Guy Claxton – Teaching for intelligent mindsets

Teaching for intelligent mindsets: Auckland 15th March 2015

Teaching intelligence

Guy Claxton, King’s College London


  • Fixed mindset one of the most powerful brakes on intelligence.
  • We are trying to teach with the breaks on, no wonder it is a grind!
  • Intelligence is the word we give to our understanding of when the mind is working at full strength – as is creativity and wisdom
  • Intelligence characterised by times when we bring all of our resources together, we are firing on all cylinders, and we cope with situations that are complicated.
  • What is the mind like when it is at its best? Same for boys and girls?
  • Intelligence – understood in 19th – 20th cent by phrenology
  • What evidence do we use to justify judgements made by teachers about intelligence – gifted, struggling
  • Hierarchy of subjects – rational (maths etc.) at the top of the hierarchy and those involving the body (music, dance, drama, design) lower down the food chain
  • This preconception has been blown apart and is shattered by contemporary research (including Dweck).

New Kinds of Smart (Lucas and Claxton)

  • Intelligence is made up of a constellation of aspects of our minds
  • Composite, attitudinal, physical, distributed, social, expandable
  • Intelligence is distributed – not just a single person on their own, esp. if deprived from social tools. Yet we treat students as if their intelligence is their own possession.
  • Intelligence is the sum total of your habits of mind” prof Lauren Resnick
  • Intelligence as a jazz combo: plays off each other, plays sweetly, knows how to orchestrate itself.
  • Links to mindfulness, so important in a world that seems to inspire students to be distractible

Cognitive combo

  • Attention
  • Investigation
  • Imitation
  • Imagination
  • Experimentation
  • Reasoning
  • Reviewing


Intelligence is powerfully expanded – and contracted – by mindsets, beliefs, attitudes and vulnerabilities”

Fixed mindsets like a computer virus – perverts functionality


  • Growth mindset
  • Tolerance for uncertainty
  • Fair-mindedness
  • Empathy (perspectives)
  • Craftsmanship


  • Fixed mindset
  • Intolerance for uncertainty
  • My-side bias
  • Egocentricity
  • Approval

Are senior secondary teachers keen to preserve students’ ability to think on their feet – flounder intelligently.

  • Fair mindedness vs. my-side bias
  • Keith Stanovic (sp?) – Canadian researcher – found that high IQ may result in people developing more sophisticated versions of “my-side bias” (focusing on how to prove my perspective)
  • Roger Berger (Austin’s butterfly guy) Creativity emerges from having a go, reflection, having another go, reviewing, having another go etc.
  • Ability to accept suggestions from peers and see how he is bursting with pride when he creates a scientific rendition of a butterfly. Flies in the face (no pun intended) of usual process – product aspect of learning – true creativity comes from having goes at getting it right.


  • Importance of the body in intelligence – connecting body and mind
  • “The hand is the cutting edge of the mind” Jacob Bronowski
  • True creativity often stems from gesture, if ignored it can hamstring
  • Connections between cognitive performance and physical expression
  • Discusses how we feel and think through our heart, gut, skin, lungs, brain – the body as a connected being where intelligence/ thought happens


“We make the world smart so we don’t have to be” – Andy Clark

  • it is person-plus-tools
  • deep in our genetic make up to be designers of tools to extend and develop our intelligence

Yes, we do group work but when stakes are high we expect students to work independently. This is so important regarding how we, as a whole, approach assessment.


Intelligence is a social triumph – Phil Brown and Hugh Lauder

  • Two heads are better than one (sometimes)
  • Communities of practice
  • Social and digital learning
    • Personal learning networks

Sugatra Mitra’s hole in the wall – perfect e.g. of social aspect of intelligence


All the instruments of the orchestra of intelligence improve with practice..

We can teach in a way that builds and broadens habits of mind

  • Resilience, imagination, empathy, resourcefulness, reasoning, craftsmanship, reflection, collaboration
  • Links to HPSS Habits and Values
  • The joy of the struggle – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant when working on ‘The Office scripts’.

