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What are the most effective formative assessment strategies used to help develop progress over time?

Gabriella Berrill explores formative assessment strategies in her secondary English classroom with the aim of improving pupil progress over time.


Positively promoting the importance of formative assessment.

Within teaching and learning, assessment plays a fundamental role in everyday classroom life. Bethan Marshall (2011) argues how ‘progression is a messy business’, signifying how developing internalized skills to help students to progress can take a long time, and require a range activities (Marshall, 2011). Teachers need to assess pupil’s work, as well as pupils assessing their own work, hence making formative assessment crucial. Tony Lawson states that ‘Formative assessment is more diagnostic, should give more immediate feedback to a student and teacher, and should be acted upon by them’ (Lawson: Dymoke, 2012). Making formative assessment diagnostic is what empowers students with proficient skills to aid their progression, without which they would have a decreased chance of improvement. Although formative assessment is a very broad term, in my own research, I have chosen to focus on formative feedback from self-assessment, peer-assessment, collaborative class practice and myself. This choice arose as in line with department policy, students are obliged to complete Directed Improvement and Reflection Time (DIRT) every four lessons on their pieces of Formally Marked Worked (FMW). Moreover, this is something I feel students have engaged and responded with in many different ways, hence my initial interest to investigate this topic.

Research Methodology:

Making the change.

The classes I focused on, were a Year 8 set two class. There are several students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and who are pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) in the class. The students have to complete five pieces of FMW during the term, focusing on different skills from the KS3 mark scheme for each piece. I decided to use six pupils’ work, from mixed genders, target level and ability. In order to keep them anonymous, they will be referred to as pupil 1-6, Pupil 1 being the highest attaining, and 6 being the lowest. I was primarily looking at their improvements from their pieces of FMW, focusing on essay writing skills for textual evidence to select and retrieve information using Point Evidence Analysis (PEA) paragraphs. I implemented various DIRT activities, such as peer- assessment checklists into a number of my lessons. Additionally, I have used tiered success criteria that matches sentence structures for Point, Evidence, Analysis (PEA) paragraphs to build students work, and link this to their target levels, to encourage independent development and improvement. Students gained feedback from myself after their first piece, and were given a chance to reflect on their work using a Writing Worry Island[1], somewhere the student could anonymously write their own anxieties on, without any ‘peer fear’ or pressure. This acted as a class feedback tool I could use after their first formal piece and build on specific areas of weakness in my future lesson plans. As part of DIRT students were required to look at ‘What A Good One Looks Like’ exemplar paragraph (WAGOLL), and deconstruct this, using it for inspiration in their own work. I facilitated the DIRT tasks in generic numbers on the board, gained as an overview of similar problems with pupil’s writing from marking their books. Furthermore, on another FMW, I did specific feedback for students in their books as individual tasks, in order to evaluate how effective these methods, alongside class and peer strategies are at evoking improvements in future work.


Transforming students into the directors of their own learning.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the formative assessment strategies, I reinforced the need, and created time for students to self-assess and gain peer feedback on their work using checklists and success criteria as scaffolding to aid this process. As a result of this, successful students responded and completed a directed DIRT task, allowing them to take ownership of their own learning, as well as the learning of others. This had a cultural, as well as academic impact in the classroom, as students became increasingly aware of the capabilities of others around them. My findings are therefore aligned with Dylan Wiliam, who states that formative assessment is a process that enlightens learners about the goals that they are pursing (Wiliam, 2014).

Furthermore, to make productive use of formative assessment it is argued by many academics that careful planning must be implicitly evident throughout, in order to allow students to progress (Black et al, 2003). This is something I strived to follow in my practice, ensuring I am organised, alongside creating a calm and open classroom environment. I informed students after their first piece of FMW they would have an independent DIRT task they must complete at the start of the next lesson, developing an area of weakness in their writing. Pupil 1, 2 and 5 were all required to focus on including language devices in their work more explicitly. I modelled some examples of what these would be for the students in my feedback. This can be exemplified with Pupil 1, a high attaining student, who developed their answer, diligently informed by the feedback using ‘noun’ as a language device. Pupil 2 similarly added this into their writing with a more complex device the ‘simile’. The lower attaining pupil, Pupil 5, used the language device example of ‘adjective’, although the work was less accurate, her development from the comments is clearly evident. The student’s work shows and suggests they have acknowledged feedback from myself, and have used this to inform their DIRT task. Subsequently, and according to Bloom (1984), this suggests that one to one intervention and instruction is more effective than generic comments, in order to allow students to extend and progress (Wiliam: Andrade et al, 2010, 21). However, I have learnt as a new teacher that I need to make my success criteria more explicit, as well as referring to it throughout the lesson.

Peer assessment has been a crucial aspect of my formative assessment in class and I have offered this in a variety of ways, after realising students needed more specific guidance on how to peer assess. Despite being accurate, the peer comments were vague and do not refer to the success criteria, including comments such as, ‘good clear writing’ and ‘write a little faster’ as a target. It is clear from this example that comments from peer assessment that are developed and use the criteria, are followed, and aid students’ progression, compared to those that are vague and lack focus. Modelling is an aspect I have reflected on as a critical incident, the importance of modelling and scaffolding, leading to the removal of my own naivety as a new teacher, regarding the assumption students would automatically know how to do this type of feedback.

