Research has shown that high-quality formative assessment has a powerful impact on learning. This assessment for learning happens organically when we, as teachers, work alongside children and help them identify what they know, what they don’t know and more importantly what they partially know. It allows all learners to assess the level of complexity they are working at while engaged in learning.
Teaching is fuelled by immediate ‘live’ information. This allows us to spot gaps, plan the next steps in learning and facilitate upgrades in children’s knowledge and understanding. When an assessment event or activity provides us with solid “live” evidence it can be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Therefore, good feedback can be very effective to improve and ensures that the assessment supports mastery, attainment and progress.
AfL is informal, ongoing active assessment. It promotes learning during the learning not after the event. It differs from summative assessment which is evaluative and primarily designed to serve the purposes of accountability.
Active assessment for learning provides meaningful information because it is learning as it unfolds within the classroom and this can therefore nourish the teaching and the assessment. This is about how thinking, learning and assessment can be joined together in a creative and integrated way. Thinking promotes learning, learning enables assessment to take place and assessment acts as a stimulus to both thinking and learning (Keogh, Dabell and Naylor, 2010).
In a responsive ‘formative’ learning environment, teaching, learning and assessment continuously feed into each other. As Hodgen and Wiliam (2006) note in ‘Mathematics inside the black box’, the purpose of formative assessment “is to help teachers to filter the rich data that arises in class discussion and activity, so that professional judgements can be made about the next steps in learning”. They say that three types of feedback are essential for formative assessment: student to teacher, teacher to student and between students. Crucially, formative assessment cannot be done to children but must be done with them through active talk-rich activities.