Build imagination by using language that encourages imaginative thinking. Move away from “is” language – fixed idea – i.e. the rainbow is red, yellow etc. – Is there actually red? Or is it “man-salmon” (a quote from Steve)

Instead but on “could be” language rather than “is” language…

Love the “empathy specs” to build and stretch empathetic thinking

Building reflection

  • Teachers should coach students to think like a reflective practitioner of learning – essential skill
  • Landau Forte College school in Darby – learning powered school (video clip, see if it is online…)
  • Learning how to learn

Intelligence is NOT Fixed

  • Children can become smarter – and so can we
  • Schools can aim to build learning agility /power / growth mindsets
  • Learning powered students do better academically
  • Why train children to be diligent clerks when we can help them become intelligent explorers?

It is our moral, ethical responsibility as teachers to build students’ intelligence – aims for a more advanced NZ – aspects of citizenship

Question from floor re assessment limiting intelligence

Response – it is up to us to build learning power in students. Not a matter of choosing assessment success or life long learning.

These questions about NCEA and summative, high-stakes assessment are frustrating me! This is another example of how teachers’ fixed mindsets about NCEA and assessment are creating barriers for our students…



Currently similar in levels of achievement and performance (CLAPS!) – evident in athletics, sports etc.

Problem only comes when you insert the virus of labelling this as predicitive of performance expectations – interesting in terms of how we are using our e-AsTTle / OTJs


Carol Dweck – teaching for intelligent mindsets

I am very lucky today to be attending this amazing PL opportunity. Here are my unstructured notes. Photos to come…

Teaching for intelligent mindsets

Auckland 15th March 2015

Dr. Carol Dweck

  • Motivation – you never see an unmotivated baby! Babies are infinitely curious, yet many of the things we do turn kids into non-learners.
  • Too much emphasis on “gifted” and “talented”
  • When we foster “natural talent” we make kids feel infallible
  • Where are the kids who can take fb and coaching without it being a blow to their self-esteem?

Fixed and growth mindset

Fixed – search for perfection

Growth – intelligence can be developed.

Which mindset is correct?

  • Neoscience reinforces growth mindset through brain plasticity
  • Cogntive psychologists are isolating aspects of the brain and focusing on how to develop these.
  • Alfred Binet (IQ test designer) actually had an impressive growth mindset. Yet test is used to measure “talent” but his initiaul idea was as an assess tool to identify the students for whom public schools were failing them. Unfortunately, test design does not reflect its use.
  • Are mindsets all or nothing – not necessary, can have a mixed of fixed and growth in different areas (i.e sports, academics, within academic disciplines etc.)
  • When we feel that we are failing, we can fall into a fixed mindset!
  • Mindsets can be changed

Mindsets matter

Studies in students who are trying to enter med schools

Foxed just hope for best, growth actively involved in their learning (sorting out study groups, actively seeking feedback etc.)

All 10th graders Chile – the poorer students in Chile with growth mindsets were outperforming those who from wealthier homes with fixed mindsets. Growth mindset is powerful indicator for academic outcomes.

How do mindsets work?

Whole pscychological world for students which has different meaning.

  • Rule 1:
    • Fixed – look smart at all costs (but above all, NEVER LOOK DUMB)
    • Growth – learn at all costs ( why bother looking smart when you could be getting smarter)
  • Rule 2:
    • Fixed: effort is a bad thing, if you are smart, you shouldn’t need to try (i.e Homer Simpson – trying is the first step towards failure)
    • Growth – work hard, effort is the key. No-one accomplished anything great without great strategies and help from others.
  • Rule 3:
  • Fixed – hide mistakes and deficiencies
  • Growth – confront mistakes and learn from them

Where does Mindsets come from?


Intelligence praise vs. Process praise

Studies on how mother’s talk to babies over time (babies, five years, seven years) thos who were praised with growth mindset (learning) outperformed those with fixed (are secondary schools trying to buck trend)

What to praise:

  • Struggle (only praising kids when they work hard is called nagging)
  • Strategies, choices
  • Choosing different tasks, making mistakes
  • Learning , improving

Growth is about appreciating strategies and choices that students are using –what strategies are working, which aren’t,

How we talk:

  • “Oh, you got an A without really working” – subtext for child effort not important
  • You did that so quickly – subtext rewards for speed

Challenge is interesting and worthwhile

  • Without working – A is nice but you must not be learning much
  • Quickly and easily – it must be boring for you, I’m sorry you’ve wasted your time. Lets do something you can learn from.

