Teachers' beliefs about adopted formative assessment strategies in teaching writing in the primary school : a case study
Background: This research investigates teachers' beliefs about techniques adopted in the name of formative assessment. The study critically evaluates whether techniques adopted can be considered as formative assessment conceptualised as 'assessment for learning' and whether these techniques change teachers' ideas about teaching writing. This case study is set in an inner city primary school in a North East LEA. It has 300 pupils on roll, 30% of which have English as an additional language and 70% are on the Special Educational Needs register. Methods: A multi-method approach was used, incorporating positivist and interpretatived imensions. Views of teachers were gathered using a self-completed questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. Views of pupils were collected using pupil response templates. Further evidence was collected using direct lesson observations and documentary analysis of teacher's short-term planning for Literacy, targets set for Literacy and samples of children's writing. Sample: The primary school, consisted of a Headteacher and 15 teaching staff. all teaching staff and the Headteacher completed the questionnaire. Seven teachers participated in semi-structured interview and seven lessons were observed. There were 35 responses for each type of pupil response template used. Documentary analysis of Literacy planning, target setting and children's writing was also undertaken. Main Outcomes: Most teachers found that the formative assessment techniques they adopted of sharing learning intentions, planning and modelling success criteria had a positive impact on specific elements of their teaching. Some results highlighted that these formative assessment techniques could not be globally applied across the full primary age-range. The research suggests that approaches based on more behaviourist traditions were more applicable for younger children. They also showed that the techniques promoted comprise only the teacher-centred aspects of formative assessment. If a more robust approach is to be used, in order to promote a more authentic approach to 'assessment for learning' the pupil dimensions of formative assessment need to be much more actively encouraged. Conclusions: Teacher-led formative assessment strategies may have potential benefits for specific elements of teaching. However, results also indicated that some strategies of formative assessment could have potentially negative motivational effects upon children and based upon behaviourist traditions. Formative assessment strategies may need to be adapted by practitioners to take into account children's age and academic ability. There is also the danger that formative assessment could become little more than an instrumental support for SATs, with little attention to pupils' engagemenint learning. Implications: Practitioners need to be aware of formative assessment strategies and how they can be implemented. Policy makers need to advertise the potential benefits and possible adverse effects of formative assessment and how it can be used. Future research could investigate formative assessment strategies through other curriculum areas and in a wider range of schools, paying particular attention to the effects of verbal feedback teachers give to their pupils as well as techniques to encourage active pupil involvement in assessment for learning.