Influencing Learning Is What The Learner Already Knows Education Essay


"The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly" (Ausubel, 1968: vi).

Ausubel's dictum underlies one of the fundamental educational principles; that is that learning should commence from the point at where the learner is (Brooks, 2007). To ascertain pupils' prior knowledge and understanding and comply with such principles, educators need to adopt a method of assessment. According to Black and Wiliam (1998a), assessment refers to all those activities led by teachers and students themselves, which offer information and evidence that can be utilised as feedback to respond to and adapt the teaching and learning activities which both parties are engaged in.

Summative and formative assessment

Assessment is further defined as either formative or summative, which are distinguished largely by purpose (Black & Wiliam, 1998b). Summative assessment summarises long-term attainment and relates to progression in learning against either a criterion (criterion-referenced) or other students (norm-referenced) (Harlen et al, 1997) at a set time point. Summative assessment may be achieved through end-of topic tests, and/or external authorised examinations; providing an assessment 'of' learning linked with the concept of high-stakes assessment (Harlen, 2005 cited by Power & Frandji, 2010).

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In contrast, for assessment to be formative, there must be a 'feedback' or 'feed forward' purpose, i.e. when information is actually used to modify the subsequent teaching to meet the learning needs of the students, the assessment becomes 'formative' (Black et al. 2002; Gioka, 2009). Formative assessment is used to continuously monitor progress and allows teachers to modify approaches to teaching, reflecting a more fluid and dynamic mode of assessment. Formative assessment is regarded as assessment 'for' learning and practices may be achieved through regular written feedback, discussions, peer or self-assessment, formative use of summative tests, rich questioning or an end of lesson quiz. The contextual nature of formative assessment, whereby assessment is influenced by learning situations, knowledge of students and lesson purpose (Bell & Cowie 2001; Black & Wiliam 1998b), endorses the synergistic relationship between assessment and planning.

The use of summative assessment is often for accountability and monitoring purposes, and is reported to have negative effects on teaching and the curriculum, thus indirectly pupils (Harlen, 2009). It is the use of the aggregated results which taints summative assessment as a sensitive issue. High stakes assessment has been associated with a reduction of formative assessment in the classroom (Osborn et al, 2000) and a more wooden, modern teaching plan, thereby restraining content taught and promoting rote learning (Marshall & Drummond 2006; Shepard, 2000).

In contrast, assessment 'for' learning, used interchangeably with formative assessment, has been associated with positive learning gains and raising learning standards (Black & Wiliam, 1998a). Black and Wiliam (1998a), using the same tests, compared the average improvements in test scores of students involved in a feedback intervention, with the range of scores found for typical groups of students. The results offer compelling evidence that improving formative assessment in the classroom does raise overall attainment standards and produces learning gains. Moreover, it appears that these improvement learning gains are more evident amongst pupils with a lower attainment level, and subsequently reduce the spread of attainment throughout schools (Wiliam & Black 1998b).

Specifically, Atkin et al, (2001) demonstrated that science standards and learning enhancement are both supported through implementing formative assessment in the classroom. However, Buck and Truath-Nare (2009) reported that high-achieving science students conceived formative assessment practices negatively, while lower achieving science students seemed to benefit most relative to achievements. This endorses Wiliam and Black (1998b) research, yet suggests there are potentially negative impacts of formative assessment processes on higher achievement students. However, as Buck and Truath-Nare (2009) highlight, this study did not account for students' differing learning experiences within the same classroom, which has been a reported influential factor of educational performance (Nuthall, 2004).

Theoretical framework of learning and assessment

Assessment purposes are largely based on different theories of learning; Roos and Hamilton (2004) reported that different theories for learning entail different paradigms of assessment. The constructivist conception of learning states that knowledge cannot be transmitted; instead it must be constructed by the learner (Piaget, 1970, 1976). Bruner (1960) theorises that learning is an active process, where the learner constructs concepts based on prior or current knowledge, allowing hypotheses to be formed and decisions made. In contrast, Gagné's (1977) views of learning adhere to a behaviouristic framework, with a heightened focus towards specifications and expectations of students (Roos & Hamilton, 2004). Summative assessment appears to be largely tailored to behaviourist conceptions of learning (Begg, 1997), whilst formative assessment is based more on constructivist principles (Black & Wiliam, 2007).