Importance of “Yet”

Not ok to say “I’m no good at…” need to retrain our language and semantics to use “I’m no good at … yet” (growth)

Students at school in Chicago use “not yet” as part of their assessment language – culture now of collecting and comparing “not yets” for growth – awesome, AfL in practice! Does B, P, A do this? Probably not, SOLO taxonomy may do? Not Achieved? Not yet achieved would allow for growth – help shift kids from performative to learning focused.

When is it too late for growth mindset training? Answer – NEVER!

Brain plasticity can be an avenue to shift mindsets about mindsets (very meta) – Herrmann’s Brain whole brain dominance at #HPSS developing this in our learners

Maybe an aspect of growth mindset is realising that you never really “have” it – not binary fixed or growth but recognising that situations alter the degree to which we have it.

Consider rock star new teachers – give up when times are tough. Need networks of support for new teachers (and all teachers) to develop their growth mindsets. Story of struggling teacher who persevered with growth mindset by filming and watching self daily to improve. Saw her struggle as “the worst she was ever going to be”. She got there in the end.

Can an organisation have a mindset?

In short, yes! People within the org agree with each other, values either fixed or growth mindset. This applies to schools as well. Are you in a school that worships fixed talent in students and teachers? Or fosters growth? Sense of ako for all akonga.

Fixed – teachers in competition with each other. Growth – teachers collaborate and share.

Growth orgs have more creativity and innovation going on.

Growth mindset and assessment

Formal assessments came about for a reason but their prevalence is killing the joy of teaching and learning. Oh dear…

Culture that celebrates failure – i.e. failure videos, fail blog – detrimental to growth mindsets as an aspect of citizenship?

Goals – is there more to them than meets the eye?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading lately around goals, clarity, progressions and all things education. In my new role(s) as part-time PLD facilitator focusing on Leadership and Assessment part-time HPSS teacher + leader of assessment + leader of the performing arts area (this role is not new but the part-time part is), and part-time – who knows when I’m going to find the time – Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival organiser, director, Stage Challenge co-ordinator, Classical Studies trip co-organiser… But I digress.


Goals are one of those things that we think that we need to do but I’m not sure how well-used they are in classrooms. Schools set goals, teachers set goals, teachers get students to set goals / co-construct goals, students set goals for themselves that they don’t share with us.

Personally I’ve been really unsatisfied with SMART goals for a long time. It took me a while to really put my finger on it. Locke and Latham’s seminal 2006 article on goals clearly define the differences between performance and learning goals. When reading this article I had an ‘aha!’ moment reading “a learning goal facilitates or enhances metacognition—namely, planning, monitoring, and evaluating progress toward goal attainment” – learning goals focus on the strategies needed for success whereas performance goals focus on the outcomes. SMART goals could be used to support learning goals but the lack of focus on the how (strategies, dispositions, skills) means than they may limit attainment of the goal.

I was re-reading Viviane Robinson’s Student-Centred Leadership on the plane yesterday and her comments about when to use SMART goals and when to use learning goals. More and more the puzzle pieces are falling into place.

“At one level, setting SMART goals makes sense because people cannot regulate their performance if they are unclear about how to assess their progress… At another level, there are occasions when the call to set SMART goals is inappropriate. In order to set a SMART goal, you have to know quite a lot about how to achieve it. When goals involve new challenges, how can you possibly know if it is achievable, if it is realistic, and how long it will take you to achieve it (Seddon, 2008)? In the absence of such knowledge, it may be better to set a learning goal or a broader performance goal that expresses your shared commitments and helps keep you focused”

Student-Centred Leadership, Kindle version, Location 1100

Surely, we are wanting to get our students to be considering new challenges – why are we encouraging them to put constraints around their goals because we think that performative goals are better / easier / they way, truth and the light? I believe that the needs must be addressed before there is goal setting. If the situation requires something that needs to be achieved (an outcome), sure go ahead, be SMART. However, if there is more at stake (and I would like to imagine that there is) a learning goal is a much better fit.

