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why afl is important?

3 Answer(s) Available
Answer # 1 #

What is AfL?

To understand what AfL is, it is useful to start with what it is not. Traditional approaches to assessment are generally based on assessment of learning. Assessment of learning is generally carried out by the teacher to collect information about attainment. It is usually done at the end of a course or school year and takes the form of an exam or test which is used to assign grades and report achievement or failure.

Assessment for learning, on the other hand, occurs at all stages of the learning process. Students are encouraged to take an active role, become self-regulated learners and leave school able and confident to continue learning throughout their lives. Assessment for learning is also referred to as formative assessment, i.e. the process of collecting and interpreting evidence for use by teachers and learners to decide where they are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there (Assessment Reform Group, 2002). It is a process by which assessment information is used by teachers to adjust their teaching strategies and by students to adjust their learning strategies. AfL encourages learning and promotes motivation by emphasising progress and achievement rather than failure.

Where did AfL come from and why is it important?

AfL originates in the research of UK professors, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam. Black and Wiliam recognised that what teachers and learners do in the classroom is complicated and little is understood about what happens. They likened the classroom to a black box (an object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs without any knowledge of its internal workings) and set out to investigate what was happening inside. What they discovered was that students who learn in a formative way achieve much more and obtain better results than other students. In 1998, they published their findings in an important booklet for practitioners Inside The Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment and in it they showed that:

As a result of these and other research findings, AfL is now established as one of the most powerful ways of improving learning and raising standards and current research is adding further evidence in support of this claim.

What are the key principles of AfL?

The key underlying principles of AfL which are used to guide classroom practice are as follows:

Communicate confidence that every learner can improve

Above all, AfL must be underpinned by the utmost confidence that every student can improve. We can help learners believe they can improve by giving specific feedback on what they need to do to and how they can do it.

Empower learners to take an active part in their own learning

The AfL process can unlock the approaches used by students and help them to become more aware of what they are learning and how they are learning it. This empowers students to take control of their own learning by developing their skills of self-regulation. As they begin to assess their own work and set goals, they also become more independent.

Develop learners’ confidence in peer and self-assessment

These are skills that learners need time and practice in. The more they do it, the more confident and accurate they will be in their assessment.

What does this mean for teaching and learning?

As teachers we can:

Collect information about individual learners to better understand their needs

We can do this in a variety of ways such as finding out what they already know, noticing who answers questions, circulating and observing learners during activities, taking feedback on how interesting or difficult they found the topic or tasks, etc.

Adjust our teaching in response to our observations or assessment results

A central part of teaching and learning is reflecting on how successful the lesson and learning was and judging whether the topic needs to be reviewed, or re-taught using a different approach or activity. As teachers we are constantly making judgements and decisions in response to our learners’ needs.

Share learning objectives with learners

Learners need to know the lesson objectives. We can write these on the board at the start of a lesson and check our learners understand them. We can then create links between these and previous objectives and refer to them during the lesson and again at the end. We can also discuss with learners why they are studying what they are studying.

Share success criteria with learners

Learners need to know what is ‘good’ work and how to achieve it. Sharing or negotiating the criteria with learners helps them know what they need to do and gives them confidence in their work.

Use questioning

Questioning helps us identify and correct misunderstandings and gaps in knowledge. It gives us information about what learners know, understand and can do. We use this information to plan lessons and activities that move students from where they are to where they need to go.

Give specific and useful feedback

Learners need specific feedback in the form of comments rather than grades if they are to improve. Feedback should inform learners about gaps in their knowledge, understanding or skills, and how to close those gaps.

Introduce peer feedback

Students learn how to give each other advice about their work using success criteria. They can discuss what has been done well, what still needs to be done, and give advice on how to achieve that improvement.

Introduce self-assessment

Learner self-assessment encourages learners to take responsibility for their own learning. Learners use success criteria to identify what they have done well and what they need to focus on next. They can then set personal goals.

If you would like to try some AfL activities with your learners, you can find suggestions on collecting information, strategic use of questioning, giving feedback, and introducing peer and self-assessment here.

Further reading

Black, P and Wiliam, D (2006) Inside The Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment, Granada Learning

Hargreaves, E. (2005) Assessment for learning? Thinking outside the (black) box, Cambridge Journal of Education, vol 35, issue 2.

Assessment Reform Group (2002), Research-based principles to guide classroom practice, available

Slim Wolfson
Chief Executive Officer
Answer # 2 #

The AfL process can unlock the approaches used by students and help them to become more aware of what they are learning and how they are learning it. This empowers students to take control of their own learning by developing their skills of self-regulation.