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Learning science involves exploration and testing new ideas to help develop understanding. Exploring and interpreting phenomena in science is central to understanding scientific concepts (Driver et al, 1994) and endorses the push for scientific enquiry, the application of science into daily lives and how science works. The constructivist theory appears to closely relate to science learning, and underpins contemporary perspectives on science education (Driver et al, 1994). Formative assessment in science must reflect the new curricular which emphasises scientific inquiry, how science is applied to daily life and the development of meaningful understanding, reflecting a constructive approach to learning (Atkin & Coffey, 2003; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998 cited in Wang et al, 2010).

The science curriculum is termed a spiral curriculum, where each topic is revisited and more knowledge is added, reflecting this constructivist approach to learning. The shift from summative towards formative assessment parallels with the shift in curricular content and objectives, towards a more constructivist perspective to include the learning of scientist skills, higher-order thinking and application of science to daily lives (Shepard 2000). Researchers have argued for a wider extent of assessment tasks (Duschl & Gitomer, 1997; Gitomer & Duschl, 1995, 1998) in more authentic contexts (Tamir, 1998) and to embed assessment within the curriculum. The investigative nature of science firmly endorses the need for formative assessment, since such recommendations cannot be met through standardised testing alone.

The role of assessment

Assessment tracks the progress of pupils in relation to knowledge, skills, comprehension and is the principal aid to target setting. Assessment also identifies where additional support is needed to maintain progression of learning, subsequently directly influencing lesson planning. The assessment process should be a positive experience for pupils, providing them with up-to-date information regarding their progress, celebrating their achievement and identifying ways to improve their work (Crooks, 1988).

Assessment also fulfils a motivational role (Snyder, 1971). Regular feedback offers a motivational tool which drives pupils to study and demonstrates that everyday learning tasks are routinely assessed and are therefore of significance (Trotter, 2006). In addition, summative forms of assessment have shown to be a greater source of extrinsic motivation (Trotter, 2006). However, Rowntree (1987) reports that whilst some students admit to seeking assessment as a motivation source, some students are distracted and enervated by it.

Assessment can also play multiple classroom roles. A wealth of school based research Gagné (1977) and Crooks (1988) can be used to reactivate or consolidate required skills before introducing new subject content, draw attention towards key elements of the topic, promote active learning strategies and offer chances to practise skills and establish students' learning. Feedback can highlight discrepancies between desired and actual knowledge, understanding and achievement, which may guide students to reach their goals by highlighting the necessary actions (Ramaprasad, 1983; Sadler, 1989).

In teaching the sciences, assessment fulfils an intrinsic part of the students' learning process, thereby influencing their attitudes and interests towards the subject (Teaching & Learning Research Programme, 2006). The role and importance of assessment in encouraging more students to follow a scientific career path is therefore crucial, as it can be used to help promote a greater understanding of the fundamental concepts and implications of science, as well as encouraging students to think scientifically. In contrast with other school subjects, assessment in science offers greater opportunity for interactive classroom communication. Formative assessment may help to raise student expectations and counteract students attributing poor performance to lack of academic ability (Ames, 1992; Vispoel & Austin, 1995). Subsequently, assessment may serve as a 'buffer' to emotions of discouragement in an effort to promote learning. Assessment also provides science teachers with an armoury of different tools, which can be used to aid greater understanding of scientific content and address varying learner abilities and levels.

