Category Archives: AifL

Getting to know BtC5

Elise & I attended the launch event for Building the Curriculum 5 yesterday in Stirling. This included a variety of workshops designed to encourage participants to begin to engage with the new framework for assessment.

We’re aware that some schools are planning to carry out very similar activities in the near future, so we’ve modified and shared one of the powerpoints for schools to use. You can see this above or download it here.

This could be used with groups of approximately ten staff in a session lasting 1.5 hours. Please feel free to modify it as you see fit for your own context. For example, you may need to change the timings or use the summary document instead if you have a small number of staff involved.

If you have any questions, problems or issues regarding this presentation (or BtC5) that you think we could help with please do let us know.

The Learning Wall at Dunbar Grammar

Liz Layhe from Dunbar Grammar School has kindly completed the CfE Blog Proforma to share the work they’ve been undertaking to create their Learning Walls…

What have you been doing?

As part of a Learning Team project we had the brilliant idea of setting up a Learning Wall in order that staff, students and parents can see what is to be learned at each level and the interrelationships between subjects. The learner is central to the whole process. The idea came from the LTS website and observational visits to St George’s, Edinburgh, to discuss and observe their Learning Wall. Following two inset half days each department put together on an A4 sheet the CfE outcomes, content and AifL strategies that they use to encourage thinking and learning electronically. The next part of the journey is to get S1 and S2 students during their Learn to Learn time to take on ownership of the Wall by adding content on a template for each subject onto a wall in the Assembly Hall. Ultimately it is hoped that the Wall will be part of our website and give access to all including parents. It is an ongoing and flexible project. At present we are only going to S3 to connect up with CfE.

In what ways does this practice relate to Curriculum for Excellence?

Each A4 sheet of paper has a block where CfE outcomes can be related to the content taught. This will be available for all staff to see both electronically and on the wall in the staff room (the student council suggested that only the content was required by the students so for their Wall that is all that will be seen). The Wall allows a way forward for all to see the ‘totality of experiences which are planned for children and young people through their education, wherever they are being educated’, the four capacities and the breadth, depth and progression of learning.

What were the reasons for doing this?

As a reflective practitioner I recognised a need to connect what was being learned in each department with my department and cut down on the students being taught the same outcomes in the same way. The idea was also to provide an opportunity for more productive dialogue between departments and in departments. Secondly I want students to realise the similarities between subjects and encourage transferable skills. A further reason was to make connections between what is already good practice in classrooms in AifL strategies and encourage departments to try out others. Finally it was an opportunity to start our journey of making connections of our existing practise with the Curriculum for Excellence and to allow all stakeholders to see that it is not an impossible task.

What has happened as a result?

This is a work in progress! However already dialogue between departments has taken place. It has been rolled out to students and they have been seen to look at the Wall and ask questions about the content. It has enabled the start of dialogue between the secondary and primaries. Evidence is in photos and through increased dialogue.

What would you do differently next time?

As this is a work in progress it is as yet difficult to evaluate fully but probably I would make the task more specific as there was some confusion by some staff of what it was really about. This is probably because I am continually readjusting my thinking on the way it should be laid out . It is a great adventure into the unknown!

Using Google Docs for Assessment & Evaluation

Lots of East Lothian pupils and teachers now have access to an EduBuzz Google Apps account. This brings the power of Google’s email, docs, sites and calendars into the classroom. Robert Virtue from the CDT Department at Musselburgh Grammar School has kindly shared how they are making use of these tools with their pupils.

What have you been doing?

We are in the process of introducing online assessment and evaluation using google docs. Staff invite their classes to view their own web pages where course work, examples of work, tests and evaluations are kept. All pupils work is saved in jpeg format and uploaded to their personal web pages. Staff can access these sites to moderate pupils performance.

In what ways does this practice relate to Curriculum for Excellence?

Evidence of literacy can be gathered for all work through the online evaluation. Pupil engagement and high interest, along with good use of ICT through use of internet searching, digital cameras, blogging software, as well as being introduced to a range of computer packages which include Photoshop – Inventor – Google Docs and Comic life. Collaborative work and working with others is evident in all stages of this initiative.

What were the reasons for doing this?

To educate pupils in a way that will enable them to make informed decisions regarding applying a range of skills, processes to their work in order to have maximum success and fulfilment. To try to encourage pupils to produce high quality work, work with others, use ICT with confidence and write extended answers whilst evaluating their project work.

What has happened as a result?

A huge improvement in class engagement and a major increase in productivity and pupil performance during these tasks

What would you do differently next time?

It still in its early stages but I would increase the length of the class tests to fully examine pupil performance.

A huge thank you to Robert, and the MGS CDT Department, for sharing this. If you don’t yet have an EduBuzz Google Apps account, but would like one – email David Gilmour.

If you’ve got anything you would be happy to share, download the form and email it to

The Role of Formative Assessment in the delivery CfE

Curriculum for Excellence states that “success in achieving the purposes and principles of the curriculum is likely if pupils are helped to become actively involved in their own learning”.

AifL is one of the most powerful teaching tools we have in Scottish Education. The expectation was that every school in Scotland would embrace AifL by June 2007.

The principles of CfE are supported and underpinned by the principles of formative assessment.

CfE argues that it is a pupil’s level of engagement in learning and self assessment that makes for a successful curriculum. The outcomes and experiences come from the perspective of the learner –

I can …………………….. outcomes     I have …………………………. experiences

The challenge then in our classrooms is to build independent, self motivated learners. This requires both students and teachers to change well established classroom habits and practices including the distribution of learning power.

