Inside the Black Box

Literacy Review – Formative Assessment

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Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment By Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

(535 words)

Giving an overall picture to the students’ learning, and them understanding clearly the subject matter and material in the lesson as an ongoing process,  led me to focus on formative assessment for professional development, and subsequently on a small book called Inside ‘the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment by Paul Black and Dylan William’ (1998).

The first main focus of this book was that outside of the classroom there are many factors/forces that push the teacher to do a proficient job. However, Black and Wiliam state that ‘learning is driven by what teachers and pupils do in classrooms’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 1). This highlights the classroom as the Black Box and what goes on inside is as important if not more than outside assessment. The teacher is the one who has that direct relationship with the students and that helps deal with progression within this sphere. The teacher is really the only one that can see what is happening on a day to day basis.  For example, Black and Wiliam suggest ‘how can anyone be sure that a particular set of new inputs will produce better outputs if we don’t at least study what happens inside?’ Black and Wiliam (1998: 2). Teachers are always looking for ways to improve and formative assessment of the students’ on-going study means that the teacher can change factors to help suit the needs of the students.

Furthermore, the fact that students have tests at the end of their learning makes room for more formative assessment that can help highlight issues along the path of their learning actively helping them and adjusting their learning. Black and Wiliam state that ‘the practice of formative assessment produce significant and often substantial learning gains’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 1). There is a need for the students to be actively involved and the process of letting the students just complete work and then mark it reinforces underachievement.  Students should be allowed to assess their on-going learning as well as the teacher. Black and Wiliam highlight this, as improved formative assessment helps low achievers more than other students and so reduces the range of achievement while raising achievement overall (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 4). Thus the teacher can adapt their teaching to fit the needs of the students. This gets away from summative assessment as the vital part of the learning process where the final result is more important than the path getting there. Black and Willams show that ‘the giving of marks and the grading function is overemphasized, while the giving of useful advice and the learning function are underemphasized (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 5). This then gets away from the students competing and puts focus on them actually looking at their personal improvement.  It could be said to be true that ‘when the classroom culture focuses on rewards, gold stars, grades, or class ranking, then pupils look for ways to obtain the best marks rather than to improve their learning. (Black and Wiliam, 1998: 7). This puts the focus back on the students to change the culture into one where all the students involved can progress and achieve. The students can understand the main focus of being in the classroom.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT – (Teaching) Action Research Project

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(8900 words)

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Context
  • What is action research?
  • Literature Review
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Quantitative Research Methods
  • Research Question
  • My Research Method
  • Ethical Issues                                                                                                         
  • Analysing the results                                                                                           
  • Conclusion
  • Reflecting on my research
  • Reflecting on the issues
  • Action from my research
  • References                                                                                                           
  • Appendices:
  1. One Sentence Summary
  2. Four Corners (I’m confused, I’m lost, etc.)
  3. One Minute Essay 
  4. Four Corners (Agree, disagree, etc.)
  5. TEFL Practice Teaching Observation (checklist)
  6. Questionnaire (you as a student)
  7. Questionnaire (you as a new TEFL teacher)
  8. Completed One Sentence Summary
  9. Completed One Minute Essay
  10. Completed Questionnaire (you are a student)
  11. Completed Questionnaire (you as a new TEFL teacher)
  12. Completed Field Notes


Having used formative assessment in my class before and been given written and verbal feedback on this, I feel this is a great method to check my students’ understanding of the subject matter at various stages of their foreign language teaching course.  Of course, my formative assessment procedure needs work, and getting to know how much of the subject matter the students have processed is a major factor of myself succeeding in my class and developing educationally. My course and the modules within it are on a set time limit and students have some difficult days of study absorbing all the information as within their 20 hours of study they have many modules to complete. From this it means that students must be able to comprehend the subject matter; take in all that the teacher offers and be able to show this in their practice teaching. Although I am fundamentally teaching the basics of TEFL and what they essentially need to begin their first teaching experience, I still need to give them more than enough information to achieve this. This leads me to improve on my approach, method, and techniques to enhance the learning experience, so that each and every student has grasped the subject matter of the module, and can walk away after the course feeling they have the confidence and the knowledge to prepare for their first teaching assignment while at the same time the knowledge they have gained will inject that incentive to further their studies and their teaching. As well as improving on my delivery and content, I would like to see the students’ collaboration heightened during the formative assessment. By formative assessment, I not only need to know the content delivered is valuable but also to see students showing others what they have learnt and recognising what others have learnt that they may not have noticed. This I feel can be enhanced by formative assessment of each module during the course.


The first aspect of formative assessment is that it focuses on the feedback received which will then be used to adjust the students’ learning and make positive changes. This puts the focus on meaningful formative assessment such as ‘when students are involved in the process through peer and self-assessment’ (Black
Wiliam,1998). Furthermore, formative assessment will judge the students’ comprehension of each module over the period of study. Important to this research is to collate what concepts and skills the students have found to be most important while showing which ones they should have recognised. This highlights the fact of mastery of learning that by showing that they have identified concepts and skills students can progress which confidence. Various formative assessments will be completed over the students’ course of study; written and verbal feedback will be taken. This will form the bulk of my research.

When it comes to the students’ actual practice teaching, the method of research will be achieved by direct observation. This will observe those aspects of teaching that highlight clear instruction, lesson content, delivery, time, and action. Although this will be reactive observation, no judgments will be made on their teaching but this will be used as a statement of progress. Observation forms will be filled out and given to the students. Paired with each formative assessment are specific “corrective” activities for students to use in correcting their learning difficulties (Guksky, 2005, pg4). This formative assessment research will focus on the students collaborating in group activities to help their development; therefore, I must differentiate the students’ instruction, both in their initial teaching and especially through corrective activities (Bloom, 1976).

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