Luci Steib
Answer # 3 #

AFL emphasises the creation of a learner-centred classroom with a supportive atmosphere, where students are not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. We are going to look at five approaches or strategies that you can use in a lesson or programme of study. 1. Questioning Questions are a quick and important way of finding out what your learner understands about a subject. You can use this information to plan their teaching. There are two main types of question: closed and open. A closed question requires a short answer, such as remembering a fact. The answer is usually right or wrong. For example, a Geography teacher might ask: ‘What is the capital of Peru?’ On average, teachers only wait 0.9 seconds after asking a question before taking an answer from a learner. Mary Rowe suggests that increasing ‘wait time’ to three seconds improves the quality of answers. One way to help increase ‘wait time’, and to ensure the whole class is actively engaged, is to ask your learners to write down the answer to a closed question on a piece of paper, mini whiteboard or tablet, and hold it up. This immediately gives you feedback about who understands, who does not, and therefore what the next steps in the learning might be. A good strategy to use if a learner gets the answer wrong is to make this into a positive event. You could say: ‘I’m glad you said that, as I’m sure lots of other students have the same misunderstanding.’ In an AFL classroom, finding out what learners do not know is as valuable as finding out what they do know. This knowledge will help you to see what material your learners need to spend extra time on to make sure that they all understand. Open questions need longer answers, and often require the learner to provide an opinion. E.g. A Physics teacher might ask: ‘What will happen to the flow of water through a hose pipe if a smaller nozzle is fitted to it? Explain how this relates to the study of voltage, current and resistance in a simple electric circuit.’ Open questions like this allow all learners to try to answer the question and be part of a discussion. You can then facilitate this discussion, asking questions to develop the discussion such as ‘Tell me more about that’ and ‘Why do you think that?’ ‘Dialogic teaching’ is a term that describes on-going talk between teachers and learners, which leads to effective learning. If you discuss ideas with your learners, you can get a clearer view of what understanding your learners have about a topic, and put right any misunderstandings. Reflection Watch the video of a teacher talking about how he uses questioning. Do you use any of these techniques in your own classroom?


Want to know more? This video shows good use of closed questioning. How would you adapt this for your own classroom?

2. Feedback Feedback is the process in which learners come together with their teachers to discuss where they are in their learning, where they want to be in their learning, and how they are going to get there. It usually involves looking at a particular piece of work done by the learner. Feedback can be described as the ‘bridge’ between teaching and learning. The aims and objectives of any assignment must be clearly understood by both the teacher and the learner. You can help by providing ‘success criteria’ before your learners start work. Feedback might involve marking. However, a learner may only remember the mark/grade and not act on any comments to improve their work. In an AFL classroom, a teacher will give ‘comment only’ feedback on their learners’ work. If you do want to add a grade, give this later on, so that the learners read the comments before they receive the grade. Effective feedback depends on task-focused comments, rather than ego-focused comments. Here is an example of ego-focused feedback: ‘Great work Melanie, the best in the class.’ This kind of feedback can make strong learners complacent, thinking that they do not have anything to do to improve. They might also be scared of trying something they find difficult in case they lose their high place. Weak learners can feel as if there is nothing they can do to get better. You should aim to provide feedback to each learner that praises task-focused aspects of their work, but also contains targets about how to improve their learning. E.g. ‘Ali, you have written a good introduction to your story. Now, can you think how you can make the description of the main character more striking?’ Reflection Think about a time when you gave feedback to a learner that could be described as more ego-specific than task specific. What might you have done differently? Want to know more? In this video, Dylan Wiliam explains why task-focused feedback is more effective than ego-focused feedback. There are some good examples of how to give effective feedback in different subject areas on In this handout, by the RAPPS project, you will find lots of suggestions for different ways of giving classroom feedback. 3. Peer assessment or peer feedback Peer feedback, or peer assessment, is the process by which learners assess each other’s work and give each other feedback. This feedback is based on an understanding of what makes a successful piece of work. The teacher is vital to this process, as teachers know their learners and can help them to develop their critical and reflective thinking skills. Giving learners independence is a great way for them to take responsibility for their own learning. Peer feedback also helps learners to develop their social skills and to use higher-level skills such as thinking critically and analytically. A successful peer feedback session requires learners to 'think like a teacher' for each other. Each learner will apply the success criteria to another learner’s work, and make value judgements based on these. The learner then has to give their partner ideas for how to improve the work. In doing this, they will both be increasing their own understanding of what makes a successful piece of work. At primary school level, the theory behind AFL is the same, but the tasks might be different, to reflect the different stages of the pupils’ cognitive development. For example, learners could use pictures to describe positive and negative aspects of the work. Reflection Watch the video of learners taking part in a peer feedback session. Notice how independently they are working. Would this be effective for your learner?


Want to know more? In this video, learners explain what they like about peer feedback.


4. Self-assessment ‘Students need to learn for themselves how they move up to the next level … they need to internalise the process. Learning cannot be done for them by the teachers.’ (Mary James, 1998) In self-assessment a learner evaluates their own work, and thinks about their own learning. This helps them to make sense of what the teacher says, relate it to previous learning and use this for new learning. Ultimately, self-assessment enables learners to set their own learning goals and be responsible for their own learning. However, be aware that learners cannot become reflective learners overnight. It takes time and practice to develop these skills, and the role of the teacher is crucial in encouraging this.

Hardy Toumarkine
Paint Crew