Social, economic and political drivers promoting assessment

League tables, which revolve around student assessment, are publicised each year and according to (Warmington & Murphy, 2004) raise the stakes each round. However, there is a concern that league tables drive teachers to put forward pupils to sit exams, increasing summative assessment in schools in order to earn points in league tables, rather than consider what is best for the student, and alternative qualifications (Wiggins, & Tymms, 2002). Power and Frandji (2010) are of the opinion that league tables reveal the dispersion of educational achievement and highlight which schools are able to win 'market' advantage, allowing parents to compete for places at the 'best' schools for their children. Moreover the damage to teaching staff and the school's atmosphere can be severe if schools are unfavourably positioned in league tables (e.g., Karsten et al, 2001). For example (Nicolaidou & Ainscow, 2005 report that schools labelled as 'failing' show acute drops in contentment, motivation and self-esteem

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Assessment provides a benchmark and evidence to prospective employers in respect of skills and capabilities (Oloruntegbe, 2010). Universities and employers both use summative assessment to guide their selection process, and its importance to students is crucial in securing their preferred places in higher education.

Importantly, formative assessment plays a unique role in devising individual education plans (IEP) by assisting in setting targets, providing a medium to measure success in the target and evaluating if the target has been set Clarke (2001). Moreover, Ofsted stated that IEPs are unlikely to be effective if they are not integrated into the schools assessment system (Ofsted, 1999, p. 22). Frankl (2005) emphasises the importance of target setting with reference to developing for those students with learning difficulties or disabilities. However, Gross (2000) argues that progress is often measured narrowly in relation to student performance against IEP targets, rather than progress in their overall learning, suggesting the mode of assessment was not viable.

Reflections of student learning and teaching performance

The topic selected was products from oil and featured five lessons which referred to C1b 4 of the AQA Chemistry Additional GCSE course. Clarke (2001) advocates that the crux of effective formative assessment is the formulation of clear learning objectives. At the beginning of every lesson, the learning objectives were clearly stated and shared with the students; see appendix 1 for lesson plans.

The teaching and assessment methods were diverse and appropriately incorporated into different lessons, allowing students to demonstrate their understanding through a variety of methods. According to Biggs' (1999) model of constructive alignment, assessment tasks should be properly designed to directly assess each of the learning objectives defined in the curriculum (Biggs 1996, 1999; Segers & Dochy 2006). The methods of assessment were closely aligned with the learning objectives (see appendix 2); which enabled me to use the learning objectives as a flexible form of assessment criteria to review students' understanding.

Lesson One - (self-assessment and observation)

The objectives were to enable pupils to know the structure and molecular formula of alkenes, and understand the differences between alkanes and alkenes. The starter activity involved a quiz, which challenged pupils' prior knowledge and highlighted any misconceptions on alkanes, a previously covered topic. Students self-assessed their responses from the quiz (appendix 3) which assisted in recalling, consolidating prior knowledge, and establish students' learning, as highlighted by Gagné (1977) and Crooks (1988). Self-assessment practice also allows learners to recognise the criteria of high-quality work and discrepancies between current and desired comprehension, which can assist in directing future improvement; yet has not been a common approach employed by teachers (Black & Wiliam, 1998a). Specifically, self-assessment engages students in 'identifying standards and/or criteria to apply to their work and making judgments about the extent to which they have met these criteria and standards' (Boud 1991:5).

This mode of assessment allowed the students to gain a personal understanding of their current understanding. According to Sadler, (1989) students should evaluate their current attainment with their desired level of performance and implement procedures to achieve those goals (Sadler, 1989). Therefore, upon reflection, if I was to do this again, I would encourage students to reflect on this mark compared to their target mark. This would allow students to appreciate the gap between current and desired level of understanding, using this result as individual feedback. This may trigger and promote action required to reach their desired target level, as suggested by Ramaprasad (1983) and Sadler (1989).

Although self-assessment appears to be very effective, it is associated with problems. For example, students may not be honest, leading to fake perceptions; the process can be very critical of results, or too generous; it may devalue self-worth and lower self-esteem. Additionally, if students incorrectly mark something as wrong or vice versa, and this assessment is not checked, may lead to misconceptions.

It may appear logical that to assist the effectiveness in engaging students with the criteria, and keep in align with constructivist principles of learning, that students should be involved in the construction of the criteria. Paradoxically, Orsmond et al, (2000), cited by Rust et al (2003), report that this may not be the case and practical implications such as class size may add resistance to formulating student-derived criteria.