So timing is important. In preparation for playing the role of the “devil’s advocate” (yes that is an actual role one gets to play, it has a cool badge / picture thing and everything) on tonight’s #edchatNZ chat hosted by my lovely colleague and friend Danielle Myburgh (@missDtheTeacher), I was thinking about some provocative questions / statements which I could challenge teachers with. Here are some (n.b. I only used one or two as I was trying to respond to people’s statements):

  • What is the point of deciding on “measurable” goals when dealing with innovation and change? Multiple measurements should evolve, shouldn’t they?
  • Goal setting, with goal follow through, clear strategies and accountability, is meaningless. How much time do you dedicate to work with your students on follow through? What about your own goals? Your colleagues?
  • how do your students’ individual goals impact their day to day experiences in your classroom?
  • How much alignment is there between your students’, staff and school’s strategic goals?
  • What checks and balances do you have to robust critique of goals? Yours, your students, or your colleagues goals?
  • What is the point of goal setting if the goals are not enacted? Need to be coupled with frequent checking in and feedback/feedforward, what does this look like in your practice?
  • Have your students been setting goals this year? Why? What evidence or research is underpinning your practice?


I guess from the feedback, aspects of my devil’s advocate role resonated with some. Personally, I felt that I was a bit slow and (as always) struggled with 140 characters.

Twitter chat extract

I do believe in making the learning visible – using learning intentions which clearly show what we are learning, why we are learning and how we are learning is the key. The harder part of me is to relate this to each individual I’m teaching, be it in hubs, modules, my times or big projects.

On Monday, I will be starting working with my HPSS learning hub around their goals. I’ve got a couple of approaches to consider. I could just bowl in “Goal Setting” and support the students to make some learning goals through co-construction with me and each other, rather than performance ones, with clear check points for progress and keen understanding of what success of the goals may look like. This is what we did last year, however I felt that some students were occasionally complying with me because they are all decent people who trusted me enough that this was a good idea. We made the goals visible in our hub, we reflected on progress but I’m not convinced that there were enough deliberate acts to improve their learning goals. Not trying to make excuses but some things did get lost in the busyness of starting a new school last year.

However, the questions I was challenging myself to come up with to challenge others are now challenging me. What evidence will students be using to inform their goals? Is now the right time? How can I align my own goals for this year (which I have yet to formulate) to those of my hub? How can I best support my students in this highly personalised environment without resorting to following the “letter” of goal setting, rather than the “spirit”?

Over the weekend I’m going to keep pondering this and if I come up with something better, I’ll blog about it (promise).


Professional reading February 2015

This is what I am currently wading through / have recently read/ re-reading old favourites. Lots of this is to do with the PLD leadership and assessment contract that I’m lucky enough to be facilitating this year or part of my leadership role at HPSS.

Clarity in the classroom by Michael Absolum
Formative assessment in the secondary classroom by Shirley Clarke
Weaving Evidence, inquiry and standards to build better schools ed. By Helen Timperley and Judy Parr
Student-centred leadership by Viviane Robinson
Problem-based methodology by Vivane Robinson
Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence synthesis
Lead with Wisdom by Mark Strom
Theory in Practice: improving professional effectivenessh by Chris Argyris and Donald Schön
Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice by Paul Black, Christine Harrison, Clare Lee, Bethan Marshall, Dylan Wiliam

I love seeing the overlap between these texts. Will blog more shortly.

Becoming a learning sleuth: processing information on learning

Reflecting on information about learning is a key part of metacognition. Getting any information (written or oral comments, or grades of any kind) is not in itself that useful – learners have to do something with it.

