The power of collaborative learning

Assessment for Learning: Julia Dobbin’s Action Research


“If pupils use booklets modelled on Assessment for Learning will they be more able to identify where they are in their learning and how to improve?”

The Issue

Pupils show varying abilities in understanding where they are in their learning and how to improve. They can also be disorganised – which may lead to an inability to understand what is expected of them when it comes to addressing gaps in their learning or knowing where those gaps are. My aim was to devise a method to improve pupils’ ability to see where they are in their learning, become more aware of what is expected of them and how to improve.

Review of Current Practice and Research

Within my department, I discussed the issue of pupils’ learning and how their engagement with their own learning could be improved. At that time, no formal Assessment for Learning practices were in place across the department.

A number of pieces of literature show that Assessment for Learning can improve learning and progression.  “Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there”. Assessment Reform Group, 2002. This forms the basis of the ideology behind the design of the booklets – how can I make learning explicit for our pupils? If I can clearly show pupils what they need to learn then they can start to assess where they are in their learning.

Developing resilience in learning, pupil progression, raising attainment and improving attitudes to learning is at the heart of teaching and learning. In order to design resources to raise attainment pupils should be clear about what they are learning and what success looks like. “Assessment for learning is a powerful way of raising pupils’ achievement. It is based on the principle that pupils will improve most if they understand the aim of their learning, where they are in relation to this aim and how they can achieve the aim (or close the gap in their knowledge).” The Assessment for Learning Strategy, 2008.


In discussions with the department, I looked at how I could design a resource to share learning outcomes, give opportunities for feedback on past paper questions and encourage pupils reflection on their own learning. “The main strategies considered important for Assessment for Learning (AfL) – sharing learning goals, formative feedback, peer and self-assessment, and the formative use of summative tests – have been found to be overwhelmingly positive in terms of their potential to promote improvements in teachers ‘classroom practice. “Assessment for Learning: effects and impacts, University of Oxford, 2013

Please find a copy of Julia’s full Action Research, on the topic of Assessment for Learning here: Julia Dobbin – Action Research

In designing the resources I decided to focus on two key factors identified as important to encourage  progression in learning “The research indicates that improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning
  • the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.”

Assessment for Learning – Beyond the Black Box, Nuffield Foundation, no date.


Self-reflection in the form of looking at one’s own performance, analysing revision and homework methods and understanding what and how to improve was another area that I felt was important to include in the resources. “Self-assessment by pupils, far from being a luxury, is in fact an essential component of formative assessment.”

Inside the Black Box, Black and Wiliam, 1998


“Research suggests that pupils who understand what they are being asked to learn and how they will recognise success are more likely to make learning gains than those who don’t. This is particularly true for less able pupils. “Assessment for Learning: Embedding and Extending, Eric Young 2005. As Aldenham School has an extremely wide intake of ability levels, this was an important development for less able pupils who were required to access a high level examination in Biology.

Findings – Teacher Informal Interviews

From informal discussions and department meeting minutes, teaching staff were very positive about the impact of the booklets on pupil progression. It was felt that the keywords and past paper sections were very useful and equipped learners with the skills to improve their performance in exam questions. It was also felt that pupils became more independent in their learning by having access to checklists and learning outcomes. Teachers commented on the effect the learning outcomes had on their own teaching. They felt that they were more focused on the outcomes during lessons than before. More effort next year is to be given to encouraging reflection and identifying ways for pupils to improve. Buy-in from teachers has been so positive that they have now re-designed and further developed the booklets in their own time.

Lessons Learned

Providing resources based on Assessment for Learning made the subject clearer, improved organisation and made revision easier for pupils. Some pupils improved in their ability to see where they are in their learning and some could use the booklets to close the gaps in their learning. Teachers achieved greater focus on learning objectives in lessons and, as a result, the subject content became clearer to pupils. To develop pupils’ ability to engage with their learning, further time and planning should be given to providing pupils with opportunities to reflect on their learning in class and teaching them ways to address any gaps they have identified. Further development on this is ongoing in the Biology Department.







Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. Front Cover. Paul Black, Dylan Wiliam. Granada Learning, 1998

Assessment for Learning: Embedding and Extending, Eric Young 2005



Author: TeachAldenham

Online profile of TeachAldenham, Aldenham School Teaching and Learning Group. teachaldenham.wordpress.com Find us on twitter @teachaldenham

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