Following the quiz, students demonstrated their understanding and the differences between alkanes and alkenes by constructing both the alkane and alkene propane using molimods. I used this time to observe students' actions and formally assess understanding of bonds, atoms and the structural formula and differences between alkanes and alkenes. Students assertively identified that propene had a double bond and fewer hydrocarbons compared to the single bond propane. Upon reflection, this form of exploratory work was very successful, as it demanded higher order thinking skills and demonstrated students' deeper levels of understanding and knowledge application. I was encouraged with their ability to do this task successfully and used it to plan the following lesson to further challenge the learners, supporting Black and Wiliam (1998b). To this end, observation of pupils' practical activity was very informative and demonstrated students' understanding of key differences between alkenes and alkanes. I therefore decided to pitch the following lesson at a further challenging level, placing the ownership of learning on the students themselves.

Lesson 2 - (questioning)

It was intended that students knew the conditions required for cracking, the cracking process and how to write and balance symbol equations. Classroom dialogue and questioning is a type of formative assessment and plays an important role to encourage two-way active engagement. Question-asking has been identified as a higher cognitive skull, and should be emphasised particularly in science education (Zoller et al, 2000; Hofstein et al. 2005). According to Black and Wiliam (2007), an effective assessment practice should involve the students themselves and communication between student and teacher should be regular and constructive. Questioning therefore provided a very useful informative tool as it gave immediate feedback on individual students' understanding of concepts, rather than a whole-group scale. From the questioning used in this lesson, it became apparent students were struggling with the concept of cracking. Therefore, this use of formative assessment enabled me to modify my teaching to review areas not understood by the majority of pupils, i.e. recap the cracking process in the following lesson; see appendix 4 for the questions used for this lesson.

I also used questioning to assess the students' ability to balance equations when cracking hydrocarbons. Students were given exam questions relevant to cracking and balancing equations. I used the students' responses as a tool of formative assessment, and by their confused faces and negative body language, it became clear that many struggled with the balancing equation concept. This provided an immediate form of assessment and alerted me to this weakness. I therefore gave the pupils a few more equations to try and balance, discussed how to go about balancing equations, and reviewed a few equations as a class. Moreover, I incorporated a starter activity for lesson 3 which involved balancing equations, as from the questions posed, I felt that students were still not confident with this skill; which endorses Gioka (2009) and Crooks (1998) research on the purpose of formative assessment.

In the last few minutes of the lesson I asked the students how they would determine if an alkene or alkane resulted from the cracking process, which required students to recall knowledge from the previous lesson. Many students were willing to answer, suggesting they had understood the results with bromine water and the importance of the double bond in alkenes. This on the spot method of assessment demonstrated secure competence and understanding of the aforementioned reaction, as highlighted by Crooks (1998).

Upon reflection, it appears that students did meet their learning objectives, and this was achieved through their written work and regular verbal questioning during class. Question-asking allowed the confirmation of students' understanding and identified concepts which were less well understood. Question-asking is also quick and diverse, asking closed, low-order questions, such as 'identify' to open, high-order questions such as evaluate and synthesise. As well as an opportunity to challenge high achieving learners and demand high order thinking, questioning allowed struggling students another opportunity to learn and enhance understanding levels from both correct and incorrect answers. Whilst using a 'hands-up' policy to questions is an indicator of how many students in the class think they know the answer, in general question-asking only directly assessed the understanding of those answering the questions, and is therefore limited. In addition, question-asking usually only involved those students who felt confident enough to speak out to answer or those that felt confident enough that their answer was correct. Therefore, answers given may only be offered by students with either strong self-confidence and/or a deeper understanding, and may not be a reliable or fair representation of students' understanding.

Furthermore, verbal questioning can be used inappropriately using low-order thinking skills and not challenge the learners. Morrison and Lederman (2003) reported that informal means of assessment only, such as whole class questioning, appeared to dominate classroom practice, recalling only low level knowledge. McMillan (2003) endorse such findings and report that the assessment used and decided upon by teachers were based on school context, professional experiences, instead of common assessment principles. Conversely, Tomanek, et al (2008), reported that teachers select formative assessment tasks accounting for perception of students' capabilities alongside the curriculum.

