Monday / April 22

Formative Assessment: The Key to Assessment-Capable Learners

Formative assessment continues to be the single most effective conceptual framework for raising achievement, its elements ranking high in Hattie’s effect sizes. In practical terms it consists of the following:

  • a culture which promotes trust, equity, self-efficacy and the language of learning;
  • students activated as learning resources for one another;
  • clear learning intentions and co-constructed process success criteria and
  • effective questioning and feedback.

Cognitive science is having a great impact on how we think about learning, so the culture includes ways of easing the cognitive load and assisting long term memory during lessons, such as silent modelling and frequent retrieval practice.

Feedback is the big one, the focus of my book with John Hattie, Visible Learning Feedback. Where once this was seen as mainly a post-lesson activity of ‘marking’, taking hours of teacher time and linked with imagined accountability, we now know what really matters.  Student to teacher feedback is where it starts – the teacher’s constant quest to uncover student understanding and to take account of everything going on in the classroom, from misconceptions to disruptive behavior.

Getting learning intentions right and co-constructing process success criteria establishes a critical framework for both teacher and student reference. Over twenty years of developing learning intentions and success criteria with teachers in the UK has uncovered differences between subjects and types of learning intentions. Knowledge or skill is the first point of reference, with skills benefiting most from process success criteria. Closed skill learning intentions, such as in punctuation or a maths procedure, have compulsory success criteria, easy to tick off.  Open learning intentions, such as those in narrative writing, have optional ‘toolkits’ of possible success criteria.

Co-constructing success criteria helps students to internalize them and, importantly, see and analyse good (and sometimes poor) examples in the process. Modelling what good ones look like helps students develop a ‘nose for quality’ and reassurance that they are on the right track.

Instead of hours marking books after lessons – in the moment, on the move feedback, pen in hand, is more powerful: sometimes holding back to allow for student thinking, sometimes checking that all are on task, observing and eavesdropping, remarking on successes so far and suggesting possible improvements.

Stopping mid – lesson for the analysis of one student’s work so far under the visualizer gives feedback to everyone at once – highlighting the successes and suggesting possible improvements.  Not only are they seeing examples of excellence, but they are also likely to see errors or possible improvements that resonate with their own work.

Towards the ends of lessons, cooperative peer discussions are a powerful way of students learning from one another and, based on the success and improvement process learnt from the mid-lesson learning stops, they learn to be constant, self-regulating reviewers of their learning. Crucially, of course, effective feedback is feedback which is actually used by students to further their learning.

These strategies, all created and tried and tested by practising teachers, are just a taste of the possibilities for enhancing feedback in the classroom, allowing teachers to deal with issues as they happen rather than when it’s all too late.  Teachers can then spend precious after- school time resourcing and planning lessons and realigning their work/life balance.

If you’re interested in hearing Shirley Clarke speak on formative assessment, join us for the Evidence to Implementation Conference in Melbourne, AUS, August 15-16, 2019!


Written by

Shirley Clark (M.Ed., Hon. Doc) is a world expert in formative assessment, specializing in the practical application of its principles. Many thousands of teachers have worked with Shirley or read her books and, through them, the practice of formative assessment is continually evolving, developing and helping to transform students’ achievements. Shirley’s latest publications are Visible Learning Feedback with John Hattie, Thinking Classrooms with Katherine Muncaster, and The On-Your-Feet Guide to Partner Talk. Her website contains a videostreaming platform of clips of formative assessment in action as well as detailed feedback from her action research teams.

Latest comment

  • Hello Shirley:
    I regularly use examples of formative assessment in my math workshops. I am intrigued by your opening remark, “Formative assessment continues to be the single most effective conceptual framework for raising achievement.” Is there a research citation that makes that claim? Or perhaps, is that claim based on multiple studies? Any such support would be helpful. Thanks.
    David Spangler

leave a comment