Strategy in action: assessment for learning

In the second of three article, Andrea Osborne looks at objectives and outcomes

"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."

So says the Assessment and Reform Group of 2002, quoted on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website along with excellent explanation and information about putting this into practice. Here we explore a key area in which languages departments are often involved, and look at some practical suggestions for painless implementation and development of "objectives and outcomes".

Pupils learn best when they know what they are trying to achieve, and why, and when they understand what success will look like. In the language classroom these three criteria should be our principal focus when planning.

Our activities derive from them and move towards them.

Foreign language teachers are fond of textbooks which means it is easy for vocabulary, topics and activities to steer the lesson. What we really need to pinpoint are the outcomes the department expects from a particular module regarding things such as grammar manipulation, the four skills, language-learning strategies, cultural awareness, range and complexity and so on.

From this big picture we can assess how each lesson builds towards these module outcomes. Lower attainers especially welcome a clear overview of the module, to understand where today's lesson fits in and to maintain a sense of progress and achievement.

Alongside the actual language to be learned, clarify which skills and strategies pupils will improve upon and link these to levels or grades.

Helpful schemes of work, then, include expected outcomes for each module and possibly each lesson, automatically promoting consistency of teacher expectations. This is a worthwhile group task at the departmental meeting.

Sharing objectives with pupils can take many forms in languages. Why not study a sample dialogue from the textbook as the starter, assuring pupils that, by break, they will be able to produce a similar one? Or introduce the objective as a question to be answered - "How do we understand a long, difficult text?"

Occasionally, conduct one or two activities before asking pupils to work out today's objective. An interesting starter for key stage 4 revision is to distribute a sample question and mark scheme for, say, the writing exam and ask pupils to identify what they need help with to gain full marks, thereby setting their own objectives regarding content and skills.

Clarifying expected outcomes is often done using completed examples but variety is important too. How about warning them of three questions you will ask in the plenary about today's grammar point? Or list three or four things they will have improved on by lunchtime as a checklist for the plenary. Ensure pupils understand the objectives and expected outcomes. A useful check is to ask pupils to give an example in English of an outcome and reinforce that they will soon be able to do this in French.

Who can improve on the adjective in "The meal was good" in English? At points during the lesson it pays to revisit the objectives. A positive way to do this is to collect examples of good outcomes on the board as they occur from a text, pupil's work or oral responses. These can be exploited in the plenary and you will also collect a range of outcomes, which you can use as models or inspiration for other pupils.

Planning to outcomes is beginning to be a hallmark of the rapidly improving languages department so maybe it's time we set our sights high... l A management guide and generic training materials on assessment for learning have been produced for KS3 and sent to all schools: "Assessment for learning: Whole-school training materials (resource reference: DfES 0043 2004 G)". More information plus free dpwnloads and case studies are on the QCA website

* In the next languages Subject Focus, May 12, Andrea Osborne will talk about peer and self-assessment. The first article in the series appeared on October 21, 2005 and is archived at The TES website

Andrea Osborne is a secondary strategy consultant with Essex County Council. Andrea can be booked for school and LEA CPD activities in MFL or AFL.

Tel: 0208 506 2089

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