Our students at HPSS reflect, a lot. And the problem with doing anything, a lot, is that it can be seen as something repetitive or burdensome if it is always done in the same way. Our students have just finished a term’s learning. In their modules. Teachers and students have constructed feedback through ongoing narratives documents which show where the are going, how going, and where to next in their learning. For each of their learning modules. And they have 6. As learning coaches, part of our job is to bring the learning together with our students, to have a holistic view of them as learners. When we were at this same point last term, we got the students to compare their commentary with their teachers in each module and then reflect on it. This did not bode well for a holistic overview but instead gave disjointed snapshots.

I wanted to get away from comparing their voice and their teachers to one thing that is a bit more robust, and to definitely move away from the groans when the students were asked to write yet another reflection. So I needed to rebrand the approach, and for the rebranding to be effective as this approach was going to be offered to all learning coaches to use with their learning hub students.

Watching CSI was my inspiration. Instead of reflecting, what if thy were detecting? Searching for clues that would lead them somewhere. From that random thought came the activity below. If I had more time to develop it, I would have pushed the “detective” angle further – instead of questions there could be clues, suspects and evidence.

Learning detective instructionsInstructions

The students pulled this information into a tool based on the Hermann’s Brain whole brain model – as we are looking toward developing our learner profiles using the whole brain model.

Hermann's Brain self-assessment


All students (or at least all I could see when walking around) completed this activity on Friday morning at HPSS. In the 90 minute learning hub time, students were engaged for the whole time. There we no groans and they took the activity really seriously. Students in my learning community (Taheretikitiki) asked if they could keep working on it in our next extended hub time. Many coaches, from all of the learning communities, commented on how gripping a task it was for students. Our next move is for the students to meet with their  learning coaches to use this self-assessment and ‘detective’ reflection to readjust or re-evaluate their goals and strategies to meet them.

I would be keen to find out more about why this approach of reflecting (looking back on learning to look forward) was received by both students and staff so much more positively than written reflections in the past.

What strategies are needed for effective AfL?

There are numerous resources online to support AfL in the classroom. Some of these are engaging and easy to implement strategies to support students in their learning – from peer and self-assessment strategies to ways to give ownership of learning to students. I find inspiration from Pinterest – check out my AfL board here –  as well as other professional connections, such as the VLN and Twitter – #A4Learn and #Assessment are worth following as many interesting ideas come up there.  These are some strategies have I been using at Hobsonville Point Secondary to give the students a ‘check up’ on their learning as they are learning.

1. Co-constructed success criteria – this is key for me and I love that I can ask the students “how will we know if we are successful?” in reference to the learning objective of the lesson / unit. We then co-construct it on the whiteboard, a little old skool I know, and use this as a reference throughout the lesson / sequence of lessons. This is really empowering as this is what we assess or measure progress against. Not a grade, not a level (I think that there is a place for these but not early on in learning). What is really important about this is that the students and I set what is expected. Obviously as a teacher I bring my pedagogical content knowledge but the act of co-construction empowers the students to own their learning.

2. Finding the gaps and checking for understanding.

Checking for understanding or ponderings as the learning is occurring is key – how else do you know if they are getting it? Andrea and I tried using a Google form to check for understanding of rights and responsibilities of citizenship with reference to political rights and responsibilities and socio-scientific issues in our recent “Stand up for your rights” module (covering the English, Science and Social Science learning areas). We also wanted to allow the students to direct what they wanted the learning to cover over the module – making sure that we were not delivering information but instead building on their prior learning and allowing their interests to come through in co-constructing the lessons. Completing a Google form mid-lesson gave us an idea of how the students were going in their learning and whether the key concepts of the lesson were making sense. By checking mid-lesson, we were able to adjust our lesson plan to find ways to close the gaps in understanding, differentiate based on needs or move on.

Checking for understanding

Use of a Google form mid-lesson to check for understanding


There are so many ways to provide information to students about gaps in their learning and I really like the idea of immediate feedback on misconceptions that can be provided electronically. I was introduced to a game called Kahoot by a fellow Classical Studies teacher, Lauren. This is an interactive quiz where students answer set questions (set by the teacher / another person) using their mobile devices / laptops.


