Literacy Review – Formative Assessment

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Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

By Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

Giving an overall picture to the students’ learning, and them understanding clearly the subject matter and material in the lesson as an ongoing process,  led me to focus on formative assessment for professional development, and subsequently on a small book called Inside ‘the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment by Paul Black and Dylan William’ (1998).

The first main focus of this book was that outside of the classroom there are many factors/forces that push the teacher to do a proficent job. However, Black and Wiliam state that ‘learning is driven by what teachers and pupils do in classrooms’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 1). This highlights the classroom as the Black Box and what goes on inside is as important if not more than outside assessment. The teacher is the one who has that direct relationship with the students and that helps deal with progression within this sphere. The teacher is really the only one that can see what is happening on a day to day basis.  For example, Black and Wiliam suggest ‘how can anyone be sure that a particular set of new inputs will produce better outputs if we don’t at least study what happens inside?’ Black and Wiliam (1998: 2). Teachers are always looking for ways to improve and formative assessment of the students’ on-going study means that the teacher can change factors to help suit the needs of the students.

Furthermore, the fact that students have tests at the end of their learning makes room for more formative assessment that can help highlight issues along the path of their learning actively helping them and adjusting their learning. Black and Wiliam state that ‘the practice of formative assessment produce significant and often substantial learning gains’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 1). There is a need for the students to be actively involved and the process of letting the students just complete work and then mark it reinforces underachievement.  Students should be allowed to assess their on-going learning as well as the teacher. Black and Wiliam highlight this, as improved formative assessment helps low achievers more than other students and so reduces the range of achievement while raising achievement overall (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 4). Thus the teacher can adapt their teaching to fit the needs of the students. This gets away from summative assessment as the vital part of the learning process where the final result is more important than the path getting there. Black and Willams show that ‘the giving of marks and the grading function are overemphasized, while the giving of useful advice and the learning function are underemphasized (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 5). This then gets away from the students competing and puts focus on them actually looking at their personal improvement.  It could be said to be true that ‘when the classroom culture focuses on rewards, gold stars, grades, or class ranking, then pupils look for ways to obtain the best marks rather than to improve their learning. (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 7). This puts the focus back on the students to change the culture into one where all the students involved can progress and achieve. The students can understand the main focus of being in the classroom.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom


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