14th September 2001 at 01:00
UNLOCKING FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT. By Shirley Clarke. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;12.99.

Significant research findings do not always have the impact on the classroom they deserve. Unlocking Formative Assessment is designed to overcome this problem in relation to the research described by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam in their seminal pamphlet on diagnostic assessment, Inside the Black Box (1998, King's College School of Education).

The chapters on such topics as planning and target-setting are useful, but those on sharing learning intentions, pupil self-evaluation and feedback get to the heart of formative assessment.

If pupils understand clearly what they are meant to be learning, rather than simply completing the activities and exercises they are set, they are far more likely to benefit from the lesson.

Shirley Clarke provides plenty of examples taken from real classrooms of how formative assessment works in practice, with tables and posters for teachers to adapt to suit their own contexts.

The emphasis is on a whole-school approach. Each chapter includes a box of practical Inset ideas to get things started. The title of the final chapter, "Using this book to make a difference", signals clearly the author's intention to offer a realistic strategy.

She acknowledges the likely obstacles, for example, from teachers who feel too pressurised already to take on new initiatives, and she suggests ways to overcome the problems.

As she explains: "What matters is that every teacher is clear about the rationale for the practices in the school - why you are doing what you do."

Black and Wiliam's research showed that focusing on formative assessment could have a real impact on standards in classrooms. Shirley Clarke's book will help teachers to put these findings into practice.

Tandi Clausen-May is principal research officer at the National Foundation for Educational Research

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