Assessment for Learning


Fenwick & Parsons (2009, p. 159) define assessment for learning (AfL) as a means for using educational assessment to raise a learner’s achievement, as opposed to measuring a learner’s achievement. AfL occurs during the teaching and learning process. This is much more powerful than assessment of learning, which happens after teaching and learning has taken place, when it is too late for the students to seek guidance in their learning. Ideas for using AfL involve instructors and learners working collaboratively. Some ideas are working together to analyze samples of good work, discussing the need for scoring guides or rubrics, co-creating assessment rubrics and standards, revising draft or submitted work, or communicating about learning growth and progress (Fenwick & Parsons, 2009, p. 160).


I teach a first-year computer business class where students are mostly international and straight out of high school. The idea of inviting them to be part of the evaluation process alarms me. AfL tasks would be just another hurdle for my students to deal with on top of issues related to communication, motivation, and learning retention. Research by Hernández (2012, p. 498) at six universities in Ireland discovered that almost 21% of first-year Hispanic studies students never receive suggestions to improve their work by their instructors. This is drastically different from higher years of study where at most 1.3% of students report never receiving suggestions. I imagine similar results would transpire if other programs of students were surveyed. Are the instructors in this 21% group helping or hindering student learning by not including AfL in their courses? I believe that AfL is beneficial for my students, but I’m concerned they are not prepared for it.


Upon reading about AfL I envisioned my classroom falling apart. I can barely get my students to participate in class, let alone participate in their learning. I then realized that maybe I haven’t given the students a chance to experience AfL. Research conducted in AfL appears in favour of it. One such study conducted among nearly 700 students across varying disciplines at a university in the United Kingdom determined that “…the overall student experience is more positive in modules where AfL approaches are used (McDowell, Wakelin, Montgomery, & King, 2011, p. 761)”. I can see that fear and anxiety has clouded my judgment in regards to assessing my students. Of course, I informally assess my students during class to ensure they are on the right track, but now I am unsure whether these assessments have been improving my students’ learning or simply letting myself know that I can move onto the next block of content.


Fenwick and Parsons have some good ideas (mentioned above) that I will implement into my classes. I would not implement them all at once, but gradually introduce them over time to see what works and what doesn’t. My students should see samples of good work so that they understand the expectations for assignments. As an example, for an assignment that requires students to create a newsletter, I could provide a sample from either myself or past students. I could ask students to mark their own work against the scoring guide I use to help them see the standards they should be following. One method of determining an assignment mark, which I experienced in PIDP 3100, is to average the student and instructor marks. Most importantly, I need to improve communication with my learners about their growth and progress, and I have a discovered some literature that I plan to read through to aid me in this goal.


Fenwick, T. J., & Parsons, J. (2009). The Art of Evaluation: A Resource for Educators and Trainers (Second ed.). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.

Hernandez, R. (2012). Does continuous assessment in higher education support student learning? Higher Education, 64(2), 489-502.

McDowell, L., Wakelin, D., Montgomery, C., & King, S. (2011). Does assessment for learning make a difference? The development of a questionnaire to explore the student response. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(7), 749-765.


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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