Assessment for Learning: interrogating practice and theory

Liz McDowell, Catherine Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper presents work from a national Centre for Excellence in Assessment for Learning (AfL). The AfL approach is based on a set of theoretically underpinned principles. These promote: authenticity and complexity in the methods of assessment; advocate a sparing use of summative assessment and increased provision of formative assessment; aim to build students’ confidence and sense of autonomy; and promote informal feedback and peer interaction. The research programme investigates AfL practice in real-world settings within higher education. A case study design is used with multiple methods of data collection, and a fine-grained, interpretive approach. Initial analysis is at the case level to generate holistic interpretations, taking into account a range of perspectives. Cross-case analysis identifies key themes and illuminates theoretical constructs. Findings identify ways in which perceptions of students, teachers and others are crucial to the experience and outcomes of AfL. In the English Literature case study, students perceive significant value in peer feedback and discussions but the research also reveals the fragile sense of self amongst students and identifies circumstances in which students feel silenced within the peer discourse. The fine-grained detail of students’ observed learning behaviour provides essential contextualisation and moves away from generic findings about the student group. One example is variation in students’ discernment of principles and concepts within English Literature. Students’ approaches to writing assignments showed some recognising a ‘pattern’ between the texts they were analysing and the ideas and perspectives of the course, whilst others concentrated on the task they had been set, ‘checking off’ the elements achieved, but failing to address wider issues and concepts. We also highlight AfL as an evolving process, influenced by teacher reflection-in-action, student responses and a wide range of contextual factors, many of which are unpredictable.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Event12th Biennial Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction - Budapest
Duration: 1 Aug 2007 → …


Conference12th Biennial Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction
Period1/08/07 → …


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