Embedding a Reflective Approach to Student Assessment of Learning

When a chef considers a new dish for a menu, the success of the dish depends on the combination of ingredients used to create it. There are times when it may be necessary to add or remove proportions of certain ingredients, until the desired final product is produced.

This is very much like the role of a teacher, deciding on the intended learning outcome and identifying the required ‘ingredients’ to support students in achieving the outcome. The time it takes to get to the finished product varies between different dishes on a menu and this is how we should see learning in the classroom and not seeing lessons in isolation.

Once we have a repertoire of effective strategies for learning goals (the ingredients), and an understanding of how students learn, we can use these to create meaningful, manageable and motivational study opportunities, both in school and at home, that will strengthen students understanding over time.

The CRAFT approach to learning

As illustrated in the diagram below, teachers can create study opportunities for students to condense, reflect, assess and undertake feed-forward and target-driven improvements (CRAFT approach).


This approach to learning provides students with the prospect to strengthen their understanding, producing improved outcomes over time.

When students are exposed to new concepts and processes in a lesson, for example the processes involved in a volcanic eruption, there should be opportunities for them to practice retrieving information to strengthen memory, therefore making the information more retrievable later.

The following breaks down the approach further.

Condense and reflect on learning

Once students have been exposed to new learning goals in a lesson there should be time for students to regularly condense and reflect on what they have learnt every week by creating knowledge sketches at home, whilst in lessons teachers can use low-stake tests at the beginning of lessons to review previous concepts and processes. This allows students to deliberately practise retrieval to improve long term memory and knowledge recall.

Assess regularly

In terms of student assessment, a formative assessment is undertaken on a 2- to 3-week cycle that builds in complexity resulting in a final diagnostic assessment at the end of an 8-10 week learning cycle.

Feedback for each diagnostic assessment provides students with positive and specific targets that focus on closing their knowledge gap. After all, the aim of feedback is to provide students with insight that helps to improve their performance. By embedding the strategy of ‘holding the grade’ and providing positive and specific targets, students have responded well and are taking ownership of making more meaningful improvements. In the past, when providing students with a mark or grade, this ends up being the focal point, and the actual suggestions for improvement end up being white noise.

Feed-forward and give targets for improvement

The following four key principles can be used to provide effective feedback to students:

  1. Affirming what they did well.
  2. Correcting and directing.
  3. Pointing out the process.
  4. Coaching students to independently make improvements.

After each IFA, students are provided with DIRT time (Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) to allow them to make bespoke improvements that will help to close the knowledge gap.

In a recent article from SecEd on effective feedback practices, John Dabell outlines the importance of giving students time: ‘if we don’t give students the time to reflect on their feedback then they can’t respond effectively and constructively and implement our suggestions’. As John Dabell explains, students can’t close the knowledge gap if we don’t give them the time and space to breathe. In these DIRT learning episodes, students are conducting focused editing using the specific targets set by the teacher, therefore this work is most effective when completed independently in silence.

This enables students to use this time to conduct focused editing and re-scripting to effectively and constructively implement the directed improvements provided by teachers.



Michael Chiles is Head of Geography at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy and Principal Examiner. Has written several educational books and online learning platforms for schools, as well as delivering training both nationally and internationally.

Follow Michael on Twitter at @m_chiles