teaching and learning’. She also highlights that traditionally ‘learners lack power’ [but now there is a move towards learners having] ‘degrees of power’. It is also thought that there are advantages in the shift from learners avoiding ‘taking responsibility for own learning’ [to the fact that learners are now] ‘encouraged to take responsibility for learning’. Falchikov summarises the most important difference in her findings as ‘the role of the student and the amount of power ceded to learners by teachers’.
In support of putting the onus on learners to become more responsible for the own learning, Cowie (2005:1) conducted a study that asked ‘How do pupils respond to assessment for learning?’ The study addressed the following areas in relation to sharing assessment criteria with pupils:
- Pupil perception of how they were being assessed
- The sort of feedback that was valued by pupils
The findings were that pupils believed that they were assessed through testing, getting spoken and written feedback on their work, in class observation, questioning, and more importantly by talking to them. Cowie believes that many of the pupils who were involved in the study did not feel that they were being assessed unless their teacher ‘came around’ to them during lessons. Pupil valued this type of classroom interaction as they could ‘clarify task instructions’ [and] ‘confirm their ideas were correct’. In addition to this, pupils preferred when teachers used language that they understood and put things into ‘plain English’. Pupils ‘felt encouraged to ask for help when teachers showed a willingness to revisit ideas and explanations’. In relation to questioning, some of the pupils’ reasons for answering were quite different to what we might expect, some pupils answered to ‘keep the teacher happy’. Some pupils did not like answering in class as they may be viewed in negative light by their peers. By probing pupils on this it was felt that there was a ‘lack of trust’ or indeed a distorted view of why they were being assessed within learning groups when using AfL. The study seen these as points for teachers to improve on and suggested that teachers should talk ‘with pupils about their work’ [and] ‘encourage them to ask questions to help clarify their thinking’. The study also encouraged having colleagues observe and provide feedback about ‘specific features of classroom interaction such as questioning and answer techniques’. Cowie concluded by saying that ‘teachers themselves were still developing their experience of AfL’ [and that it may be] ‘helpful to train your pupils in good habits of dialogue by talking through and establishing ground rules’. By sharing how they are going to be assessed with pupils it thought that it will be more beneficial to their learning.
The GTCE (2007) supports the need to share how we learn and are assessed with the pupils by highlighting how good AfL practice helps pupils learn. They say that ‘AfL practices help pupils learn how to learn because teachers can use them to make learning strategies explicit to learners and encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning’. In support of Cowie’s research the GTCE give an example of how using effective questioning techniques ‘probes pupils’ understanding rather than recall of facts, and encourages all pupils to contribute and share ideas’ [in doing this we can set good habits and] ‘pupils can begin to ask questions of each other, so moving the focus from the teacher to the pupils’. This shows evidence that by using AfL effectively, and sharing how we assess with the pupils by ‘establishing ground rules’ we can enhance teaching and learning. This reiterates the earlier point made by QCDA (2010b) that we should promote a shared understanding of learning goals. Indeed, the QCDA (2010b) goes in to more detail on the point and states that ‘understanding and commitment follows when learners have some part in deciding goals and identifying criteria for assessing progress’.
When conducting research into using AfL in the classroom environment there is indeed a multitude of evidence to suggest that AfL is and effective “assessment” technique. More importantly though it’s the “for learning” part of AfL that we as teachers should address to effectively use AfL. In theory there does seem to be many advantages of using AfL in the classroom, supported by lots of advice on teachers should do to implement effective AfL. However, the focus needs to be removed on the assessment as a grading system for pupils and shift to the “for learning” were there is more of a focus of developing good AfL strategies to enhance learning rather than to form a summative grade at the end of a term.
Current research highlights that implementing AfL is a weakness for teachers. There is not much practical evidence to support that using AfL by focusing on working with the pupils rather than trying to get the pupils to achieve grades, will automatically see an improvement in pupil attainment level. This research will focus on trying to use AfL to improve learning within a group rather than improve graded levels of attainment. Hopefully the pupils’ response to effective use of AfL will see an automatic increase in levels of attainment.
When approaching this task the method was as follows, pupils were assessed over two terms. In the first term an end of unit summative assessment task was used to assess individual pupil’s level of attainment in relation to the National Curriculum for ICT.
In the second term a range of AfL techniques were used with the same group of pupils. In term one, the end of unit task would be verbalised in relation to the APP framework so that pupils knew what they needed to achieve in order to evidence that they were working towards or above their target level. Pupils were shown opportunities to hit above and beyond their target levels throughout the unit. Pupils received feedback throughout, focusing on how they could improve their work and show evidence of learning.