Although verbal questioning and answering proved a useful form of assessment, a common drawback to questioning is where pupils play the 'game', i.e. they formulate a response that they believe the teacher is looking for, and the teacher may manoeuvre the conversation, preventing the pupils from constructing their knowledge using mental cognitive processes (Black & Wiliam, 1998b). Despite the shortcomings of questioning, I made a conscious effort to incorporate a range of questioning order-levels in accordance to Blooms Taxonomy.

Although students appeared to understand key concepts, their understanding may have been unreliably assessed through questioning and their learning may therefore have been superficial. However, verbal questioning did flag up areas which needed revisiting, such as the balancing of equations. In the future I will use more written questioning and a greater mixture of hands-up answering, and asking on-the-spot questions to random students.

Lesson 3 - (peer assessment)

By the end of the lesson it was intended that students would understand monomers and polymers, provide names of a range of polymers from a given monomer, and be aware of some polymer uses.

The main task in lesson 3 was to produce a paper chain polymer from a given monomer. Groups were asked to create the monomer from a given paper example, and then break open the chains to make a polymer, displaying the monomer, polymer and uses of the plastic on an A3 sheet. Constructing the paper monomer and polymer assessed students' understanding of monomers, alkenes, polymerisation, additional reactions and polymers. The activity also demanded and consequently promoted their subject knowledge development, as they needed to understand monomers before they could construct the polymer. This promoted a constructive, step-by-step approach to learning about polymerisation and also allowed assessment to be structured and very informative. The assessment also indicated which stage or level students had grasped or did not understand, proving a very effective tool as it identified where additional support was needed, as advocated by Crooks (1998) research.

Students were asked to assess their peer's work on monomers and polymers using post-it notes to write feedback, see appendix 5. Following the peer assessment, pupils returned back to their work and were given time to read their own feedback. This allowed students to actively engage in the feedback process, learning how to give and receive constructive comments. Peer-assessment practice allows students to work together or individually in judging work of their peers based on criteria, and has shown to improve subsequent work (Forbes & Spence, 1991; Cohen et al, 2001; Rust, 2002). Topping (1998) endorses peer assessment is associated with enhance confidence, appraisal skills and learning gains.

However, peer assessment carries limitations with regard to problems associated with inaccurate over and under marking, and the need for an explicit understanding of assessment criteria (Black & Wiliam, 1998b). Whether the problem is lack of reliability in marking practices (Laming, 1990) or lack of student understanding of what is expected of them (O'Donovan et al, 2001), as well as explicit knowledge (O'Donovan et al, 2004). Therefore, it could be argued that the effectiveness of the peer assessment of the tasks in lesson 3, which were without an explicit assessment criteria, may be questionable. The peer assessment may have been only limited to the students' understanding and knowledge, which was low given that these lessons were covering new information and subject knowledge. Upon reflection, peer assessment may therefore be more effective when used as a revision assessment and reviewing previous lessons' learning. Students were unable to improve their work due to time restraints, and on reflection it would have been better to allow time for this in the following lesson.

Training students to assess and judge work accurately may be a further pitfall of such assessment strategies, and it has been reported that higher ability students may under mark, whilst less able may over-mark themselves Falchikov (1986). Importantly, as identified by Kay et al (2007), there should be predominant alignment between student and teacher judgements, therefore the criteria of strong and weak performances needs to be explicit. This presents further challenges to teachers, given that pupils can only assess themselves when they have an explicit understanding of their learning objectives (Black & Wiliam, 1998b).

Lesson 4 - (feedback)

By the end of this lesson it was intended that students knew the forces between polymer chains, what determined the properties of plastics; including thermosetting and thermosoftening plastics.

