Enacting Assessment for Learning means changing the roles of educators and students (Part 2)

We have spent more than ten years focussed on helping educators implement the research on effective assessment practice, promoting practices from the assessment loop such as:

  • identifying, sharing, and clarifying learning goals and success criteria;
  • providing students with descriptive feedback; and
  • teaching learners how to accurately peer and self-assess, set goals and monitor progress toward them.

Over the years there have been many successes. Many highly committed educators and administrators have made concerted efforts to try these practices based on the mountain of research indicating that their efforts would help students. Many reported positive changes in their students’ learning and motivation to learn. Others did not. We have often pondered, “why are some educators seeing improvement when implementing these practices while others seem to be ‘doing AfL’ without the same results?”

The answer lies, at least in part, in this quotation:

“While teachers may adopt some of the strategies associated with AfL, their tacit beliefs about teaching, learning and assessment and the roles and responsibilities of teachers and learners in each of these processes, may preclude them from making substantive pedagogical change.” (Dixon et al, 2011, p. 376)

What are these ‘tacit beliefs’ that are creating barriers to success? And, what exactly does ‘tacit’ mean? Turns out tacit beliefs are ones that are not expressed or declared openly, but implied or understood*. In other words, it’s what you believe deep down inside, and have likely not explicitly thought about or reflected on.

In Part 1 of this post, I reflected on the evolution of my thinking about what it means to be a teacher and a student – specifically, how I saw my role and the role of the student in the process of learning, and how my thinking evolved.

To harness the power of assessment to improve learning, you must examine and possibly reconsider your role and how you see your relationship with your students. The most important role that you have is to teach your students is the skill of LEARNING. This means that they will be able to take the reins of the learning process, make decisions about what to learn, use criteria to determine how well they are learning, and decide for themselves how to close the gap between where they currently are in the learning, and where they need to be – a big order indeed!

These benefits cannot happen if you cling to the traditional view of the educator as the active agent in the learning process, and the student being the passive recipient of knowledge and skills.

When you begin to see yourself as a partner with the students in this process, it opens the door to empowering them. It’s also highly motivating – more so than grades can ever be.

So how do you change your view of student and educator roles in the teaching/learning process? It seems so counter intuitive to suggest that by letting go of control over the learning process that you are actually enabling the learning process.

In the next post in this series, we’ll examine some of the research about control vs. autonomy, and look at some steps you might take to empower your students to learn with greater autonomy.

running-297154_1280One last thought, and a call to action! Take a moment to reflect on a recent learning experience with a class:

  • Who made the majority of decisions about what students would do?
  • Who did the most speaking?
  • How often did students make choices about their learning, and what steps needed to be taken to make progress?
  • If you asked students ‘what are you learning’ while they work on a task, would they know the learning goal?

Might be an interesting topic for a conversation with a colleague or two?

We would love to start a conversation with you…why not share your thinking with us in the comment box below?

Dixon, H., Hawe, E., & Paar, J. (2011). Enacting Assessment for Learning: the beliefs practice nexus. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, & Practice. 18(4), 365-379.


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