Data has been collected and quantified across both terms in numeric format relating to national curriculum levels of attainment. The target of key stage three pupils is to jump two whole levels of attainment during the key stage. Therefore pupils should be raising their level of attainment by about two thirds of one level per school year (or two sub-levels). When collecting the data, a spreadsheet was created at the end of the first term with the pupils’ base and target levels for year seven. Work was marked and the level that they had attained for the summative assessment task was recorded. The recorded levels and samples of the assessed work were checked and verified by the observing teacher. Other members of teaching staff were approached for advice when completing the assessment. The same process was followed in the second unit although a formative assessment was made of each pupil throughout the unit based on tasks they completed during the course of the unit.
Regarding the reliability and viability of data it should be noted that this research and data collection was carried out as part of initial teaching training practice. It could be seen that there may have been a slight improvement in teaching and learning methods and behaviour management techniques across the two terms. Having said that observations records of the teaching practice did not show such an improvement throughout the two terms to suggest that much improved teaching could have swayed results significantly.
In relation to the other teaching staff and pupils involved in this research, no further details of the school will be made available rather than the fact that research took place in an inner city school in the North West of England, United Kingdom. Pupils are referred using a numbered list eg. Pupil 1 to Pupil 27 and there is no reference to personal details of any individual pupil that participated in this research. The control group was of mixed gender but no reference as any difference between how genders performed will be made. It is believed that a structured approach to helping all pupils within the group is the only ethical way to complete the study. It was also deemed to be unfair to teach the same materials to two different class groups and compare results. In the belief that using AfL in the classroom would improve learning (and attainment) it would be unfair and unprofessional not to give both groups an equal chance of progressing. The fact that AfL strategies were developed only in the second term was not a lack of interest in improving practice but should be seen as a natural progression as part of initial teacher training.
As mentioned previously, the data collection for the first term was quite simple. The pupils were summatively assessed based on a task that they completed over six lessons (five hours). The task was designed so that pupils could revise all of the skills that they completed in the unit of work. The pupils were given freedom to be creative when completing the task and there was a focus on structuring the task so that pupils knew what they needed to do to achieve their individual target levels ‘in their own language’. They were asked to self assess the work that they completed and submit their evaluations as part of the completed task. When completed, pupil work was printed and marked according to the APP framework. The pupils had the opportunity to hit two from three of each of the assessment focuses AF1, AF2 and AF3 in the APP assessment criteria grid. When marking the work advice was sought out from the Key Stage 3 coordinator for ICT, the Head of Faculty and mentoring teacher. The final submitted mark was moderated by the Head of Faculty who was also the class teacher. After moderation, the results were entered into a spreadsheet to be used for comparison at the end of the study.
In the second term a formative opinion of each pupil was collected over the teaching term (again they had the opportunity to hit two out of three of the APP Framework assessment focuses). There was a focus on improving practice in regards to using AfL effectively throughout the unit. It should be mentioned that the focus was more on the learning of the pupils rather than improving the overall practice of the teaching. Particular emphasis was placed on getting to know each individual learner and taking the time to interact with each learner, to help build on their strengths and their confidence.
Sharing learning objectives with pupils was seen to be of paramount importance according to current research. A virtual learning environment was set up so that pupils had access to learning objectives. When adding the learning objectives to the VLE it was important to verbalise them in a language that pupils could easily understand so they knew what they were trying to achieve in each of the lessons. When a formative opinion was created of learners within the group, there was a focus on setting up differentiated learning groups within the class. The pupils were consulted when doing this so they took ownership of their own learning. Independent learning was promoted with pupils showed who showed confidence in progressing on their own.
The VLE was also used within the class in plenary activities to assess what pupils had learned in individual lessons. Based on the pupil understanding demonstrated in these tasks, planning of the next lesson was adjusted accordingly. As well as this, exemplar pupil work was displayed on the interactive whiteboard in the following lessons to aid learning. Pupils were given the opportunity to repeat some of the plenary tasks in follow up lessons to consolidate their learning. It was observed that there was a definite increase in the level of understanding throughout the group when exemplar work was used and activities such as this were repeated, this would back up the opinion of Cowie to say that pupils liked to revisit work and increase understanding. Individual pupil pride in their work was evident when exemplar work was used and there was a definite increase in confidence, self-esteem and pupil-teacher trust. The use of peer and self assessment was promoted on all tasks that pupils completed throughout the unit.
