Some Ideas about Teaching



Assessment for Learning


Suggestions for an AfL Lesson?

This was posted in response to a teacher who had been asked - for an observation lesson - to 'teach an AfL lesson', and who wondered what this meant; no one on the forum seemed to have any idea:


As I understood it, AfL - Assessment for Learning - was originally all about the assessment process of getting to pupils to understand why - in a particular assignment, piece of classwork or assessment piece -they had gained the level they had gained, and what they needed to do to advance to the next level. At thsat time it was essentially something that the teacher did on his exercise books, after the lesson was finished. We started highlighting 'passages that demonstrated the level' when we were marking, and adding 'Ways you can improve' after we had marked each piece of work. I have to admit, that WAS a hell-of-a-sight better that 'try to work more neatly next time'.

Then - again as I understood it - AfL then became all linked up with the idea of a plenary, because that was when the teacher assessed the progress made by the pupils, and used that information to make sure that his next lesson was the relevant next step for the pupils in the class. Thus AfL became part of the process of lesson planning, because it was informing the best way to prepare the next lesson(s).

And the latest I had heard - again as understand it - was that you had to do mini-plenaries throughout your lesson, so that you could make sure that not only was the next lesson the next step, but that the next step in the lesson was the right 'next step' for the pupils. By this, AfL was being integrated into the TEACHING process, because it was something the teacher was doing to guide his teaching throughout the lesson.

Nevertheless, even though we were seeing a developing concept, the concept of AfL was of something which SUPPORTED the children's learning - something which you applied TO your lesson plan.
I have never before heard of the idea of an AfL lesson per se - an AfL lesson for AfL's sake!

So was Siobahn being asked simply to teach a normal lesson, but just one where she would demonstrate that she was using AfL principles in the marking, the planning and the delivery of her lesson ... or has the concept of AfL had moved on, and that now we were supposed to be able to teach 'AfL LESSONS'!

Posted on Nov 20 2006, 09:56 PM




You will find that AFL just does what good History teachers have been doing for years.

Your biology guy seems to have muddled up AfL and the T&L element of the Secondary Strategy, although they clearly go together.

At the heart of the Secondary Strategy is the three-part lesson.

1.   You start by telling the pupils what they are going to learn. This is best done when you put your teaching objectives for that lesson into 'pupil'speak'. At my school we distinguish between the 'teaching outcomes' that the teacher wants to achieve, but we tell the pupils the 'learning outcomes' in terms of the practical skills/facts they will appropriate. If possible, you are supposed to wrap this up in a stimulating activity at the start of the lesson. This is called the Starter.

2.   Then you teach the lesson as interestingly and effectively as you can, doing all those trendy things you are supposed to such as differentiation, VAK, ICT, literacy and numeracy etc.

3.   Finally, you finish by doing something to help you (and the pupils) see to what extent they have learned what they were supposed to learn. This is called the Plenary.

Great mystique has accumulated around the Starters and the Plenaries, but as long as you keep in the forefront of your mind what they are there to do they are easy enough to get your head around. (Or, in Scotland, your heed).

Into this comes the altogether ordinary concept of AfL.
It grows out of the fact that you had discrete, attainable, identified teaching aim(s) when you started the lesson.
AfL is therefore for the teacher, and for the children.

AfL has three elements:

1.   As a teacher, you are continually assessing the learning of your pupils as you go along anyway, and you are letting this affect the way that you deliver the next sentence, never mind the rest of the lesson. It is a continual adaptation of the lesson plan to meet the pupils' learning needs as you see then learning, or failing to learn, as you 'go along'.

2.   By doing a plenary session, you (and the pupils) can take stock at the end of the lesson of how well the pupils appropriated the content and skills you were trying to teach them, and this allows you to reflect on your teaching and to plan the next lesson so it is appropriate to the pupils' needs.

However, by far the most important element of AfL is this:

3.   WHEN YOU MARK THE PUPILS' WORK, you mark it in a way which not only tells the pupil how well they performed (= how well they appropriated the skills and facts they had to learn) but you tell them what they need to do to get better. This is called 'target-setting'.

Again, a mystique has attached itself to target-setting, because clever people have had to make a living out of it, but the idea is simple enough at its base level.

The key to good target-setting is knowing step-by-step/ level-by-level what are the steps by which a pupil can improve their performance. Your marking therefore recognises that the pupil has demonstrated such-and-such a skill in their work, but adds that with just a little change and adaptation they can learn how to such-and-such ... and that must be the next step they take, so you write it down as their 'target'.

History teachers, as I said, have been used to marking in 'levels' for decades, so they find this really easy.
Its the biology teachers that scratch their heads, because all they think of progress is in terms of more facts.
History teachers think in terms of a taxonomy, which is what it's all about.

