AfL guide

When asked about your classroom environment you would probably like to reply along the lines of:

“Students are clear of my expectations of them and they know what the learning objectives are for each lesson. Students take part in long fruitful discussions with me and each other. Work is given back to students that will help them improve their future efforts. In fact, students are keen and able to assess their own, and their peers’, work.”

Assessment for learning can be distinguished from other forms of assessment; its priority is enhancing rather than measuring learning. The main tools of assessment for learning are:

  • Sharing learning objectives with pupils
  • Helping pupils to know and recognise the standards they are aiming for
  • Questioning
  • The formative use of summative tests
  • Involving pupils in peer and self-assessment
  • Providing feedback
  • Promoting confidence that every pupil can improve
  • Involving both teacher and pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment information

This page will attempt to provide examples of AfL that can be simply introduced into any classroom with the minimum amount of extra work.

Sharing learning objectives with pupils

A significant feature of assessment for learning is the sharing with pupils of both the learning objectives and the expected learning outcomes in a clear and explicit way.
Once these learning objectives have been identified and understood, they can be used to form the basis of any questioning during the lesson and plenary. The feedback gleaned from the students can be used to help with future planning.

 Objectives can be shared at the start of a lesson, topic or module.

 Objectives can be given to students on a sheet of paper before they start a lesson, topic or module.

When setting the learning objectives it is important to identify what pupils are going to learn, rather than what they are going to do.

Helping pupils to know and recognise the standards they are aiming for

Clear learning objectives will be more readily adopted by students when they are clear about how they can be achieved; detailing success criteria will enable all students to work towards achieving the learning objectives.

Give the students examples of work that have and have not met the success criteria along with explanations of why.
Classroom displays can highlight students’ achievement and provide examples to others.
Provide students with examples of work in progress. This will help them to see the links between different stages.
Discussion of mark schemes. Ask students to write and question and develop their own mark scheme.

Expectations about the presentation and quality of the work must be clear.


The dialogue between pupils and a teacher should be thoughtful, reflective, focused to evoke and explore understanding, and conducted so that all pupils have an opportunity to think and to express their ideas.

Giving all students a longer period of time to respond, for example give ten seconds thinking time before calling upon a pupil.
Asking students to discuss their ideas in pairs or in small groups and then feedback to the class through a spokesperson.
Providing pupils with a choice between different answers and asking them to vote.
Asking all students to write down an answer, collect the responses and then read out a selected few.
Show the class a picture and use that as a basis for questioning.
Give students role during group discussions – chair, scribe, observer and challenger. Rotate the roles over time.
No hands.
Random names generator.

If questioning is to be effective teachers must ensure they ask questions that are worth asking.

Students don’t just learn by writing, they also learn by discussing.

The formative use of summative tests

Summative tests should be, and should be seen to be, a positive part of the learning process.
Pupils can further their understanding of the assessment process and the relevant marking criteria by setting questions and marking answers.
Self and peer assessment will allow students to apply mark schemes and give them an insight into how their work can be improved upon.
Revision should highlight gaps in the student’s knowledge, these can be specifically worked upon.

Pupils must be given the means and opportunities to work on the difficulties that summative tests highlight. A test at the end of a block of teaching is pointless, for formative purposes, as it is too late to work with the results.

Involving pupils in peer and self-assessment

If pupils are going to complete a piece of work successfully it is essential that they are aware of both of the aims of their work and what it means to complete it successfully. Students should be encouraged to keep in mind the aims of their work and to assess their own progress to meet these objectives as they proceed.
Students are generally honest and reliable when assessing both themselves and one another. It is more likely that they will be hard on themselves rather than over-generous.

Students marks their own work before they hand it in.
Students swap work, mark each others and then collaborate to produce a top answer.
Students have to explain to one another how they arrived at a particular conclusion or answer.
Students traffic light their own work before handing it in.
Students have traffic light cards on their desk to indicate their present level of understanding.
Students rate a piece of work, describe what makes a good piece of work, then do their own piece of work.
In groups put a set of answers in order. Justify their decision and then improve upon their own work or produce a group answer.
Two stars and a wish.

Pupils can only assess themselves when they have a clear picture of what they are supposed to achieve. Students will need training in how to mark their own and others’ work.

Providing feedback

Teachers’ comments, either written or spoken, should initially focus upon what the student has done well before highlighting areas that require enhancement. The comments should include guidance on how the student can make the necessary improvements.

Set a piece of work with one specific assessment objective, for example, analysis or spelling. Only feedback on that one objective.

Comment only marking – don’t provide grades or marks on work. Encourage students to read and act upon the comments provided.

Try to identity specific faults, guide the students on how to improve upon it and then give them the opportunity to put it into effect.

Avoid making comparisons with other students.

Promoting confidence that every pupil can improve

If small steps can be identified, students will find it easier to see the progress they have made; this will help to further their confidence and self esteem.
Provide students with a small additional challenge in their next piece of work.

Ensure a classroom environment where all comments and questions are equally accepted.

Involving both teacher and pupil in reviewing and reflecting on assessment information

This focuses on allowing the student to reflect upon what they have learned and understood.
A traffic light system at the end of a particular topic.
A SWOT analysis of the student.

The outcome of this reflection can inform future planning.


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