Pupil progress checklists were also used to target progress against individual tasks. The checklists were displayed in lessons along with individual pupil base and target levels. Particular care was taken when deciding when to show the checklists so as not to categorise any pupil as feeling excluded or left behind by their peer group. Displaying the progress checklists was also used as a motivator for some pupils who should have been achieving more in the lessons. When needed, interventions were made (particularly due to absence) and additional support was given during lunch time sessions. Indeed using AfL and constantly feeding back to pupils had a really positive result and some pupils asked to come in for extra lunch time clubs to improve their work.
Any homework activities planned were marked and returned pupils by the following week at the latest. Rather than grading the homework, comments were used to advise pupils on what they needed to do to improve their work. The only grading used was for effort. Pupils appreciated the early feedback and they did work harder and respond more positively as a result. Results were recorded.
Based on the change in teaching and learning that was being promoted within the classroom, it was also thought that it would be worth while to gather some qualative opinions from pupils on how they thought the changes affected their learning. When all pupils were present they were asked the following questions using a yes/no submission form on the VLE:
- Does it help you when you can see what we are trying to learn?
- Do you prefer knowing what we will be doing in the next lesson?
- Do you like using this website to tell the teacher what you have learned?
- Do you like when we go through the best answers at the front of the class in the next lesson?
- Are you happy when the teacher uses your work as an example?
- Do you learn when more when we look at other pupils’ work?
- Does it help you learn when you don’t know something and the teacher helps you find the answer rather than just telling you the answer?
- Does having your homework marked and receiving feedback help improve your work in class?
- Do you like working in groups?
- Do you learn more when you work with other people?
- Do you friends help you improve your work by giving you feedback?
At the end of the second term, again an end of unit task was used, but this time having already formed an opinion of the levels that pupils were working at throughout the unit with evidence to support this, it was easier to let each learner know what they needed to do to improve (the APP assessment focus that they needed to provide evidence of learning for). When pupils submitted their final assessment task their individual APP tracker sheets were updated and marks were given based on all of the work completed throughout the unit. Again advice was sought and the work was moderated by the Head of Faculty. Data was collated with the grade from the previous term in the same spreadsheet.
Figure 1.0 below shows the results gathered in a spreadsheet over the two terms. Each pupil’s base line and target level for ICT in year seven is shown at the beginning. The resulting grade from the imaging unit that pupils studied in term one is displayed alongside the grade for the control unit completed in the second term. As National Curriculum levels of attainment have been quantified numerically eg. 3c=3.1, 3b=3.5, 3a=3.9 etc. the increase or decrease for each pupil’s level of attainment is not 100% accurately displayed in the column labelled ‘Level’, hence the need to quantify the data with regards to NC sub-levels. You can see from the data collected and analysed there is a significant increase in sub-level attainment with the majority of pupils across the two units.
Fig 1.0 – Pupil targets and attainment over the teaching periods
This is shown more clearly in Fig. 2.0 below:
Fig 2.0 – Change in National Curriculum sub-level of attainment over both teaching terms
Given the fact that there was an improvement in attainment by twenty two out of the twenty seven (or 81%) of pupils between both terms it has to be seen that using AfL has been used effectively to increase learning and levels of attainment in this case.
Fig. 3.0 below shows both term one (blue) and term two (red) results alongside each other and highlights the overall rise in achievement:
Fig 3.0 – Pupil level indicators for both terms
After graphing the levels of attainment alongside each other it was seen that there was a definite consistency in the increase in the level of attainment within the group. Figure 4.0 is used to highlight this more clearly:
Fig 4.0 – Consistent improvement in level of attainment across the group
Fig. 4.0 shows the correlation of increased level of attainment across the group. The first half of the graph is particularly accurate. Indeed it hardly shows any variance for the first fifteen pupils (Pupil 1 to Pupil 15). This is discussed in more detail in the next paragraphs.
In the case of the two pupils that showed a decrease in levels of attainment, it should be noted that Pupil 16 was highlighted as being particularly artistic and produced some excellent work using the image editing software in the first term. In term one the pupil actually performed at their target level at the mid-point of the school year. Given the pupil’s artistic nature and the high level of achievement in the first term, a drop in attainment may be seen to be understandable. With regards to Pupil 21, this pupil actually worked to a very high standard and achieved beyond their target level in the first term. The fact that the pupil worked at their target level in the second unit could not really be seen as a disappointment.
