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A guide to assessment for learning

A guide to assessment for learning

3 min read
  • The science of learning

Assessment of students’ learning is an integral part of school life, but did you know about assessment for learning? It has emerged as a pivotal strategy that allows to not only monitor student progress but also significantly contribute to the learning process itself.

But what exactly is assessment for learning, and why does it matter so much in education today? Read on to learn more about:

  • What assessment for learning is
  • The benefits assessment for learning
  • The challenges of assessment for learning

What is assessment for learning?

Assessment for learning, also known as formative assessment, is an ongoing process that uses assessment as a tool to facilitate and improve student learning.

Unlike traditional assessment methods, which often measure learning outcomes at the end of an instructional period, it is woven into daily classroom activities, providing continuous feedback that guides both teaching and learning. The significance of assessment for learning lies in its ability to make learning visible, enabling you to understand and address your students’ needs promptly and effectively.

Assessment for learning places assessment at the heart of instruction, recognising it as a critical element that shapes teaching strategies and student learning. It emphasises the importance of aligning assessment with learning objectives, ensuring that assessment actively contributes to achieving educational goals.

While it may sound similar to assessment of learning, which focuses on summarising what students have learned for reporting purposes, assessment for learning is formative in nature, designed to support and inform the learning journey. Understanding this distinction is crucial for teachers to leverage assessment as a tool for enhancing student engagement and achievement.

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5 principles and strategies of assessment for learning

So, what makes assessment for learning unique and effective? It involves…

  1.  Providing timely and constructive feedback – Feedback is a cornerstone of assessment for learning. Effective feedback is specific, actionable and timely, offering students clear guidance on how to improve and progress towards their learning goals.
  2.  Encouraging self-assessment and reflection – Empowering students to assess their own learning is a powerful strategy within assessment for learning. It promotes self-regulation, critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
  3.  Promoting peer assessment and collaboration – Peer assessment encourages students to engage with one another’s work critically and constructively, facilitating collaborative learning environments where students learn from each other.
  4.  Using formative assessment techniques – Formative assessment techniques such as quizzes, reflective journals and discussion forums provide ongoing insight into student understanding, allowing you to adjust teaching strategies in real time.
  5.  Incorporating assessment into classroom practice – Integrating assessment seamlessly into classroom practice ensures that it becomes a natural and essential part of the learning process, rather than an interruption or add-on.

A key aspect of assessment for learning is its ability to improve student motivation. By providing timely feedback and involving students in their own assessment, assessment for learning fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility towards learning, ultimately enhancing motivation and engagement.

What are the benefits and challenges of assessment for learning?

The benefits

  • Enhancing engagement and ownership – Assessment for learning strategies foster a learning environment where students are actively involved in their own learning, leading to increased engagement and ownership.
  • Addressing misconceptions and promoting deeper understanding – Assessment for learning provides opportunities for teachers to identify and correct misconceptions early, ensuring that students build a solid foundation of understanding.

The challenges

  • Navigating time constraints – Implementing assessment for learning requires detailed and regular formative assessment practices, which are time-consuming. Dedicated resources and careful planning are necessary to integrate these practices effectively into your classroom. The challenge is to balance these demands with curriculum requirements and teaching responsibilities.
  • Enhancing professional development – For assessment for learning to boost instructional quality and student learning outcomes, teachers must effectively use assessment data. This includes ongoing professional development to equip educators with the skills to analyse data and enhance teaching strategies. Providing accessible, relevant development opportunities aligned with assessment for learning goals is crucial to fostering a school culture of improvement.

Final thoughts

Assessment for learning is more than just an assessment strategy – it’s a philosophy that places learning at the centre of educational practice. By prioritising this strategy, you can create dynamic, responsive and inclusive learning environments that cater to the needs of every student.

Embracing the principles of assessment for learning can transform assessment from a tool of measurement into a catalyst for growth and achievement. To develop evidence-informed strategies and give your staff access to our exclusive online collection of courses and resources, join our Teacher CPD Academy today!


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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