Assessment for learning is a concept that in recent years has been studied in educational research. Assessment for learning is considered to be part of everyday practice by students, teachers and peers. It involves the gaining of understandings from learners through a range of tasks and activities, and the formative use of this information with a view to supporting and furthering student learning.
The authors of this research project investigated how a group of students in an undergraduate course perceived and responded to a teaching–learning environment where they were expected to take responsibility for and ownership over their learning. In their project they make use of findings and theories about formative assessment which have emerged from earlier studies and of the need for innovations with a more explicit focus on the pedagogical strategies that create the conditions for effective learning.
In order to develop the capacity to improve their learning, students need to possess a concept of quality (what is expected), a sufficient evaluative knowledge and expertise and a range of strategies that enable them to effect improvement. The teaching–learning environment needs to provide opportunities for students to generate information about, monitor, regulate and attend to the quality of their work or tasks during production.
In the current study, the strategies and activities associated with assessment for learning contributed to the promotion of meta-cognitive self-monitoring and self-regulation. Goals helped students know where they were going; exemplars provided insights into what was expected and what constituted quality work; course activities and tasks elicited evidence of learning; dialogic interactions around these activities and tasks generated feedback about current understandings and task-related progress; the evaluation of exemplars developed students’ evaluative knowledge, skill and expertise; peer review and feedback provided an authentic context for evaluation and monitoring of works-in-progress. Students were thus equipped with the self-regulatory tools and strategies. While each strategy provided students with knowledge, skills and/or expertise necessary for self-monitoring and self-regulation, this study shows that the full impact of assessment for learning as a catalyst for self-regulated learning was realised in the cumulative and recursive effect the strategies had on students’ thinking, motivation and actions.