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Assessment for learning - what is it?

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Assessment of learning (AOL) and Assessment for learning (AFL). What’s the difference?


This blog post is the first of three posts that will take you through what Assessment for learning is, how it is different from Assessment of learning and how to use it in your lessons. The following posts will explain formative and summative assessment in more detail, and what it looks like in the classroom.


Assessment for learning (AFL) is an approach to teaching and learning that is used to improve students’ performance. Cambridge Assessment offers a great post, 'Getting started with Assessment for Learning' and a video to explain in more detail if you want to build on the knowledge in this post.


AFL can be found at all stages of the teaching and learning process i.e. the beginning, middle, end of the lesson, and even in homework. Unlike AOL, which is only used at the end of learning to measure students against certain standards. AFL is more flexible and continuous.


AFL is the main tool used in the development of students. It helps them make progress. In really great examples, students are very involved with the AFL process. Three key ways to introduce AFL into your lessons is through questioning, feedback, and examples of success. The purpose of all these tools is to measure the progress that your students make and enable them to take control of their own development. When students are aware of their progress and feel empowered to make a difference, the progress happens faster.



A great way to start with AFL is to use questioning. I love questioning because when you have developed the skills, you can use questioning to teach all subjects, topics, and levels. Questioning enables students to find out what level they are at by using higher-order skills and moving from easy to difficult questions. Learn more about Bloom's taxonomy and higher-order questioning via Teacher Vision.


Questioning is also a great way to start a lesson and assess what level the students are at before you dive into teaching. For example, start with recalling information, understanding, applying, analysing, and finally creating information. 

Recall: What is the past participle of… 

Understand: What has changed from the present to the past participle?

Apply: How can we apply the same rule to this new sentence. What is the new past participle?

Analyse: In what situation might this rule not work?

Create: Create a sentence with… 

Students start the exercise by answering easy questions and are able to measure themselves where the task becomes difficult. This tells them what level they are working at as an individual and what they need to work on. As with any skill, this should be practiced through all lessons. Lessons from The English Classroom include lots of higher-order questioning. You can find examples of already planned questions built into all levels.



Feedback is the next important aspect of AFL. When the teacher provides feedback to students, it gives them a direction of where to develop next. 

Great feedback always includes something positive that the student has achieved and a target to aim for next. The target should be achievable and the students should understand what they need to do to get there. 

For example, "You have identified the X grammar rule very well. Practice making your own sentences to demonstrate this 10 times."


What does success look like?

Students will not be able to take control of their own learning or measure their own progress if they don’t know what success looks like. Explain the learning objective for each lesson before they start i.e. what the students should be aiming for. Always give examples of how to get there. An easy way to show this for the students is to offer 3 example sentences on different levels.

For example,

The cat sat on the chair. 

The cat sat quietly on the chair. 

The cat sat quietly on the chair and purred.

Again, students can judge for themselves what level they are working at and this motivates them to want to achieve the next level.

Don’t forget, any students working at the top level can always be stretched by asking them to create new sentences/ speeches/ verses of their own.


Start by practicing your own questioning skills and developing the feedback that you provide. Check with your students, "Do you know what you need to do to get better?" Hopefully, they can tell you exactly what they need to work on and how to do it. 

But don't worry if they can't. AFL doesn't happen overnight. Start working on it now and await our next blog post on the topic of formative assessment in two weeks time. 


The English Classroom. Made for Teachers.


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Written by Jennifer Gardner

Owner of The English Classroom

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