AFL Is Easy If You Lose The Jargon

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through a staff meeting at the end of the day and thought “I have no idea what this person is trying to tell me”. Too many times we try to teach new concepts at the end of a busy day when our brains are tired and not able to grasp the concepts being taught. Assessment For Learning (AFL) is one of these topics.

AFL has a lot of jargon attached to it: summative assessment, formative assessment, assessment for learning, assessment of learning….the list goes on. If we want our staff to “buy in” to what we are teaching them, we need to worry less about the jargon, and focus on the concepts. Formative assessment is defined as an assessment to see what the student knows, or needs to know about a topic before they are ready for a formal evaluation. I say, there are two types of assessment, the first is  “for learning, to help the student know where they are and what they need to do before a test”.

The second assessment is Summative Assessment.  It is “for marks”. I say, “this assessment is for marks”. Of course there is always a chance to improve with a rewrite, or to put more work into a project to meet the project goals.

In other words, if I were presenting, I would skip the AFL jargon and say that there are two types of assessment, the first one is “for learning”, in otherwords, to give students feedback so they know where they’re at along the path to meeting the standard.  The second type of assessment is “for marks”, this gives the student a grade for their progress on a particular standard.

Last summer I was at a conference led by Tom Schimmer.  He said that “if our practice doesn’t build student confidence, why are we still doing it?”  This makes a lot of sense.  Our ultimate goal as educators needs to be to have all students perform at high levels.  In order to do this, we need to allow students to go back and revisit standards after they have acquired the knowledge or skill.  Our grading practice should not be about leaving students behind because it takes them longer to learn the material.

If we want our teachers to learn to be better with their practice, we need to forget about all of the jargon associated with new pedagogy.  Darn it! I think I just broke my rule with that word….oh well. From now on I’m going to focus on the “need to knows”, and forget about the “nice to knows” when introducing new ideas to my staff.  Hopefully this way teachers will be less intimidated by the language and hopefully more receptive to the message.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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  1. Hey Marissa… One of the teachers at our school is brilliant with AFL – has clear learning intentions, provides ongoing focused descriptive feedback, and uses peer assessment… the funny thing is that if I use the jargon, she disengages. Talking about effective practices is key. Someone once said – if you have something good, don’t give it a name!

  2. Great post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Kudos!

    • The main point that I was trying to make is that we often focus on “Edu-lingo” that is confusing, when the concept that we want to implement is relatively straight forward. Instead, when we are introducing new concepts we should try to put it into language that is easy for everyone to understand. For example, it is easier to understand what the focus of our change is if we introduce it as “quality grading practices” rather than Assessment For Learning…

  3. What’s up, after reading this awesome article i am also cheerful to share my knowledge here with friends.

  4. Hi, I log on to your blog on a regular basis. Your humoristic style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!


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