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Learning and Teaching should be Inclusive and Enjoyable:

Formative Assessment


Whereas Summative Assessment involves measuring what has been learned in formal assessment, Formative Assessment in its widest sense refers to any process by which pupils are made aware of how they can make progress.  The “Black Box” literature has been extremely influential around the world (see Selected References below).   This was because it identified key strategies which had been shown to improve pupils’ learning.   Whereas Summative Assessment requires careful record-keeping, much of the Formative Assessment process will not be recorded by the teacher, though it may be an aspect of Personal Learning Planning.

Assessment is for Learning and Formative Assessment
This paper focuses on themes arising from the Black Box research.   However, the term “Formative Assessment” is used in a very wide sense.   Many strategies can be said to help pupils understand where they are in the learning process, what progress they should aim for and how to make that progress.   Other Toolkit papers go into such strategies in some depth; indeed, key elements of this paper (Questioning, Peer Assessment, and Feedback) are also dealt with in greater depth in other papers.   Thus, it may be that studying the issue of Gender may be particularly helpful in some situations, in consideration of Formative Assessment strategies with boys, for example.   Or perhaps an understanding of Emotional Intelligence, or Learning Styles or use of Praise or any of the other issues covered in Toolkit papers may be more fruitful for certain teachers.

This paper should be understood as an introduction to the topic of Formative Assessment, which has an absolutely central role in AifL developments. Other Toolkit papers should be read for suggestions as to how the principles of Formative Assessment can be extended in the widest sense.

For Formative Assessment to be most effective, there should be a whole-school approach to it, with colleagues sharing best practice and planning for improvement.

Points Arising from Research
Research indicates that an emphasis on formative assessment has the following effects:

Pupils learn more effectively


Some pupils feel more involved in the schooling process and become less disaffected


Teaching is focussed more effectively on the individual pupil


Positive effects may be particularly evident in the less able


Learning in the wider (not subject-specific) sense can be enhanced

Key Elements of Formative Assessment (Based on the Black Box research)

The Task:

The task should take account of prior learning and should be clearly understood by the pupil


The way in which they will be judged should be clearly understood by pupils


Pupils should be aware of where they stand at the beginning of the task


They should have a clear understanding of the goal and how to achieve it


They should be given opportunities to set their own goals


They should have opportunities to make real decisions and choices


Models of good work should be provided for pupils



“Take-up time” should be allowed for the pupil to formulate a response


The pupil’s articulation of understanding is vital, even if it is incorrect


According to research, teachers very often answer their own questions - this should be avoided


Answers should not be taken just from those who put their hands up (we need to know why others haven’t put their hands up)


Pupils should be encouraged to ask questions


Opportunities should be given for collaborative attempts at answering questions


Pupils should be encouraged to think about the process of their learning (“metacognition”)



Tests at the end of a teaching block are too late to be used for formative assessment


Tests should be short and relatively frequent (new learning should be tested within a week).   The formative use of summative tests has been recognised as a very powerful aspect of formative assessment.


Assessment should be geared to what the pupil is capable of


Questions should be carefully worded and should be seen to be relevant by pupils


Pairs and groups can explore questions and report back to others (eg “think-pair-share”)


The teacher needs to understand the abilities and needs of individuals in observation exercises


The teacher should adapt the teaching and learning process to react to what has been observed



It should be given promptly


It should give the pupil a sense of what has been achieved as well as improvement still to be achieved


Marks/grades are not helpful in a formative sense and may demotivate


Comments should be limited in number and should give specific advice as to how goals can be achieved


Oral feedback (including discussion) is the most effective type


Targets and progress should be discussed with pupils while they are working on the task


Pupils should be encouraged to reflect on the feedback and should be given time to work on improvements


Where appropriate, attempts should be made to involve parents in the learning triggered by feedback

Peer and Self-Assessment:


Pupils need good understanding of the criteria for success


Pupils should make judgements themselves about their progress towards targets


Low achievers and pupils with learning difficulties can benefit from self-monitoring


The discussion process in peer assessment gives valuable opportunity for pupils to talk about their developing understanding

Reflection and Discussion

How does your current practice relate to the advice from research?

Can you identify aspects of your current practice which show some of the principles at work?

Can you see ways in which you could incorporate some new aspects of the advice into your classroom work?

In the list of all the Toolkit papers, are there any topics which you think would merit closer study in developing Learning and Teaching strategies?

Some Examples of Development Activities Related to Formative Assessment in the Classroom

Key Element




Some examples and suggestions


Pupils understand thetask clearly

Ask a non-expert parent to work on a task and comment on its clarity


Ensuring that pupils answer questions effectively

A colleague observes a lesson and completes an "audit" of questions answered


Assessment geared to the needs of individuals

Brainstorm with colleagues types of documentation for individual target-setting


Oral feedback

How could oral feedback be recorded, (by teacher? by pupil?)


Pupils' understanding of criteria for success

Ask individual pupils to explain to each other (class?) how the work will be judged

Peer Assessment

Pupils to judge each other's work in the formative process

Mark up assessment grid for pupils to use, giving comments on successful features and advice on further development

Selected References

Further Reading

The key document is Inside the Black Box by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam.  This is available from:
nferNelson at the following website,  www.nfer-nelson.co.uk/catalogue/search_panel_results.asp

Shirley Clarke:- Targeting Assessment in the primary school - Strategies for planning, assessment, pupil feedback and target setting. Hodder & Stoughton 1998 ISBN 0 340 72531 1

Shirley Clarke:- Unlocking Formative Assessment - Practical strategies for enhancing pupils' learning in the primary classroom. Hodder & Stoughton 2001 ISBN 0 340 80126 3

Shirley Clarke:- Enriching Feedback - Oral and written feedback from teachers and children. Hodder & Stoughton 2003 ISBN 0 340 87258 6


Inside the Black Box by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam can be viewed on :  


See also:


Shirley Clarke has developed a reputation in the field of formative assessment and information can be found at:
Various publications are available from this web site.

Another web site featuring Shirley Clarke is:
There is a link on this site to free Inset resource sheets.



Last updated 20/08/2010
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