In putting together the program for our Professional Learning Teams focus on assessment I was thinking about how little we tend to focus on Assessment ‘as’ Learning. The past couple of decades has rightly seen the focus of assessment shifted clearly from solely valuing Assessment ‘of’ Learning, or summative assessment to acknowledging the important place of formative assessment in the learning cycle.

Work from influential learning theorists like Dylan Wiliam has seen a Assessment ‘for’ Learning, or formative assessment, recognised as one of the most important measures of student learning and achievement in our classes.

Despite even this new focus on Assessment for Learning, a quick Google search reveals where the majority of the attention is given:

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Lorna Earl‘s 2003 work, Assessment for Learning: Using Classroom assessment to maximise student learning, presented the assessment pyramid as we traditionally identify it:

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However, she suggests that this pyramid would be much better if inverted:

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Assessment as learning, according to Earl, should be the foundation of all of our assessment practice and should be the most utilised for of assessment in our arsenal.

So What is Assessment as Learning?

Given the dearth of information on Assessment as Learning, this is probably a very good question to begin with. Lets have a look at what BOSTES suggests compromises Assessment of Learning:

Assessment as learning occurs when students are their own assessors. Students monitor their own learning, ask questions and use a range of strategies to decide what they know and can do, and how to use assessment for new learning.

Assessment as learning:

  • encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning
  • requires students to ask questions about their learning
  • involves teachers and students creating learning goals to encourage growth and development
  • provides ways for students to use formal and informal feedback and self-assessment to help them understand the next steps in learning encourages peer assessment, self assessment and reflection


Probably not, especially when strategies such as ‘self-questioning’, ‘metacognitive strategies’, ‘reciprocal teaching’, and in particular ‘self-reported grades’ are all ranked so highly in John Hattie’s meta-analysis of influences and effect sizes on student achievement. 

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Assessment ‘as’ Learning and PBL: an organic union?

I really think that student-centred pedagogies like Project and Problem Based Learning organically foster opportunities for Assessment as Learning. When students are working in a group, and that group is working well, they naturally turn to one another for feedback, often before they will turn to the teacher.

I was thinking about this while conducting a Learning Walk the other day. I had asked a student if he was doing well in the class and he replied that he thought he was. When I asked him how he knew he was doing well, his reply had nothing to do with formative or summative tasks or marks and grades. He said something like: “we’ve regularly compared what we have done to the marking guidelines and discussed how well we think we are meeting the elements and we think we are going well. We check each others’ work and make suggestions to improve it.” When I asked another student where he turned to when he was stuck he said: “I ask my team members first and then I check back to the marking guidelines and check the assessment notification.” Another student, when asked the same question, told me that he often looked at the driving question when he was stuck, as it helped him ensure he was on the right track.

Beyond the Organics: actively promoting Assessment as Learning

I think the answer lies here in the use of protocols to promote student critique of their own and their peer’s learning. There is something about using a protocol in class that provides students with a safety net for examining work. If you’ve not used protocols much in your classes before, the National School Reform Faculty provides a wealth of information and examples to get you started.

For us, the Critical Friends protocol is a go to protocol for staff and students alike. It allows students to be ‘hard on the content’ whilst being ‘soft on the person’.

Other great protocols for having students examine one another’s work include:

Online Student Portfolios: The Holy Grail of Assessment as Learning?

This is something we looked at maybe three or four years ago, but I honestly don’t think we were quite ready for it. Some of my colleagues visited High Tech High last month for their Deeper Learning Conference and engaged in a Deep Dive to examine the power of student created digital portfolios.

These allow students to purposefully reflect on their own learning, to analyse their own strengths and weaknesses, to target areas of improvement, to highlight their learning growth and to curate a body of their own work for public display. I can’t think of anything better as a tool for Assessment as Learning.

Jeff Phillips and Stephen Henriques, two of my colleagues, were incredibly impressed with one High Tech High Year 11 student who was proud to share her digital portfolio. This is an incredible piece of work which highlights her experience of the learning process, demonstrates her 21st Century skills and will support her transition to university and career. For this student, the digital portfolio was an investment in her own learning, not a high school assessment activity. She plans to maintain and add to the work she has already begun.

To Conclude?

We may not have been ready to embark on digital portfolios a few years ago, but we are more than ready now and Year 7 will be beginning the process in the coming weeks.

So are digital portfolios the Holy Grail? Perhaps not, but I think that this is one way to ensure that our students are provided with opportunities for Assessment as Learning.