Employing formative assessment in the classroom

Linda Harris

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This paper describes a qualitative research study designed to determine the existence of formative assessment practices in nursery, primary and secondary schools. Given that formative assessment is a crucial and necessarily integral aspect of good learning and teaching (Black and Wiliam 1998), the present study aimed to find out what good practice could be observed and what teachers said about its effectiveness. The paper showcases the strategies perceived as effective and includes descriptions of the full range of techniques for teaching from the opening phase of the lesson right through to the plenary or review. The findings have potential relevance for both researchers and practising teachers in all areas of the curriculum. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven teachers: one working in a special school, five in primary schools (elementary) and five in secondary (high) schools. They were asked to comment on the formative assessment strategies that they had employed and found effective.The data that emerged from these was combined with the data acquired from various internet sources and documentary analyses taking the numbers up to 104 teachers in total with two in special school, eight in nursery, 54 in primary and 40 in secondary. Analysis of the evidence gathered yielded a number of key themes in relation to the teachers' implementation of formative assessment and their evaluations of its effectiveness. Teachers' views confirmed that formative assessment strategies gain some of their effectiveness by providing a more focused application for pupils. As with many aspects of the learning process, target setting, which was previously the domain of the teacher, has moved in to the realm of pupil responsibility. Similarly, the benefits of sharing the learning objectives with pupils are now becoming widely known as opposed to former teaching, which often appeared to take pupils on an unknown journey. Teachers' responses were consistent with the emphasis of Glover and Thomas (1999) on the involvement of pupils in learning, indeed advocating 'devolving power to the learners' without which, they claim, interactive formative assessment is not possible. Similarly, teachers felt that introducing lessons in a particular way to help pupils and teachers share their understanding of learning objectives and ensure clarity of purpose has proven to be more effective than some of the prior modes of exposition. Again, effective teachers are aware of the various roles that they can adopt to aid their pupils' learning in a more proactive way than in the past, and so are more focused on pupils' learning as opposed to their own teaching. That is, the focus is more on the changes taking place in pupils' minds as opposed to the supposed effectiveness of the teacher's performance. Teachers are also reviewing their questioning techniques and in order to further develop the way in which classroom discourse promotes learning. It is a welcome and interesting development although, perhaps, not surprising in the current climate that more sensitivity and precision is being applied to assessment in all its forms. Lesson endings, like beginnings, are more structured to help pupils assimilate the new learning while the recording of pupil progress is developing to facilitate more rigorous monitoring of individual pupil progress. The paper provides a detailed analysis of each of these areas with a view to assisting practitioners and researchers to focus on worthwhile areas for development and further enquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 11 Sep 2008
EventEuropean Educational Research Association - From Teaching to Learning? - Göteborg, Sweden
Duration: 10 Sep 200812 Sep 2008


ConferenceEuropean Educational Research Association - From Teaching to Learning?
CityGöteborg, Sweden


  • education
  • formative assessment
  • classroom


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