6 BIG Assessment (AFL) Practices

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During the past few years I have been involved in a number of conversations around the topic of assessment. One key struggle that I have is the many ways in which the term “formative assessment” is defined. For some educators, formative assessment involves altering our teaching practices based on quantitative data we get from tests, quizzes, and assignments. I believe there is a role for this; however, to other educators formative assessment is Assessment For Learning (AFL) – not something that is done after we teach but more a philosophy about HOW we teach. It is more than just about checking for progress but also about including students in the process of planning, teaching, and reflecting. AFL is not something that is an add-on for teachers; it is a different lens to view student learning as well as a different overall philosophy of how we teach.

One of the best ways I have seen to explain and model Assessment for Learning (or formative assessment) was observed and learned through my attendance at the British Columbia Educational Leadership Council (BCELC) two year seminar series which included deep discussions on leadership and AFL led by Caren Cameron, Yrsa Jensen, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert (based on the work of educators such as Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black).

BCELC used Black and Wiliam’s definition of Assessment for Learning as:

Any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting pupil’s learning.

Click here to access a previous post that describes the difference between Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment OF Learning.

BCELC (Cameron, Jensen) introduced the 6 BIG AFL PRACTICES as (please note that these are taken directly or adapted from BCELC):

  1. Clear Learning Intentions: let students know (in a language they can understand) what they are expected to learn.
  2. Criteria: work WITH learners to develop criteria of what quality looks like.
  3. Descriptive Feedback: increase descriptive feedback (ongoing dialogue around improvement in learning that causes thinking) and decrease evaluative feedback (numbers, letters, and “good job”). Note: Education researcher John Hattie, in his book “Visible Learning“, notes that using descriptive feedback is THE single most powerful thing we can use to increase student learning. Please read Peter Jory’s great post on feedback here.
  4. Powerful Questions: increase quality “thinking” questioning to go deeper and show evidence of learning. Move away from factual routine questions. TALK LESS, ASK MORE. For more on quality questions from BCELC click here.
  5. Self and Peer Assessment: Scaffolding of learning of self- and peer assessment in a supportive, collaborative environment enables learners to become thoughtful about all aspects of their learning. Heidi Andrade writes “If students produce it, they can assess it; and if they assess it, they can improve it.” For more on self/peer from BCELC click here.
  6. Student Ownership: centres on metacognitive awareness and action. Metacognition is enhanced only when students have explicit understandings related to all other aspects of AFL – and are able to take ownership for their learning as a result. Black and Wiliam add, “Have the learner become aware of his/her own thinking – what are my strengths? What do I need to get better at? What is my next step?”. For more on ownership from BCELC, click here.

I cannot say enough about BCELC and how inspiring it was for me. Changing the lens of assessment not only changed the way I assess, but also how I teach, lead, and learn.

Although not exactly like being part of the seminar series, the portion of a webcast series by Cameron and Jensen titled “A focus on Informed Assessment Practices”, including all the slides and resources, can be accessed here (#3) and here (#4). (I highly recommend this).

For a quick prezi I did up last year (based on this info), click here or see below.

I encourage you to describe the impact AFL has made on your students in the comment section below.

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Chris, I’m going to share your blog post with the staff at my school as Assessment for Learning and Descriptive Feedback are both big areas of focus for us right now. For me, one of the biggest changes that I’ve made this year is in getting my students involved in the process of creating success criteria. They know what’s expected of them because they’re involved in deciding what’s expected of them. They’re also using this success criteria more to help them in their daily work because it was made by them, so it’s accessible to them too.

    I’ve also had my students more involved in the descriptive feedback piece. Not only am I giving more descriptive feedback to them, but they’re giving this feedback to others and reflecting on their own work too. (We’ve even worked descriptive feedback into our Reading Buddy activities, for this is an area of focus for all grade levels.) The students understand their strengths and their areas of need. They know what they need to do to make their work better, and they’re trying to do this as well. I think that this is so important!

    Our school is involved in a self-assessment process as part of our Board, and I think that this process has really helped me make some positive changes in the classroom when it comes to Assessment For Learning. More importantly, as grade teams and divisions, we’re working together to make these positive changes too. Your blog post reminded me of this. Thank you so much!!


  2. Chris,
    Thanks for doing this is great summary of the Big Six. I think it was well appreciated by educators, whether just dipping their toes into AFL thinking or already fully immersed. Thanks for getting behind Feedback Month as well. Hopefully the promotion made a difference out there. Keep on doing what you are doing!

    • Thanks for the push Peter – we both know and have seen the power of AFL with student learning… this needs to be the norm in all classes.

  3. Thanks for your time today. Your presentation was very engaging and informative. Thanks for sharing and letting us be apart of what you do.


    • Thanks for commenting and being part of the dialogue today Sandra! I hope you choose to embrace social media so many other can learn from and help you to grow as a learner and educator! Good luck in your practicum and let me know if you ever have any questions.

  4. Thanks for this post, Chris, it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. AFL as you described completely transformed my practice several years ago. It also changed the way I share with other educators and the way I communicate with parents. I agree that it is a way of being and I think that is why it is not yet the norm in all classrooms. When AFL practices are truly a part of a learning environment, everything else that seems to be a cause of stress at the moment for teachers in BC – redesigned curriculum, digital portfolios, flexible learning spaces – makes 100% more sense because they are all interconnected. It’s about being intentional. It’s a shift in how you see learning before a shift in how you see teaching, and that’s where I think many educators misunderstand the message we are trying to spread when we talk about AFL. I think it needs to be modeled, observed, and experienced by educators rather than simply talked about if we want to see the powerful impact of AFL in more classrooms.

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