Central to 'Assessment for Learning' is that it:

  • Is embedded in the teaching and learning process of which it is an essential part
  • Shares learning goals with pupils
  • Helps pupils to know and to recognise the standards to aim for
  • Provides feedback which leads pupils to identify what they should do next to improve
  • Has a commitment that every pupil can improve
  • Involves both teacher and pupils reviewing and reflecting on pupils' performance and progress
  • Involves pupils in self-assessment

To improve the quality of assessment for learning we need to:

Involve pupils in their learning

  • Explaining clearly the reasons for the lesson or activity, in terms on the learning objectives
  • Sharing the specific assessment criteria with pupils
  • Helping pupils to understand what they have done well and what they need to develop
  • Showing pupils how to use the assessment criteria to assess their own learning

Model quality: show pupils the learning strategies and goals

  • Encouraging pupils to listen to the range of pupils' responses to questions
  • Showing pupils the learning strategies
  • Showing pupils how the assessment criteria have been met in some examples of work from children not known to the pupils
  • Encouraging pupils to review examples from anonymous pupils that do not meet the assessment criteria, in order to suggest the next steps to meeting the assessment criteria
  • Using examples of work from other pupils in the class highlighting the ways it meets the assessment criteria or standards

Give feedback to pupils on their work

  • Focusing on the task, giving regularly and while still relevant
  • Confirming pupils are on the right track and stimulating the correction of errors or improvement of a piece of work.
  • Giving suggestions for improvement and act as "scaffolding" i.e. give pupils as much help as they need to use their knowledge. Do not give the complete solutions as soon as they get stuck so that they must think things through for themselves
  • Help pupils find alternative solutions if simply repeating an explanation continue to lead to failure
  • Give feedback on progress over a number of attempts rather than feedback on performance treated in isolation
  • Oral feedback is usually more effective than written feedback
  • Give pupils the skills and confidence to ask for help

Develop self-assessment and peer assessment

In self assessment:

  • Help pupils reflect on their own work
  • Support pupils to admit problems without risk to self-esteem
  • Given time to work problems out
  • Help pupils understand the criteria or standards that will be used to assess their work
  • Give pupils the ability make judgements about their work in relation to these and any feedback from the teacher
  • Help them work out the implications of this for future action.

For peer assessment:

  • Give pupils the ability to explore each others’ work to allow them to see different ways of tackling the same task and, as a result, extend their own repertoire
  • Help pupils work with others to look at a range of imperfections and misconceptions through which they can explore their own understanding and misunderstanding
  • Help pupils to become clearer about their own expectations through trying to explain strengths and weaknesses to others. This may result in the learning of new and more efficient strategies

Practical Strategies and Advice from Research

Sharing Criteria with Learners

Explain learning objectives at start of lesson/unit

Give criteria in pupils’ language

Have posters of key words to talk about learning eg describe, explain, evaluate

Use planning/writing frames

Have annotated examples of different standards to ‘flesh out’ assessment criteria

Use examples of pupils’ work to show pupils what criteria look like in practice

Share marking schemes with pupils and give time to think through, in discussion with others, what this might mean in practice, applied to their own work

Pupils often learn best from seeing work that is just a little better than the standard they currently achieve

Pupils learn to judge quality by discussing how examples of weak work could be improved

Give opportunities for pupils to design their own tests

Effective questioning

The kinds of question asked, the way they are asked and the responses given influence both the self-esteem and the level of participation of pupils. We should aim to cultivate a supportive environment in which pupil contributions are valued highly

Lead questions should be carefully thought through and planned as should the direction (to whom) and distribution (across the class or groups) of the questions

Prompts and cues should be used to guide pupils step-by-step towards a higher level of participation and learning

Grouping strategies should be designed to maximise pupil involvement and minimise the feeling of intimidation which sometimes constrains pupils at whole class level.

Low order questions for factual recall may be used to check on previous learning, but these should be minimised and Socratic questioning should prevail – These are questions that probe the underlying logic or structure of our thinking and enable us to make reasoned judgements. There are six types of questions.

  1. Questions of clarification
    What do you mean by that? Can you give me an example?
  2. Questions that probe assumptions
    What is being assumed? Why would somebody say that?
  3. Questions that probe reason and evidence
    What are your reasons for saying that? What criteria do you base that argument on?
  4. Questions that probe implications and consequences
    What might be the consequences of behaving like that? Do you think you might be jumping to conclusions?
  5. Questions about viewpoints or perspectives
    What would be another way of saying that? How do Hannah's ideas differ from John's?
  6. Questions about the question
    How is that question going to help us? Can you think of any other questions that might be useful?

Appropriate choice of questions about understanding, and the inclusion of questions that stimulate thinking about thinking, reinforce the importance of reflective and metacognitive thinking

Pupils must be given time to respond and the teacher should not answer their own questions

The quality of the answer is as important as that of the question. An expectation of high order answers should be the norm and pupils should be encouraged to generate further questions

Pupils should be involved in planning and negotiating learning situations. Encouraging pupils to develop their own questions for planning and self-assessment is a skill from which the more gifted will benefit.