From a review of the literature (Hattie, 1987; Black & Wiliam, 1998b; Gibbs & Simpson, 2004), regular feedback and communication between teacher and learner appears to be at the heart of formative assessment. Rowntree (1987) proposed that feedback is the lifeblood of learning; thereby scaffolding the belief that feedback may constitute the successful formulae of formative assessment. Moreover, in extensive meta-analyses of 87 studies, Hattie (1987) concluded that the most powerful single influence upon student achievement was feedback. Research indicates students desire good feedback and appreciate the feedback provided (O'Donovan et al, 2001; Higgins et al, 2002).

Research suggests feedback which is given as close to the assessment time is more effective in enhancing student learning and therefore verbal feedback may be more effective given its timely nature (Gibbs and Simpson, 2004). Given that verbal feedback was immediate, pupils could respond and improve their work 'in the moment'. Although written feedback takes longer to prepare and receive, it is a permanent record, and therefore potentially longer-lasting (Gibbs et al, 2003). Moreover, written feedback allows teachers to offer advice for improvement to current and future work (Fleming, 1999).

During the lesson, I gave immediate verbal feedback on students' work. I circulated and checked students' diagrams of polymer chains and reinforced the diagrams which were correct. In some cases I prompted the students to add to their diagrams by asking the student 'what forces are present in between the polymer chains, keeping the polymer together?'

Students were asked to develop a table of differences of the two different polymer types and give an example of each; see appendix 6. I gave verbal feedback on students work, encouraging them to include differences they had not listed or considered. Consequently, students added to their tables, promoting a thorough evaluation of the differences between a thermosetting and thermosoftening plastic. I also prompted students to consider the structural difference of the two polymer types.

Using verbal feedback enabled students to add to their work immediately, and allowed me to deal with any misconceptions or misunderstandings. For example, I queried a specific student's work, who had initially written that thermosetting plastics could be softened repeatedly. By reacting to this misunderstanding, I was able to capture the wrong answer and allow the student to correct it straight away, and dispel their misconception immediately; as opposed to waiting to mark their books. By acting immediately to an incorrect answer also increased the chances for students to learn from their mistake and therefore verbal feedback was used as a pro-active form of assessment.

Written feedback was also provided, and targets on how to improve their work were given; (see appendix 6). If the student is able to recognise for themselves how to move forward, they are likely to take responsibility for making the necessary effort (Harlen & James, 1997). In addition, the marking policy was adhered to operating a traffic light system where a green dot equated to great effort, orange was moderate and red represented poor effort. This feedback was regular (see appendix x) and constructive.

In addition, the feedback acted as a motivational tool, as endorsed by Synder (1971), and encouraged students to view there work is of significance (Trotter, 2006). Moreover, the feedback flagged students who were struggling and where additional support was needed (Crooks, 1998). However, the feedback would have been more effective if students were given the time to revisit these comments and improve their work by completing the advised targets.

I used this feedback to plan a revision quiz for the following lesson which covered common areas of misunderstanding. I used the common pitfalls as fuel for subject content of the quiz, as highlighted from the process of giving students feedback concerning much of the written feedback given

Lesson 5 - (formative use of summative assessment)

In lesson 5, students were given an end of topic test (C1b4); see appendix 7, which they then self-assessed. The data used was only for students who were present for both topic tests. Overall, the students' scores from the topic taught over the past 5 weeks (C1b4) have remained consistent when compared to those from the most recent end of topic test (topic C1a3); see appendix 8. Students results were in align with how they had previously done in the test of the prior topic, suggesting a consistency of understanding between topics. The average score from topic C1a3 test was 81%, with 62% attaining an A or above, reflecting an almost equal average score of 80% and 63% of students attaining an A or above for C1b4 test. This data suggests students' comprehensions, as a class, of both topics were similar and remained stable. If one average of a topic had been significantly lower, it would suggest further tuition was required of subject knowledge of that specific topic. A further discussion of these results can be found in appendix 8.

Given the different complexity of topics and individual differences such as interests for specific topic, a personalised comparison between topics is not possible. However, this presentation of results can be useful to measure the consistency of students' attainment. If a specific student had a dramatic drop in their test scores between topics, this could be identified and dealt with; for example additional revision sessions or consideration of any personal circumstances.