Pupil 4 and Pupil 10 showed increases of four and five sub-levels of attainment respectively. Given, the fact that pupils should only be increasing their level of attainment by only six sub-levels or two levels across a key stage, this might seem like an inaccurate increase. Having rechecked the class registers, it must be noted that both pupils were absent for a significant amount of classes in the first term. This was addressed in the second term with the additional lunch time classes which both pupils attended willingly when the teacher intervened.
In the case of the six pupils that raised their level of attainment by one whole level, specifically Pupils 1, 12, 17, 18, 19, 22 and 24, it should be noted that Pupil 1 significantly underachieved in the first term. Pupil 12 was very enthusiastic about the game making unit and volunteered time at lunch time to improve their work. Pupils 17, 19, 22 and 24 were seated together and responded very well to working within a group. They were very conscientious about improving their work based on teacher feedback. Pupil 18 responded very well to a new seating plan after showing some behavioural issues in the first term. Additionally, Pupil 18 showed a renewed vigour in their work when they constantly received positive feedback.
The pupils that did not change their levels of attainment Pupils 3, 26 and 27 were all working at or working towards their target levels in term one, they could be seen as consistent workers but specific targets would have been set for these pupils to increase their learning in the next unit.
Generally, outside of the pupils mentioned above, there is an increase of either one or two sub-levels by thirteen of the twenty seven pupils in the control group. This could be deemed to be above the expectation for a rise in attainment across two terms at Key Stage 3.
With regards to how the lessons were taught and with the more informed implementation of using AfL techniques within the classroom, pupils also displayed a more than positive response. The survey was taken on a date when all pupils were present so as to build an overall picture within the control group.
Figure 5.0 shows the pupils responses to the survey questions highlighted in the data collection section. The question they responded least positively towards was ‘Do you like when we go through the best answers at the front of the class in the next lesson?’ Perhaps this is understandable as pupils may not like to be seen as the so called ‘teacher’s pet’ (this could be backed by Cowie’s findings). By conducting this survey, it is believed that pupils became more involved in setting the criteria for their learning and gained a better understanding of how they were being assessed.
Fig 5.0 – Pupils response to qualative survey
It would have to be agreed with current research that sharing learning objectives and how pupils are assessed with the pupils definitely improves learning and attainment.
When researching the idea that using AfL strategies in the classroom could raise levels of attainment, there was lots of evidence to support this. However, there was not much factual evidence based on pupils’ actual results over a period of time. In addressing this and focusing on using AfL effectively and working closely with pupils to constantly improve practice and more importantly pupil learning it is shown from the data collected and analysed that implementing the theory in a practical environment does indeed increase levels of pupil attainment. The consistent trend of increased levels of attainment throughout the control group shows that using assessment for learning in an ongoing manner as opposed to just assessing what pupils have learn at the end of a set period of time does indeed work.
There was an emphasis placed on improving pupil progress and learning during the second term of study rather than obtaining targeted grades. By focusing on using assessment for learning, it does indeed seem to be effective in automatically increasing grades (without focusing too much on the grades themselves). Having said that, it is difficult to get away from actually using the grading system to try and motivate pupils to work towards a certain level. Maybe this is of more concern to teachers than the pupils?
The increased interaction with the class and a focus on improving questioning techniques did seem to have a positive effect on teacher-pupil relations. As importantly as anything else, it would be agreed with Cowie’s view on the fact that pupils want teachers to ‘come around’ and check on them, giving feedback on their learning during classes. Focusing on interacting with pupils in this way really makes them feel part of the class. The fact that some pupils volunteered to come in and improve their work at lunch time, suggests that developing a rapport with pupils while helping them with tasks is a very successful AfL technique. Looking beyond teachers’ desire to obtain graded levels, working with pupils in this way does seem to automatically let the grades take care of themselves. There is and increased awareness on the students’ behalf to further their own learning. Pupils responded well, if they see the teacher as putting in extra effort with them on an individual basis.
It could be seen that the fact that this study was carried out during a period of initial teacher training then the results might be swayed due to improvements in teaching practice over the time period. This point would be argued by the fact that any improvement in practice and indeed results was mainly due to being more aware of using AfL to improve pupil learning.
The results speak for themselves and they may be slightly distorted, but with 81% of pupils showing an increase in levels of attainment it has to be seen as conclusive that using effective assessment for learning strategies does indeed improve pupils’ capacity to learning and with this we will automatically see an increase in their level of attainment.
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I was awarded Masters level accreditation for this paper. The research was carried out during my PGCE teaching practice.