Kahoot quiz questions


The students love this format as it lets them know immediately if they are correct or incorrect. I find that it is a great way for me to check for understanding on facts or concepts. As the students are completing the game, they get points if they are correct. There is immediate feedback if they are not. As a teacher, I get data about each question that the students are answering – and am able to see gaps. These gaps could be all from one question, or from a few students. This information comes conveniently in the form of a table and I can deal with the data at any point as it is easily downloaded from the Kahoot dashboard. I would love a tool which could be as interactive as this one is and also provide each student with immediate feedback on why their answer was correct or incorrect.

Kahoot data

Kahoot data


Tracking data is always useful. I like to keep an overview of what the students are completing and check for trends and patterns. This is an example from one of my drama modules earlier in the year where there was a focus on reflecting on their learning as they were learning. These reflections happened in a Moodle forum and each student had to respond to at least one other student each week, and I was able to provide feedback on their understanding based on their own reflection and the feedback they gave others. Keeping track of the quantity and quality is really important. This information provides a clear snapshot of who needs additional support in this part of their learning.

Tracking learning 1

Tracking student reflections

3. Putting students in the driver’s seat: A strategy that I used in the module I was teaching with Kylee, “Keep your ideas to yourself” – an Art  /English module-  was traffic lights. We had a class who were reluctant to speak and share their thinking – asking for help was a struggle for some of the students so the traffic lights were a great idea! I made my own cards, using the language I had used over the course of the term: “All good” for green,, “I think I’m okay but may need some help” for orange”, and “I’m stuck” for red. I didn’t have a photo of my cards but found this one on Pinterest from Teacherspayteachers website. While I had heard of this strategy before, using the traffic lights came from a conversation I was having with one of my students in my learning hub to find a way to get him to ask for help, rather than be passive in his learning. As he was taking the learning module that Kylee and I were trying, it made sense to trial them there. What was brilliant was how these cards worked for all learners. Daniel, another student in the module, has his light on green for the duration of the lesson – he was focused and didn’t want to be interrupted. Amy, another student, fluctuated between using all three cards in the lesson. It was a great way for her to self-regulate and know when to seek feedback. I loved to see students reminding each other to adjust their lights as needed.  They went down well and I’m going to keep using them in my classes in the future.

Traffic lights

Traffic light cards

4. Peer and self-assessment

I love how many ways there are to do this… here are some examples I’ve used at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. My fave is always the “Two stars and a wish” method. Students peer and self-assess using a simple structure which links to the co-constructed success criteria. The stars represent two positives which the students can see in the work and the wish represents an area for improvement. What is really effective about this basic structure is it moves away from “this was good” and “well done” – which is not effective or useful feedback – and instead focuses the students on being descriptive and specific in their feedback. The limitation of one wish means that the feedback does not become a litany of negatives but is instead is the most important piece of information needed to improve the quality of the work.

Another format that Andrea and I used (which was inspired by Peter Radonich, the SCT at my previous school, Northcote College) was the stop, start, keep structure to peer feedback. This was something that we used as a means to capture student voice about our teaching at Northcote College but the simplicity of these three scaffolding questions means that it can be used in multiple ways. It seemed a logical fit to use this scaffold with students as it meant, again, that the chances of feedback being meaningless for students are reduced.

Stop, start, keep

I have been so impressed by how seriously the students at Hobsonville Point Secondary have been taking giving and receiving peer feedback. I think that careful scaffolds are needed and, like anything, we as teachers need to model how to give effective feedback.

The power of peer and self-assessment is what the students do with the information. The image below shows the feedback provided to students on each other’s oral presentations in class. Each student provided feedback to each other and some suggested next steps to improve (based on our co-constructed success criteria). The students gave their feedback to each other and then had to process the feedback provided to write their final reflection on their learning.

Peer feedback 1

The picture below on the right is a snapshot of the feedback narratives that all students used at HPSS this term to co-construct their learning journeys with their teachers.

