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Involving students in assessment conversations

Lenore Adie Jill Willis

For students to be actively engaged in their own learning journey, they need to know what they are learning, why they are learning it, how to learn it, how well they are learning it, and how to take the next steps to advance their learning. These are the skills of lifelong learners that can positively contribute to their performance now and into the future. This process however is more easily said than done. Understanding some of the factors involved in supporting students to develop these skills is a start.

Adie and Willis have been working alongside teachers over the past three years analysing how they develop a common understanding of the standard required for a year level (Adie & Willis, 2013), and how they share this understanding with their students (Willis & Adie, 2014). Standards-referenced curriculum and assessment systems are based on the assumption that the standards as written text will be interpreted similarly by all those who read and apply them when teaching and judging student work. However, many studies have shown that this is not the case (Wyatt-Smith & Klenowski, 2013). Teachers bring historic understandings to their work that influence how they understand the standards statements. While discussing the standard was a step in this process, it was insufficient to ensure a shared understanding of the qualities that may provide evidence of the year level achievement standard. Even with the provision of exemplars, different understandings were evident.

It is important for teachers to develop a shared understanding of the standard from the start of teaching a specific year level cohort as this influences how they teach and work with their students. One process that engaged the teachers in deep conversations about the standard was the collaborative annotation of student work samples (from previous years’ work) or exemplars developed by the teachers (Willis and Adie 2014). Teachers, who may have been working within the same teaching team over a number of years, were initially sceptical of this process, and so were surprised when their conversations revealed that they had, at times, quite different expectations of the evidence that would demonstrate performance of achievement standards. Teachers annotated student work samples to identify the critical evidence that represented a standard of work. In the process they discussed the sufficiency of the evidence, the quality of the assessment task in allowing students to demonstrate proficiency at different levels of the standard (for example, at, above or below standard), and the strategies they could use to share this information with their students.

In systems that are based on standards-referenced curriculum and assessment, students need to have a good understanding of year-level achievement standards so that they know where they are going and be aware of what they are learning. Some of the strategies that the teachers used to develop a shared understanding of the standard included:

  1. Sharing learning intentions and success criteria with students;
  2. Sharing the annotated examples with their students;
  3. Involving students in annotating work samples against the established criteria and standards; and
  4. Employing formative assessments.

These processes of developing a shared understanding of the qualities of different standards of performance involved an on-going dialogue or a negotiation of practice amongst teachers and with their students.

As a result of this dialogue, students started to understand their strengths and areas for development as learners, and to develop personal goals to progress their learning. While the process of recording and discussing annotations took time at the beginning of the semester for the teachers, the investment had benefits for both the teachers and their students, as teaching practices were informed by a deeper understanding of the qualities that represent a standard, and teaching focussed on developing these qualities. Teachers reported that it saved them time during their busiest periods of teaching, and student performances were significantly improved as both the teacher and students had greater clarity about expectations. To truly progress this practice though will involve teachers in enabling students to develop the skills and knowledge to understand themselves as learners.


Adie, L., & Willis, J. (2014). Using annotations to inform an understanding of achievement standards. Assessment Matters, 6, 112-136.

Willis, J. & Adie, L. (2014) Teachers using annotations to engage students in assessment conversations: Recontextualising knowledge. The Curriculum Journal, 25(4), 495-515.

Wyatt-Smith, C. M. & Klenowski, V. (2013) Explicit, latent and meta-criteria: types of criteria at play in professional judgement practice. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 20(1), 35-52.