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Success for Scots

A focus on assessment for learning in Scottish schools, in which teachers use marking and evaluation to extend children's understanding, has helped pupils become "more actively engaged in the process of learning rather than the passive recipients of the curriculum".

A pilot project, supported by the Scottish Executive, to help teachers introduce or improve formative assessment in their classrooms, has changed teaching practice, says an evaluation by academics at the University of London's Institute of Education.

"More active participation has increased pupils' enthusiasm for learning, resulting in an improved classroom climate", the report says. "Teachers have appreciated this, felt less need to 'control' the classroom environment, and because of the greater motivation of the pupils have found their teaching more rewarding. This, in turn, has had a positive impact on their own motivation, enthusiasm and commitment to the project."

Schools had adopted a range of assessment strategies. They included developing "higher order" questioning, promoting thinking skills, using problem-solving techniques, giving feedback rather than grades, and peer assessment.

"There were dramatic improvements in pupils' learning skills," says the report. "They learned about their own learning, their strengths and weaknesses and what they needed to do to make progress. This encouraged them to take more responsibility for their learning."

The researchers report a number of "challenges", however. Implementing the new strategies was time-consuming, leading to a slower pace and fears the curriculum would not be covered.

Not all staff were comfortable with the pupil-centred focus. And some secondary pupils were embarrassed by having publicly to answer questions and give explanations.

Evaluation of Project 1 of the Scottish Executive's Assessment Development ProgrammeI by Susan Hallam et al, Institute of Education, University of London, and Carolyn Hutchinson, Scottish Office. Email: hallam@globalnet.co.uk

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