On the other hand, it is important to consider that not all students benefit from peer assessment, Pupil 1 and 3 lacked comments with any depth referring to the success criteria, and a result of this, ignored the peer comments altogether. Pupil 6, a lower attaining and less confident student in the class, has however created valuable peer comments, such as using ‘metaphors and verbs’, which linked to the success criteria given. This links to Vygotsky’s school of thought and allowing students’ time to improve work with other students who are higher attaining than themselves, as a method of helping them to progress (Marshall, 2011). Giving critical and constructive comments is something I recognise as necessary for peer assessment to be valid and embedded within the development task students are set.

Nonetheless, pupils all had the opportunity to share in collaborative class formative feedback, as a different method to encourage their participation using a Blob Bridge. Students were able to stick post it notes on the board in the plenary after their FMW on the ‘blob’ they felt most reflected their attitudes about writing PEA paragraphs, and then something they want to get better at or a question. This acted an asynchronous moment of contingency, as I was able to collate the feedback after the lesson, and categorise it to inform the following lesson (Wiliam: Andrade et al, 2010). I found this an invaluable method to aid the student’s critical skills, and also support their peers in class, as it was a less teacher led activity because the students were in control of sharing their ideas. Pupils 1, 2, 4 and 6 (over half) produced higher quality work as a direct result of the peer and self-assessment carried out.

How can teachers across the HTSA learn from this study?

· Dedicate time to peer reflection and feedback, do not rush the process.

· Allow students to take ownership of their own learning, making formative activities less teacher directed and more student centred.

· Model good feedback. Take time to create checklists and meaningful peer and self-assessment structures, in time this will become and embedded culture.

· Collaborate. Encourage students to share their ideas in a secure environment, change the culture of your classroom, making feedback intrinsic and a positive medium of reflection and academic progression.

· Experiment! Share ideas and try new ways to promote feedback and response. Never allow feedback to become bland, get students involved and enthused in the process.


Assessment is limiting.

This investigation has allowed me to draw the conclusion that formative assessment is somewhat restrictive, it only serves to support the individual teacher and class at the time. This supports Black and Wiliam’s argument stating that formative assessment is all the

‘… activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998: Marshall, 2011).

Summative assessment is significantly more prevalent in the curriculum than formative, and will remain the dominant, and central focus. However, a key finding from this investigation, is that pupils need to understand fully, and be given time to acknowledge their mistakes. Without this, students are unable to use formative feedback effectively, and it becomes somewhat worthless and irrelevant to helping their progression.

The main issue that has arisen from my investigation is that concerning the impact of the quality of feedback. Something I have acknowledged as a problem is the amount of feedback and tasks that are directed towards a student. Too little feedback presents not enough challenge, especially for high attaining students, and too much feedback requires significantly more time to be dedicated to improvement. During my teaching practice, I would be intrigued to investigate further into the impact additional improvement tasks would have, and whether allocating more time to these would have significant impact on future progress in my subject.

Furthermore, as my investigation developed, it became apparent the importance of modelling and never assuming prior knowledge that students may have, even if they are a high achieving class. I need to consider my consistency with allowing students to become exposed regularly to different types of formative assessment, as well as allowing them dedicated time, appropriate to their age and ability to do this. Without this, I acknowledge I would be creating a barrier for my student’s ability to progress in becoming self-critical learners, therefore hindering their chances of success in peer and self-assessment strategies. Students need to be challenged and motivated to drive their own learning forward, in order to develop the necessary transferable skills required for further academic study. I recognise that this requires a great deal of guidance from myself as a professional, but will ultimately lead to them becoming more resilient, independent learners and writers.


Andrade, Heidi. L and Gregory J. Cizek. (2010) ‘Preface’, in H. Andrade and G. Cizek (eds.) (2010) Handbook of Formative Assessment, London: Routledge, pp. vii- xii.

Black, Paul and Christine Harrison, Clare Lee, Bethan Marshall and Dylan Wiliam. (2003) Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Lawson, Tony. (2012) ‘Assessing Students.’ in S, Dymoke (2012) Reflective Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School, pp. 163- 202. London: SAGE.

Marshall, Bethan. (2011) Testing English: formative and summative approaches to English assessment. 1st ed. London: Continuum.

Wiliam, Dylan. (2014) ‘Formative assessment and contingency in the regulation of learning processes.’ in Toward a Theory of Classroom Assessment as the Regulation of Learning at the American Educational Research Association. Philadelphia, PA. London: University of London, pp. 1-13.

[1] writing worry island is literally a piece of garden foam/ florist foam, covered in paper and then decorated and I made flags out of stickers and cocktail sticks and the students write their feedback and place in in the island and it's good for feedback and starters/ plenaries. Addressing the worries off the class and taking them off the island.

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