Formative Assessment – essential to assessing curriculum impact on learning and progression

Assessment should be an integral part of planning how to deliver a curriculum.  “They are inseparable” according to Amanda Spielman of OFSTED.  Research suggests that it is formative assessment that has the most impact on learning as long as teachers and support staff have the relevant skills to encourage pupils to focus on what they need to do to improve.

The EEF research into marking, A Marked Improvement? mainly focuses on summative written marking and its efficacy in aiding learning and progression. There is a tacit acknowledgement that written marking is time consuming and is a major contributor to teacher workload.  It is also clear from each of the sections of the research that formative assessment has a deep impact on learning and, therefore, should be an integral part of any kind of written marking policy.

If the curriculum is a focus for change or review then it is essential that this includes an opportunity to reflect on the efficacy of summative as well as formative assessment in enhancing pupils’ motivation, how they focus on how to improve their work following assessment and how they deepen their knowledge and understanding before moving onto the next topic.  The research suggests that for every aspect of assessment it is the involvement of the pupil in a dialogue about their work that has the most impact.

Here are some of the messages:

  • Focus feedback on the student and how they can improve and not the work they have produced
  • Make sure that pupils have the opportunity to re-visit previous learning where it dovetails into the next stage
  • Create the culture where learning is an expectation not an aspiration
  • Use highly skilled probing questions that ensure pupils are stretched and challenged to focus on how they can improve on their own work and find their own solutions
  • Create opportunities for pupils to work independently alone, in one-to-one situations and in groups to focus on how they can assess their own work
  • Deepen knowledge before introducing new topics or concepts
  • Present new information in small steps that are easily absorbed and that will not overwhelm
  • Distinguish between a mistake and an error
  • Be aware of misconception and try to find out why these occur for some pupils or for groups of pupils
  • Forget the grade, focus on how to allow pupils to focus on the skills they need to learn and improve

The conclusion here is that dialogue is essential to creating the right conditions for assessment that leads to learning.  Marking has its place but without a verbal interaction the impact of summative assessment is negligible. Developing the right skills to ensure formative assessment achieves successful outcomes requires a deepening of understanding of the power of deep and rich questioning techniques, the ability to listen and allow time for the pupil to draw their own conclusion and reflect on their own learning and giving pupils ownership of their own learning power.

Below we offer solutions focused CPD that looks at how the ensure that teachers and support staff have the skills and strategies to ensure formative assessment achieves positive learning outcomes and creates confident and independent learners.