In addition, the results displaying the grade categories could be compared between topics to assess particular topics in which the class are strong at and weaker at. This data could be then used to identify topics which need additional teaching and time spent reviewing the subject knowledge. From comparing the data, I'm confident to propose that students had a good understanding of this taught topic, given their encouraging test results.

Interestingly, when looking more closely at the responses to specific questions, students scored the lowest in the balancing questions. If I were to teach this group again, this would be an area to revisit and teach again, reinforcing the use of summative assessment for future planning and teaching.

Educational researchers have argued in favour for the employment of summative tests for formative purposes (Black & Wiliam 2003; Black et al. 2003) whereby external assessments can inform and help guide curriculum reforms (Shavelson et al, 2003). Shavelson et al, (2003) has also encouraged the alignment between formative and summative assessment. Using end of topic tests can reveal misconceptions and enlighten the teacher's planning and focus towards areas still misunderstood.

However, summative assessment is also acknowledged to negatively impact on learners' motivation, directly and indirectly Harlen and Deakin Crick (2002, 2003). Directly, summative assessment can induce test anxiety, poor grades can reduce self-esteem and generate negative perceptions of the learner. Indirectly, summative assessment triggers teaches to modify their teaching approaches to provide direct facts which are to be tested, and offer little chance for students to learn through exploration (Johnston & McClune, 2000). 


The range of assessment approaches during lessons had an underlying constructivist approach to learning. For students, assessment provided up to date evidence of their educational development, rewarded their achievement, whilst identified opportunities and approaches to improve work with targets (Sadler, 1989). The assessment was designed to fit the purpose of lessons (appendix 2) and embraced constructivist principles as advocated by Sherman and Kurshan, (2005)

Over the course of these lessons, a range of assessment strategies have been deployed, as suggested by Gitomer and Duschl (1995, 1998) research. This diverse range allowed me to reflect and evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy, providing a greater range of teaching techniques to demonstrate students' understanding.

A social constructivist approach to achieving meaningful understanding of assessment requires active engagement with the criteria by both tutors and students (Rust et al, 2005). However, student input to the assessment criteria was not always practical. Therefore, without knowledge of the learning goals and what is expected of them, the reliability of self and peer-assessment is questionable.

Although the advantages and constructive purposes of formative feedback are widely acknowledged (Black and Wiliam, 1998b), the feedback I gave, may have been associated with underlying problems. For example, MacLellen (2001) study has questioned the quality, quantity and usefulness of feedback in facilitating students with their understanding and stimulating discussion. These contentious issues may in part be due to rising class sizes, teachers' time pressures, which can make it taxing to offer extensive and useful feedback Heywood (2000). Studies have also shown students may lack a proactive response where feedback is often not read (Hounsell, 1987), or disregarded if not liked Wotjas (1998). A common remark is that students don't understand the feedback provided (Lea & Street, 1998); yet Jackson (1995) reports students appreciate feedback, as this signifies their work has been fully read and marked appropriately.

The written feedback given to students consisted of a general comment and a target for improvement. There has been a long-standing debate over the effectiveness of feedback and marks. A low grade can damage a student's self-esteem, whilst Yorke (2001) reports that a positive grade can enhance student retention. However, without having a grade, Black and Wiliam (1998a) show that feedback is read more conscientiously and can be used to support learning. Paradoxically, Smith and Gorard (2005) and Trotter (2006) report that both feedback and a grade were favoured over solely feedback and more effective for learning, since a mark provided a source of extrinsic motivation (Trotter, 2006) This falls in support of Knight (2000) who argues that formative and summative assessment could function synergistically. Therefore, future research opportunities could consider whether a mark and feedback is a better source of assessment than feedback alone.

In conclusion I support that students benefited from formative assessment. Interestingly, the students were of a higher ability and therefore offers evidence against Buck and Truath-Nare (2009) research. I was able to modify the lesson content and planning to meet the learning needs of the pupils and subsequently provide compelling evidence for the advantages of using formative assessment in the classroom.

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