Common errors in teachers' questioning are:

§   asking too many questions at once

§   asking a question and answering it yourself

§   asking questions only to the brightest or most likeable

§   asking a difficult question too early

§   asking irrelevant questions

§   always asking the same type of question

§   asking questions in a threatening way

§   not indicating a change in the type of question

§   not using probing answers

§   not giving pupils time to think

§   failing to see the implications of answers

§   failing to build on answers

Feedback and Marking

Feedback can be oral or written. Choice is dependant on context.

More effective teachers use praise rather less often than less effective teachers.

Praise needs to be specific, describing what is praiseworthy, rather than generalised.

Feedback is more effective if it focuses on the task (task-involving) rather than the person (ego-involving).

Grades, marks, scores, ticks  etc. have little effect on subsequent performance.

Frequent feedback on behaviour and presentation (e.g. neatness) impair its meaning as feedback on quality of thinking.

Narrative comments help pupils to understand how to improve.

Indications of areas for improvement and possible strategies are better than total solutions (e.g. teachers’ corrections of work) because pupils have to think.

Opportunities need to be provided for pupils to improve on earlier efforts.

There are dangers in making feedback to individuals public, but public feedback involving the whole class in general discussion is valuable.

Mistakes can be viewed as important learning opportunities.

If pupils efforts are recognised they are more likely to believe they can improve (if they think success depends on innate ability they may give up to avoid failure).

 Self-Assessment and Peer Assessment

Involving pupils in marking

Pupils can mark their own work and that of others against clear criteria and learning intentions. The criteria can be developed as a class activity; this clarifies the teacher’s expectations and involves the pupils in reflecting on how far their work fulfils these expectations. The aim of the activity should be to identify ways that the pupil whose work is being marked can move forward. (Good examples of this strategy are provided from the AAIA publication ‘Pupils learning from Teachers’ responses’).

Marking in groups   

An alternative to marking individually is for pupils to do this as a group. The focus should be on a recently completed piece of work and the group help each other to assess the work against agreed criteria and suggest ways in which the work could be improved.

Marking against annotated examples         

Another useful marking strategy is for groups to work together to see how closely their work measures up against an ‘ideal solution’. Whilst it will be important to emphasise that there could be many ‘ideal solutions’, group discussion should aim to help each pupil understand the extent to which their response achieves the criteria and what they can do to improve.

Individual self-assessment sheets    

These can be developed for some elements of a programme and invite pupils to reflect on the extent to which their work has achieved identified criteria. In the light of this they have to indicate what they need to do to improve.

Traffic lights

This has proved a popular strategy and invites pupils to reflect on the current state of their learning in relation to a particular task or activity. If they feel confident that they understand a given piece of work, they use a green indicator (a marker, coloured pencil / crayon, or a sticker). If they are not quite sure of their understanding they use amber. If they are very uncertain, they use a red indicator.

In the light of their judgement, it is important that pupils then think about what they need to do to move from red/amber to green. Students indicating green could be used to advise those who used amber and the teacher can then work with those who used red.  An alternative to the traffic lights is to use three versions of smiley faces or post it notes.

Last five minutes      

At the start of a lesson, the teacher makes the purpose of the lesson clear and during the last five minutes, one of the pupils explains what they have learned in the lesson. Others in the class question them about this.

Questions and tasks to extend understanding       

At the end of a lesson or a unit of work, pupils can be invited to suggest questions that could be used to assess their understanding against the established criteria. These could become homework tasks, which could be assessed by pupils in ways described above.

Gauging self improvement against their own past work  

The same problem or task could be reintroduced from time to time, as part of a revision exercise, so that pupils  can judge for themselves how much better or more sophisiticated their reasoning is now than before. By returning to a problem or task and comparing current responses to those produced in the past they can develop an appreciation of their own mental growth and the development of new forms of thought and perspective.

Portfolios of past work

Pupils could be invited to produce a class or subject portfolio of completed work that illustrates the standards expected. This could be regularly added to by drawing on examples from the above activities.


During the course of a unit of work, providing opportunities to present to the class allows a individuals and groups to illustrate current understanding and progress.  Self-assessment is involved in making decisions about what to include and how best to present. Feedback from teachers and peers contributes to the development of Peer assessment.

Videoing group presentations         

This allows pupils to reflect on and review their knowledge in the light of their own reflections and further feedback from other members of the class.

“Plan, Do and Review”                   

This is a process developed in the High Scope Project for very young children. At the start of any activity the teacher works with the children to decide on the focus for a session. The children engage in the activity or task and then at the end, time is allocated for them to work with the teacher to review what has been learned. Over time, this responsibility can be devolved to the children themselves.

It’s OK not to understand and be stuck

An important element of developing the skills of self-evaluation is how the teacher deals with situations where pupils find their work difficult. The language that teachers use is influential in building an acceptance that it is OK to find things difficult and that recognising this is an important aspect of learning. Consider ways in which you can get that message over to pupils. To supplement this teachers have found that introducing a framework for reflecting on learning can help develop confidence in pointing out areas which need support as well as those that have proved successful.

For example, the following list of questions (perhaps using one or two at a time) can be used to start the process. It is usually best to relate these to the specific learning intentions of the lesson.

Have you learned anything new?

What were you most pleased with?

What did you find easy?

What did you find more difficult?

What helped you to solve your difficulty?

What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?

What do you need more help with?

How would you change this activity for another group?

Do you have any questions?