In order to restore the balance they advocated ‘formative assessment’, or assessment for learning (AfL). In AfL, information from marking or other means of assessment is used as feedback to modify learning activity. This might take the form of teachers giving comments on how a student can improve their work instead of awarding grades, or students assessing for themselves where their weaknesses lie. It is based on the idea that all students can improve, and fosters a spirit of cooperation in the classroom, with students actively involved in their own learning. (AfL should not be confused with the mere performance of classroom tests by teachers. If the information from such tests is simply used to record progress, it is not directly contributing to improving learning.)
Black and Wiliam (1998a) had demonstrated in a wide-ranging research review that such an approach could improve both learning and exam results. However, they and their colleagues at Kings realised that they needed to provide practical examples of its use if AfL was to be widely adopted. They went on to develop a project with 48 teachers and Oxfordshire and Medway LEAs – the King’s, Medway, Oxfordshire Formative Assessment Project (KMOFAP). This project developed formative practice in four areas.
Developing formative practice
• Questioning: Teachers found that if they allowed more time for students to reply to their questions, more thoughtful answers were given. They also found that lessons became richer if they changed the focus of questions from testing students’ knowledge of facts to exploring their understanding. For example, a science teacher who had begun lessons with questions such as ‘What is this instrument and where would you find it?’ now began to ask questions such as ‘Why do you think these two plants have grown differently?’
• Peer and self-assessment: Teachers encouraged students to take more ownership of their own learning by helping them to understand learning targets....