Formative Assessment: Implications for Teaching and Coaching

Assessment, and the way it is undertaken, is a widely-debated a topic of interest within Scottish education, with plans in place to introduce standardised testing in literacy and numeracy for primary school children (BBC, 2016; Scottish Government, 2016). While this piece focusses more schools, assessment – in various forms – has also been recently debated in the coaching world. Both Facebook (recommended: FootballCoach2Share) and Twitter (@CoachingFamily) saw great discussed after KeepItOnTheDeck shared this article  on the removal of final assessments on FAI Coach Education courses.

Coaching competency has been linked to driving a number of times. To pass your driving license, you need to display a certain level of competency and understanding. Of course, good drivers can fail their test, and worse drivers can pass. In the same vein, being a UEFA B licensed coach suggests that you are a better coach than someone who failed their assessment, but this is not automatically 100% true. Nonetheless, passing either a driving test or a coaching course serves as proof that a certain level of ability has been displayed and deemed acceptable by an independent third party, based on a consistent set of criteria.

Before diving in to the thrust of the essay below, I have included two YouTube clips featuring Dylan William, a world-renowned expert on formative assessment. In the first, he briefly detailing its definition and some examples of good practice. The second features half of a BBC Two documentary ‘The Classroom Experiment’ in which William revolutionised assessment practice for a Year 8 class at a Secondary Comprehensive in Hertfordshire, England.


Since the onset of the 21st Century, teachers in Scotland have been encouraged to reflect upon the way they view and employ assessment. Building the Curriculum 5: A Framework for Assessment described the principles of assessment as: “supporting learning, learner engagement and ensuring appropriate support (Scottish Government, 2011:18).

Before providing analysis and discussion on the various ways in which formative assessment can be undertaken and supported, it is necessary to briefly explore its origins, purposes and the issues which teachers can face. The concept of formative assessment was initially discussed by Scriver (1967) and by the turn of the century the worth of formative assessment had been clearly established (Moeed, 2015). Formative assessment has the notion of assessment being considered as a continuous process to enhance learning – and therefore impact teaching – rather than simply to confirm that learning has occurred (Bryce et al, 2013). Shepard (2008) spoke of formative assessment being used to provide insight into progress, instead of a score for comparison with others. As such, it is perhaps natural to assume that formative assessment works in direct contrast to summative assessment. In fact, researchers maintain that other forms of assessment should not be disregarded. Alternatively, it is suggested that using a variety of assessment methods is most efficient in successful teaching and learning (Antoniou & James, 2014; Education Scotland, 2011).

Despite links with raising attainment, formative assessment has proven difficult to clearly define and effectively implement (Moeed, 2015; Van der Berg et al, 2016). Studies, albeit some with small sample sizes, have highlighted discrepancies between the number of teachers who viewed formative assessment as beneficial, compared to the number who use it (Antoniou & James, 2014; Christoforidou et al, 2013; Creemers et al, 2012; Kyriakides, 1997).

While there is a range of formative assessment types, and a host of factors impacting these, it could be argued that the three most vital are useful feedback, effective questioning and the use of learning intentions and success criteria.

Van der Berg et al (2016) discussed the key elements of formative assessment, including the feedback offered to learners. Some researchers argue that assessment only becomes formative if, through the provision of feedback, it is used to modify and enhance teaching and learning (Wiliam, 2011). However, it is vital that this feedback is of high quality, rather than feedback for its own sake.


Effective feedback should allow clear areas for development to be identified, as opposed to children receiving praise for ‘good’ work without being offered constructive action points for improvement. While praise and positivity is of some value, feedback is most worthwhile for enhancing learning and motivation when it is truthful, specific and provocative (Antoniou & James, 2014; Arthur & Cremin, 2014; Henderlong & Lepper, 2002). Following the provision of feedback – for example in the form of ‘two stars and a wish’ – reflection and evaluation can help deepen learning and can be linked to learning goals (Black & Wiliam, 2009.) It is argued that feedback shared immediately with the child can be more effective than the same feedback at a later date (Arthur & Cremin, 2014).

Arthur and Cremin (2014) describe effective questioning as the single most important facet of formative assessment. Open-ended questions have been shown to help extract more information from learners (Nystrand et al, 2003) while including substantial ‘wait time’ – rather than quickly seeking the correct answer – is argued to facilitate opportunity for deeper thinking, building the confidence of children who are sometimes slower to answer (Arthur & Cremin, 2014; Black & Wiliam, 2009). While perhaps adding to the duration of lessons, the enhanced learning which takes place, and is then demonstrated, seems worthwhile.

When planning a lesson or session, it is important that questions are viewed as planned, considered, tools for engaging with children’s ideas (Black et al, 2003) and not just something to fill time with. Coffey et al (2011) suggest that even open questions with appropriate ‘wait time’ must be carefully considered and of high quality to promote deeper thinking. It is therefore clear that the art of effective, purposeful, questioning must be practiced and planned, producing useful information for the teacher regarding previous learning and future teaching (Kerry, 2002). Framing questions broadly can allow all children the chance to think and reflect (Coffey et al, 2011; Wiliam, 2011). Techniques ranging from using randomisers to ‘think-pair-share’ or providing ‘mini-whiteboards’ allow for the teacher to assess learning more easily and to engage learners more readily (Kyriacou, 2007; Walsh & Settes, 2005; Wragg & Brown, 2001).

 Providing clear goals for learning in the form of learning Intentions (LIs) and success criteria (SCs) can help children focus their work on appropriate targets and content (Clark, 2015; Clarke, 2001). However, some research suggests that teachers can be guilty of assessing children’s work without having provided clear and tangible learning intentions and success criteria for assessment to be measured against (Arthur & Cremin, 2014; Black & Wiliam, 2009). This could cause issues for both teachers and learners, with a lack of clarity potentially leading to confusion and inconsistency. If clear and attainable LIs and SCs can help motivation levels, it is not implausible that poor employment of these techniques could dishearten and disengage learners.


Techniques used to formatively assess how clearly learning goals have been understood, for example ‘fist-to-five’ or ‘thumbs up/down/in-between’ can allow teachers to make quick, broad judgements on learning. However the best evidence is likely to surface through the work itself and through children’s self- and/or peer-reflection, though it is worth noting that the reflection processes must be practiced in order to become effective (Coffey et al, 2011; Wiliam, 2011) and that honest responses, rather than trying to fit in to what the coach/teacher wants or expects, are most helpful.

In conclusion, there are a host of benefits from using formative assessment, especially in conjunction with a range of other assessment types. Of particular note is the potential to help raise attainment levels and facilitate enhanced learning. However, it is important to employ formative assessment techniques in a considered, thought-out and high-quality manner. Useful feedback, the use of learning intentions and success criteria and effective questioning can form part of a quality formative assessment strategy. By providing children with sufficient opportunity for thought and reflection, the teaching undertaken within a classroom can be adapted per the evidence obtained from formative assessment. Considering the arguments presented and analysed regarding the advantages and potential benefits it can bring, it seems clear that formative assessment can play an important part in facilitating the enhancement of teaching and learning.

Thank you for reading. As always, any feedback is welcome.

Reference List available – click here

Chris McLaughlin

Follow me on Twitter: @coachchrismcl

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