Learning journey

There is real power in getting the students to reflect on their learning as they are learning. Dialogic feedback, as the learning journey document shows, gives equal weighting to the voice of the student and the teacher. The student reflects and self-assesses their learning and sets clear “next steps” to act as mini goals in the learning. The teacher can support the students by suggesting appropriate strategies to meet these mini-goals, correct misunderstandings and assumptions made, and provide ongoing feedback about self-regulating strategies. The power here is that students are in the driving seat of their learning. They have a voice, they can evaluate strategies which are successful or unsuccessful, they can direct where their learning needs to go. The teacher’s voice is still important but their job is to provide ongoing responsive feedback which supports students to close the gaps between their current and desired levels of performance.

Autopsies versus check ups: views on assessment

An amazing colleague of mine (@MissDtheteacher) tweeted a great link written by Dr. Justin Tarte (@justintarte) a few weeks ago. As I often do on Twitter, I flagged it as one to skim and scan. Yet this post, 10 questions to ask yourself before giving an assessment, really struck a chord with me. I loved the medical analogy of autopsies (summative assessments) and check ups (formative assessments) – this really resonates with my thinking around assessment.

All three forms of assessment are valid – diagnostic, formative, and summative – and each serves a purpose. My concerns as a secondary school teacher, and a researcher, is that summative assessment is too prevalent and the dominance of summative assessment in schools creates a culture where attaining a grade is more important than learning. When  I was completing my masters research and writing up my dissertation, this was a conclusion that I reached and is supported by seminal and germane literature from around the world.

So the question has to be, why are we, as educators, still so keen to lay our students learning out and dissect it on a metaphorical autopsy table? Wouldn’t we be better to spend our time healing our students, through diagnostic and formative assessment, rather than carving them up to figure out what has happened?

It is widely accepted that an assessment for learning approach is empowering for students – it puts them in the driving seat of their learning and the teacher’s actions are focused on the learning needs of the individuals in their classes.

“Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.”
Assessment Reform Group, Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles, 2002

This sounds like common sense and you would be hard pushed to find a secondary school teacher who does not agree with this ideal – yet why are secondary schools struggling to embed assessment for learning and rather use assessment of learning (summative) or assessment as learning (teaching to the test / performative measures being used to provide feedback)*.  A focus on grades, levels and sublevels, NCEA credits and University Entrance requirements are limitations for our students as they act as barriers for effective assessment – these act as the tools of the coroner as they conduct their autopsy.

So what would the alternative look like? I think that it could be a healthy blend of diagnostic, formative and summative assessment being integrated using the principles of AfL – giving the reins of learning over to the student. The principles of AfL are:

  1. Clear goals / learning objectives – clearly articulated to students
  2. Co-constructed success criteria
  3. Explicit teaching of what quality looks like – through exemplars
  4. Inducting students into the “guild” of the assessor (Sadler, 1989)
  5. Peer and self-assessment
  6. Powerful feedback about closing the gaps in learning as the learning is occurring

Sound easy, right? Sadly, the greatest barrier to effective AfL is the teacher. Teachers all mean well but a truly student-centred approach requires the teacher to let go of the locus of control, to step back and to allow the students time to learn, to make mistakes and to close the gaps in their learning – rather than the jumps the teacher has already planned for. There needs to be a shift in focus – from thinking that the teacher is the sole person who can help the student to acknowledging that the role of the teacher needs to be quite different. They need to making the learning visible, devise learning activities to allow students to work toward their learning goals, showcase different strategies that could be used to close gaps in learning, be one of the people that provides feedback about where the student is going, how they are going and where to next (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). If the teacher does this, they are more akin to the friendly GP giving a check up on learning, rather than the grim, clinical coroner wielding an autopsy saw.

Dr.Farouk - Stethoscope.-Source - Flickr

Dr.Farouk – Stethoscope.-Source – Flickr

* Lorna Earle uses the term ‘Assessment as learning’ in a different manner.


Assessment Online, TKI, Principles of assessment for learning (retrieved 6 Oct. 2014)

Assessment Reform Group, Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles, 2002 (retrieved 6 Oct. 2014)

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H., The Power of Feedback, REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH 2007 77: 81

Sadler, R. D., (1989) ‘Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems’, Instructional Science, 18 (2) pp. 119-144