Reflections on AifL

(Assessment is for Learning)

by Stuart Fernie

There appears to be considerable discussion of the principles behind AifL, its importance in the development of a pupil's education, its history in terms of lists of participating schools, and circumventory discussion of where this initiative is leading. What appears to be missing is clear and concise advice on just how to achieve this laudable initiative. The most helpful definition (I have been able to find) of the principles which constitute AifL are given below, but I would suggest even they require considerable fleshing out!

Learners

With these principles in mind, I will set about describing some of the ways in which we may (or may not) achieve AifL in our daily teaching within the Languages Department at my school:

At the start of a lesson, pupils are given a general outline of what is to be covered in that lesson. They are given a detailed outline of more specific tasks or exercises they are asked to do.

Examples are given of what we want to achieve, followed by explanation of how to get there.

When a task or exercise is set, it is gone through, pointing out various potential problems and providing information which may be helpful.

A time limit is usually set and pupils are encouraged to help one another, and to refer to books, jotters or dictionaries rather than ask directly for help, though information on particular words or complementary structures may be sought and this will be shared with the class.

It may also be a good idea to correct the first one or two questions together after a few minutes, just to make sure everyone is on track.

It may also be of some value to differentiate between assessment and correction. Work is frequently corrected without necessarily being assessed or given a specific grade. Nevertheless, pupils can see where they may have made mistakes and how to correct them. Lack of formal assessment at this stage may be more encouraging than confirming that they are, in fact, having some difficulty. It may be better to show them a way forward rather than make them feel inadequate.

Written exercises, then, are often corrected as a class, with volunteers (or conscripts) supplying answers. The class may be asked whether they feel that what has been produced is correct or not, and how to go about changing it. This will be followed by the teacher's correction, accompanied by an explanation.

The exercise will often be in ascending order of difficulty, culminating in asking pupils to produce their own sentences or pieces of writing using the structures and vocabulary just visited.

Questioning will frequently involve analysis or the breaking down of language into manageable and familiar chunks, then showing pupils how to put things together.

Questioning may also involve asking pupils to put themselves in the cultural place of others, in discussions concerning language, time (routine), schools subjects or work.

Questioning may also require pupils to cope with challenging ideas, characters or approaches in films or literature. They may be asked to explain character motivation or consequences of various events, thus leading to discussion of theme and character development.

After Speaking tests, pupils are given feedback (especially from S3 upwards) on how they did and how to improve. Peer assessment was recently introduced when performances were filmed and then discussed, or when the rest of the class would listen to a talk and then offer opinion on what went well, or advice on what could be done better. This is an area we intend to develop and perhaps formalise, with distribution of criteria and advice on assessment.

In Writing, corrections are usually indicated on the original piece of work and pupils are invited to speak to the teacher about anything they don't understand. At Higher level, every effort is made to go over each piece of writing individually. This could also be developed through the copying and distribution of corrected pieces which could then be assessed by peers with reference to a set of criteria.

Vocabulary tests are regularly corrected and marked by peers. This is done as a class exercise.

Classes may be divided into small groups to provide a translation or, more often, a dialogue based on a topic or area just studied. Vocabulary and structures will have been provided, but groups will decide the actual content and seek advice on how to say various things they require to complete their dialogue. This can be done using dictionaries or asking for advice from the teacher. The teacher could then share the expression with the rest of the class.

End of Unit tests are gone over to show where errors have been made. Writing and Speaking assessments are prepared in detail with the class, while

Reading

and Listening are prepared by using texts / exercises of a similar standard to that expected in the assessment. Effort could be made to repeat tests where pupils have been particularly weak or lax.

At the end of each unit of work, the pupil is invited to complete a self assessment form. A "bilan" is provided at the end of each unit in the book, helping pupils to realise what they know and what they are less sure of, thus enabling them to prepare and revise more thoroughly for their end of unit assessment. Effort could be made to ensure the pupil revises areas where he/she has shown weakness. Booklets accompanying the units of work contain information taught in the course of the unit, and allow for reinforcement at home.

From S3 upward, pupils may be asked to produce a review of a film they have watched in French (or other MFL). Although vocabulary and structures are provided, the reaction and expression of feelings about the film are their own. General discussion of character and theme help promote the capacities of CfE, while reviews can be shared and read by other members of the class, allowing them to take inspiration and confidence from their own and others' efforts.

Target setting takes place from S3 upwards. This could, perhaps, be updated more regularly.

Classroom observations ensure maintenance of standards. There is regular and frequent discussion of pupil progress, results and test standards at Departmental Meetings.

Writing exercises / production of sentences using practised grammatical structures and vocabulary could be corrected by peers / groups. This should be highly structured rather than free writing to allow for easy recognition of errors. This strategy could be developed with senior groups to include essays.

There are regular revision sessions at the start of a lesson. Pupils are regularly questioned to remind them of what they already know.

At Higher level, pupils will frequently read notes they have made in preparation for their oral exam, thus allowing others to engage in listening activities as well as allowing them to offer opinion and advice on what has been said and what could be done to improve. This could be extended to incorporate Writing NAB work, with pupils reading each other's work and offering constructive comment.