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St Mary's Catholic Primary School

St Mary's Catholic

Primary School

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Further information about AFL

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“Current thinking about learning acknowledges that learners must ultimately be responsible for their learning, since no-one else can do it for them. Thus assessment for learning must involve pupils, so as to provide them with information about how well they are doing and guide their subsequent efforts.”

(Assessment for Learning: Beyond the black box Black & Wiliam, 1999)


The active involvement of children is crucial to the success of AfL at St Mary’s – it’s more than children being busy and engaged with the task. Lessons provide opportunities for children to reveal their own understanding of criteria for success to their peers or teachers, and then to have time to improve the work. Such opportunities are the result of careful planning and structuring of the lesson by the teacher.


Classroom practice may include:

  •  Training children to understand their own work – they need to understand the learning objectives and success criteria
  •  Using peer-response partners for feedback
  •  Using peer and self-assessment
  •  Developing more effective questioning – this can include changing the nature of the question/assessment with a move away from closed questioning to questions requiring more sophisticated thinking, eg

- How can we be sure that ….?

- How would you explain ….?

- What does that tell us about ….?

- What is the same and what is different about ….?

- How do we know….?

  •  Extending ‘wait time’ and using talking partners when questions are asked
  •  Creating a learning culture in which children are used to explaining and expanding on their knowledge Providing children with opportunities and questions for self-reflection:

- What learning helps me best?

- What helps me learn when I find something difficult?

- What would I do differently if I did it again?

- What is my most significant improvement this week?





At St Mary’s, feedback is the means by which teachers enable children to ‘close the gap’ in order to take learning forward and improve children’s performance. For it to be effective, children need to take action on the feedback. All teachers provide feedback to children, which can either be oral, written, or in more practical subjects feedback through demonstration. Feedback can include teacher to children, children to children, or children to teacher.


For our staff and children at St Mary’s, effective feedback is about finding the best way of communicating to learners what they have achieved and what they need to work on next. Where possible we try to focus feedback on ‘task’ involvement instead of focusing on rewards or grades that enhances an individual - ‘ego’. An ‘ego’ focused culture of feedback encourages learners to compare themselves with others and their image and status, whereas a ‘task’ involvement culture encourages them to think about the work itself and how to improve it. This focus on ‘ability’ rather than the importance of effort can be damaging to self-esteem, particularly in lower attainers.


Here at St Mary’s we believe feedback on what needs to be done can encourage all children to believe that they can improve – it should build on their previous achievement rather than act as a comparison with others.





“Pupils will only invest effort in a task if they believe that they can achieve something. If a learning exercise is seen as a competition, then everyone is aware that there will be losers as well as winners: those who have a track record as losers will see little point in trying.” (Working inside the black box Black et al, 2002)


Our staff recognise that assessment can impact children’s motivation and self-esteem; used effectively it can produce positive results. The success of AfL depends on our staff believing that all children can succeed and having high expectations of them. The following examples demonstrate ways that the staff at St Mary’s have started to establish a learning culture that builds motivation and self-esteem:

- ‘No hands up’ and talking partners as a way of involving all children in thinking and responding takes the onus off the individual, and allows the teacher to focus on the response not the child.

- Teachers say, ‘Thank you. Does anyone have a different idea?’ in response to a child, rather than emphasising wrong answers.

- Teachers avoid giving stickers and stars for ‘best work’ and instead celebrate achievement verbally within the context of all children achieving some level of success against the task criteria.

- Teachers and children feedback by identifying successes and improvement needs.






“Pupils can only assess themselves when they have a sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to attain …. When pupils do acquire such an overview, they then become more committed and more effective as learners: their own assessments become an object of discussion with their teacher and with one another, and this promotes even further that reflection on one’s own ideas that is essential to good learning.” (Inside the Black Box Black & Wiliams, 1998)


For children to improve, they need to know where to go next and how to get there. Once children are actively involved in the learning intention of the lesson, they are able to begin assessing themselves and their own learning more effectively. Taking the ego out of the learning focuses children on the task and a realisation that their success or failure is not based on ‘innate ability’ but a need to tackle the task again, possibly in a different way.





“An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback by teachers and their students in assessing themselves and each other, to modify teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs.” (Assessment for Learning: Putting it into practice Black et al, 2003)


In order to take children’s learning forward, it is essential that teachers identify and interpret evidence with the intention of ‘closing the gap’. Our teachers base their adjustments on their knowledge of the children and the interaction in the classroom. As with all aspects of AfL, what is important is adopting those practices that are most relevant our children’s learning styles, teachers’ experience and confidence, and school policies.


Some of the strategies that teachers might use could include:

  • Teachers consider the types of assessments they currently use and how they use this information to take forward learning
  •  Through extended questioning and/or using talking partners, the teacher becomes aware of possible conceptual problems or deep understanding that some of the children have and makes adjustments either during the lesson or to short-term planning
  •  Children’s self-assessments against learning objectives and success criteria are used to guide teachers’ planning
  • Teachers plan time in class for children to respond to written feedback
  •  Teachers work together to produce questions that allow children to demonstrate their understanding of topics
  •  Teachers meet across year groups to moderate pieces of children’s work and identify learning needs to include in future planning
  •  Teachers work together on their long-term planning to identify progression in each subject, ensuring that they have an understanding of where they intend to take the learning
  • If children have had problems with a particular question in a lesson or test, teachers might involve children in generating and then answering their own questions
  •  Children are involved in target-setting