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Reflective Learners

Our self-assessment examples

What is assessment for learning?


Assessment for learning (AFL) is an approach to teaching and learning that creates feedback which is then used to improve students' performance.  Students become more involved in the learning process and from this gain confidence in what they are expected to learn and to what standard.


One way of thinking about AFL is that it aims to 'close the gap' between a learner's current situation and where they was to be in their learning and achievement.  Skilled teachers plan tasks which help learners to do this.


AFL involves students becoming more active in their learning and starting to 'think like a teacher'.  They think more actively about where they are now, where they are going and how to get there.


Where is the learner now?


How to get there?

Where is the learner going?


At St Columba's we encourage our children to be successful learners by promoting AFL in all areas of our curriculum.


Teachers and children sit together every term to discuss where they are in their learning? They decide where they are going next. They are supported with the success criteria and the steps needed to get there.


There are five main processes that take place in, 'Assessment for Learning':


  1. Questioning enables a student, with the help of their teacher, to find out what level they are at.
  2. The teacher provides feedback to each student about how to improve their learning.
  3. Students understand what successful work looks like for each task they are doing.
  4. Students become more independent in their learning, taking part in peer-assessment and self-assessment.
  5. Summative assessments (e.g. the student's exam or portfolio submission) are also used formatively to help them improve.



What is the theory behind AFL?

AFL helps in making understanding and knowledge, as John Hattie describes it, 'more visible'. AFL helps learners understand what excellence looks like and how they can develop their own work to reach that level.


Feedback has a positive effect on  learner achievement.  In John Hattie's seminal work on educational effectiveness Visible Learning for Teachers (2011), Hattie ranked feedback strategies 10th out of the 150 factors that bring about significant improvements in learner outcomes.  This was particularly true if the strategies involved feedback about the learner's own work.


Black and William, argue that if teachers use formative assessments as part of their teaching, students can learn at approximately double the rate.  Hattie's research, also shows that using formative assessment in the classroom brings about real-world differences in learner achievement.


Attribution theory


Attribution theory, says that people explain their own successes or failures to themselves in different ways.  Some factors that lead to success or failure are controllable and some are not.


Examples of factors that a learner might feel able to control, include how much effort they make and how interested they are in the subject.  Non-controllable factors include luck or the amount of help the learner receives from the teacher.


Learners who take part in self-assessment (as part of AFL) learn to attribute failures to controllable factors.  For example, a learner doing badly on a homework assignment might realise that they focused on the wrong subject matter.  Because the choice of subject matter was in their control, they can review, edit and improve the work.  Being in control in this way will boost the learner's confidence and achievement.




Metacognition, is a term used to describe, 'thinking about thinking' and supports the idea of self-assessment. Metacognition suggests that all learners need to be able to reflect on their own learning, to understand how they learn best and to reinterpret any new knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings that they have acquired.


Learning happens when students are given opportunities to build upon previous knowledge and experiences.  Research consistently shows that only telling learners what they need to know is much less effective than helping them construct meaning for themselves.


Want to know more?

In this video, Dylan Wiliam talks about his work on AFL, and how it helps to improve learner achievement., explains the terms associated with AFL in more depth.



What are the benefits of AFL?


AFL improves learner outcomes

Research shows that effective formative assessment is one of the most important contributors to success in summative assessment.  This is because learners have a clear idea of what good work looks like and what they need to do to reach this standard.


AFL increases confidence

AFL helps create a sense of self-efficacy (a learner's confidence in their ability to reach targets through hard work and determination).  This is an essential quality for learners to develop.  Self-efficacy will help them succeed throughout their life, both professionally and personally.


A student who receives a poor grade for a test may withdraw from learning, preferring to be thought 'lazy' rather than 'stupid'.  With and AFL approach, teachers give learners task-specific feedback that focuses on the work rather than the ego-specific feedback that focuses on personal qualities of the learner. This feedback encourages every learner to feel that they can improve.  You can find out more about different types of feedback in this article from the American Psychological Association.


AFL techniques, such as peer feedback, can help more able learners to reinforce their learning by explaining ideas to less able classmates.  Furthermore, peer feedback helps the learners to develop diplomacy and communication skills that will be essential in many aspects of later life.


AFL increases independence


AFL enables learners to become less passive in the classroom, especially when combined with other methods that promote this type of approach, such as active learning techniques.  Students will develop the ability to assess themselves and to take responsibility for their own learning.  This supports the development of the Cambridge learner attributes which says that Cambridge learners are confident, responsible, reflective, innovate and engaged.  An AFL approach also helps students to become enthusiastic life-long learners.


AFL also helps teachers.  When students are taking a more active role in their learning, teachers have more time to talk to them individually.  In addition, teachers have more time to reflect on that is going well in their lesson as what can be improved.


AFL changes the culture of the classroom


Carol Dweck argues that high-achieving learners avoid taking risks because they are afraid of making mistakes.  This reduces the amount they can learn.  An AFL approach helps to create a supportive and cooperative classroom.  In this environment, everyone, including the teacher, should feel able to try new things without worrying that they might fail.  If the teacher presents mistakes as an opportunity for learning, this will help every student to reach their full potential.  Students will start to see that by learning from failure, they can improve outcomes in the future.