Strategy in action: assessment for learning

12th May 2006 at 01:00
In the last of three articles, Andrea Osborne talks about peer and self-assessment

"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 an 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 peer and self-assessment. Many language departments have implemented a peer and self-assessment policy, reaping rich rewards of improved pupil performance and engagement. However, teachers' confidence to delegate assessment is frequently an initial inhibitor. Open invitation to insult others' work? Over-estimation of their own performance? Discouragement?

First, we must create that climate of trust and supportiveness. Kick-start it by jointly tackling some extended writing or a listening activity.

Similarly, tasks which encourage pupils to respond to others' work constructively are crucial. Let pupils assess anonymous recordings against the GCSE conversation mark-scheme, or scrutinise classmates' books for good sentences. Where pupils lack the social skills to comment constructively, teachers can provide sentence stems, steering the commentator towards the work's good aspects before pinpointing its failings tactfully. You can even create useful wall displays using pupils' comments. Ask for examples where their partner "exceeded the minimum response" in a GCSE writing task. This generates different ways to go beyond, such as full descriptions, extra details and comparisons involving use of other tenses. Displayed, these are a memory-jogger for future work.

Practice in group work may be necessary; taking turns, listening to others' contributions and collaborating. Many favourite language activities rehearse these skills, so train pupils to listen to others with simple games such as "I went to marketI..." or information surveys. "Jigsaw"

activities make pupils work together to complete tasks.

Worthwhile peer and self assessment incorporates learning objectives alongside the acquisition and development of key concepts and skills. Hence a vital component of peer and self assessment is that pupils recognise the characteristics of the standard expected. Often these seem very abstract, for instance "initiate and develop conversations" or "a fluent piece of coherent language" so it helps to construct a model answer, showing a concept in action, turning the abstract into the concrete.

Go one step further by thinking aloud, revealing exactly how you shape this "fluent piece of coherent language", exactly what strategies, language and support materials you use. From this, elicit a list of success criteria by asking "How do examiners spot a piece of fluent, coherent writing?"

Pupils now write similar answers, which they or their partner assess against your model and the success criteria. Pupils quickly learn to spot the keys to the next step up and independently identify how to move forward. Time for reflecting on one's performance helps pupils make links between met outcomes and linguistic progress. There is even an opportunity for some tense practice (J'ai ecrit ditcomprisI: je pourrais changerajouterI: je vais apprendreessayer deI) Make time for peer and self assessment by reformatting lesson structure. Try regular oral presentation starters, throw "improve your answer" challenges during any activity, or hold a reflective plenary.

Focused dialogue about progress and next steps show pupils that levels or grades represent not destinations but stations en route. We teachers gain insights into learning needs and improved relationships with learners. And who'd say no to that!

* The first two articles in the series appeared on October 21, 2005 and January 28 this year and are archived at The TES website at

Search for "Andrea Osborne".

A management guide and training materials on key stage 3 assessment have been sent to all schools: Assessment for learning: Whole-school training materials (resource reference: DfES 0043 2004 G). More information and free downloads and case studies are on the QCA website at

Andrea Osborne is a secondary strategy consultant with Essex County Council. She can be booked for school and professional development activities: Tel: 0208 506 2089

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