The place you look to see if a member of staff has understood AfL is their comments on the pupils' work.
What you SHOULD see is a skills/work-related comment directing the pupil usefully to try something which will allow them to improve the quality of their next piece of work.
All in all, actually, it's hard work to get your staff to start writing meaningful targets when they are marking the pupils' work. Those who haven't or won't 'get it' cannot get beyond 'be neater', and 'try harder'. Good AfL assessment-comments are SMART.

As you introduce AfL, you will find the following problems:

1.   you cannot write a meaningful AfL comment on every piece of written work the pupil does. There is far too much work involved.

- setting key 'assignments' which you close-mark in an AfL way - and the rest of the pupils' work in their exercise books you mark as you always did in a 'must try harder' way.

2.   in a subject like History, where there are a number of different strands, it's really hard to set a meaningful target for the next piece of work, because (if, say for instance, the piece of work was on the evaluation of sources) your comment relates to THAT SPECIFIC skill. But the next piece of work is a (for instance) narrative/description - so your 'target' is completely irrelevant until halfway through next term, when you revisit evaluation of sources.
- use a generalised 'levels' markscheme such as
THIS ONE - actually these are quite good because not only do they make it really easy to identify the skills evidenced in the pupils' work, but they make it REALLY OBVIOUS what skill the pupil has to try to appropriate next (i.e. the PUPILS can declare their own targets for the next piece of work).
and where you want to be more detailed in your approach to a particular skill:
- design your syllabus in chunks, so that you manipulate the content so that you address and re-address the same skill for a while, to give the pupils time and opportunity to improve in a particular skill before you move on. This, actually, is not a bad thing.

Good things about AfL?

1.   It make teachers THINK about what they are trying to get the pupils to achieve in EVERY lesson, and to monitor whether the pupils are achieving that, and to think about what each child has to do to get better (and tell them this). This isn't a bad thing AT ALL!

2.   It REALLY helps the pupils improve. Done well, they really get the idea of what they should be trying to do in a particular kind of question, and - when you have got your advice sorted - there is a great sense of satisfaction as they progress.

So that's all AfL is .. what GOOD History teachers have been doing for ages.

Posted on: Oct 27 2005, 12:45 AM




AfL is a MAJOR aspect of the Key Stage 3 strategy and - yes - it's going to be MAJOR in Ofsted inspections.

It's about building formative assessment into your lesson-planning cycle, and about setting subject-relevant short-term 'soft' targets for pupils.

You lesson-planning should BEGIN by formulating the (NC/ skills-related) assessment you intend to set for this lesson/section of the syllabus.
You then start the lesson knowing exactly what you want the pupils to learn - and communicating this to them.
When they have done the work, you will be able to see to what extent they have appropriated the skills/knowledge you wanted, and your written (or verbal) comments should then give them 'soft targets' that you would like them to try to achieve next time as they either work towards the skills/knowledge they failed to reach this time, or (having appropriated it) the next step beyond that.

It gets you beyond the 'Beautiful neat work, well presented - keep trying' comments that festoon most exercise books.

This markscheme will allow you to build this into your NC summative assessments; by presenting the NC levels as a hierarchy, it allows the pupils to identify what they have to do next to move up to the next level.

Posted on: May 15 2005, 09:40 PM




Actually, I have no problem with levels or assessment.
You have to use them with common sense, and make them your servant, not your master.

At Greenfield we teach - actually - primarily for enjoyment and fun! After that, I would hope we do a good job of teaching the pupils the skills and facts of History. We set classwork and regular homeworks for all the reasons classwork and regular homeworks should be set!

But, every now and again, we set the pupils an assignment. These vary between 3 and 6 a year, depending on the age and ability of the pupils. We try to set assignment tasks that the pupils will find challenging and interesting.

We find we can mark most (though not all) of them by using this
generic markscheme, which is essentially a distillation of the key elements of the level criteria. Actually, it makes marking quite easy: it directs your attention towards the key historical elements (and away from things like presentation, effort and length) - all you do is tick the elements you have seen, and indicate on the pupil's assignment where you saw the critical ones (ie the ones at the margin).

The pupils understand it as well, and their next targets become REALLY clear! They are the next couple of skills on the list. (I am aware of all the stuff about non-linear progression etc., but - let's face it - the whole list is just a list of common-sense ways to write a good assignment, eh?)

We record the marks, and at the end of the Key Stage we look across the levels the pupils have got, and come up with a best-fit judgement.

It gives us a yardstick for summative AND formative assessment. The pupils enjoy demonstrating what they can do, and like to know how good (or bad) their effort was. It satisfies everything that parents and SMT could ever want to know about how the pupils are doing. And it is easy to set and mark.

What's the problem?

Posted on: Jul 7 2004, 12:27 AM





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2004/2006), 'Assessment for Learning',  at Greenfield History Site (