The idea of relinquishing control is the scariest part of the process – that first step in the abseil off a cliff. But once that first step is taken and the descent slowly and carefully achieved, step by step with a few knocks on the way, the feeling of wellbeing and success when your feet touch the ground is fantastic. Making formative assessment the foundation of your teaching produces that same adrenalin rush.

The principles of CfE can be met by the principles of Formative Assessment –

  • Know what is to learned and why
  • Know what is needed to be successful
  • Know what to do to improve

These are principles that apply to any learner regardless of age or stage – they are the key to successful lifelong learning. They are the how of learning not the what.

It is now more than 10 years since AifL became a focus in Scottish education. During that time it has developed and evolved due to the work of teachers in classrooms not just at home but across the world. Formative assessment has proved to be the most sustainable “initiative” and has improved the learning experience for youngsters and the teaching & learning experience for teachers. It is recognised as a significant strategy in raising learner achievement.

The development and redefining of formative assessment strategies is evidenced in the updated works of Dylan Wiliam (2006) and Shirley Clarke (2008).

Shirley Clarke outlines the key strategies in formative assessment as

  • Creating a classroom culture in which all involved see ability as incremental rather than fixed
  • Involving pupils in planning both appropriately pitched content and meaningful contexts
  • Clarifying learning objectives and establishing pupil generated and therefore pupil owned success criteria
  • Enabling and planning effective classroom dialogic talk and worthwhile questioning
  • Involving pupils in analysis and discussion about what excellence consists of – not just the meeting of success criteria, but how to best meet them
  • Enabling pupils to be effective self- and peer- evaluators
  • Establishing continual opportunities for timely review and feedback from teachers and pupils, focusing on recognition of success and improvement needs, and provision of time to act on that feedback
    (Active Learning Through Formative Assessment, Hodder Education, 2008)

These strategies provide both teachers and learners with a framework on which to build. Teachers will adapt techniques to fulfil the strategies and provide variety within their classrooms BUT the principles need to be constant and the basis of school consistency.

The key test will be how actively engaged our pupils are in thinking, learning and assessing that learning. Formative assessment is the catalyst for bringing together so many key aspects of learning – eg thinking skills, creativity, motivation and helps make them part of the learning process and not something else to add on or fit in. This is what CfE is built on – the weaving together of rich, thought provoking experiences.

CfE AifL
challenges and enjoyment supportive classroom culture
breadth variety of meaningful contexts
progression planning next steps/success criteria
depth drawing different strands together
personalisation & choice ownership of learning
coherence making links with prior learning across the curriculum
relevance purpose & value of learning

All supported by sharing learning intentions, generating success criteria, self & peer assessment, effective dialogue and formative feedback – a successful mix.

CfE also stresses the positive relationships and the climate for learning in the classroom as well as the ethos and life of the school as a community. This is also the foundation of AifL.

At the Third International Conference on Assessment for Learning held in New Zealand on March 2009 it was restated that properly embedded into teaching-learning contexts, assessment for learning sets learners up for wide, lifelong learning – the foundation of CfE. The conference summed up their views with a second generation definition of Assessment for Learning.

Assessment for Learning is part of everyday practice by students, teachers and peers that seeks, reflects upon and responds to information from dialogue, demonstration and observation in ways that enhance ongoing learning.

They provided the following elaboration
1. “everyday practice” – refers to teaching and learning, pedagogy and instruction (different terms are used in different regions of the world but the emphasis is on the interactive, dialogic, contingent relationships of teaching and learning)
2. “by students, teachers and peers” – students are deliberately listed first because only learners can learn. Assessment for learning should be student centred. All AfL practices carried out by teachers (such as giving feedback, clarifying criteria, rich questioning) can eventually be “given away” to students so they can take on these practices to help themselves, and one another, to become autonomous learners. This should be the prime objective.
3. “seeks, reflects upon and responds to” – these words emphasise the nature of AfL as an enquiry process involving the active search for evidence of capability and understanding , making sense of such evidence, and exercising judgement for wise decision making about next steps for students and teachers.
4. “information from dialogue, demonstration and observation” – verbal (oral and written) and non-verbal behaviours both planned and unplanned events can be sources of evidence. Observation of these during ongoing teaching and learning activity is an important basis for AfL. Special assessment tasks and tests can be used formatively but are not essential; there is a risk of them becoming frequent mini-summative assessments. Everyday learning tasks and activities, as well as routine observation and dialogue are equally , if not more, appropriate for the formative purpose.
5. “in ways that enhance ongoing learning” – sources of evidence are formative if, and only if, students and teachers use the information they provide to enhance learning. Providing students with the help they need to know what to do next is vital; it is not sufficient to tell them only that they need to do better. However, such help does not need to provide a complete solution. Research suggests that what works best is an indication of how to improve, so that the students engage in mindful problem solving.

Ruth Sutton, educational consultant, has highlighted that in the Scottish context many educationalists –both teachers and LA managers view AfL as then and CfE as now rather than using them to support each other. She suggests viewing the successful strategies on which AfL is based as the tools for effective learning and teaching – eg questioning for learning, feedback for learning, self assessment for learning.

How can we create a Curriculum for Excellence and lifelong learners without the rich tapestry of formative assessment?

Ann McLanachan, Learning Team Development