What happens when teachers work with assessment resources that are introduced to schools, accompanied by expectations of instructional change? This question was the focus of my article in the Curriculum Journal, where I examined how teachers collaboratively approach formative assessment resources.
Assessment for Learning (AfL) has been prominent within educational policy following Black and Wiliam’s publication Assessment and Classroom Learning (1998). As a consequence, teachers worldwide have been introduced to new assessment practices aimed at supporting student learning. However, we know from existing research that the realisation of AfL in specific school contexts varies significantly (Hume & Coll 2009; Marchall & Drummond 2006). In my article, I examined one of the factors that contributes to this variation: teachers’ recontextualisation of assessment resources.
The analytical and creative work that this requires of teachers is often overlooked
When teachers are introduced to new pedagogical resources, these resources can’t simply be ‘put to use’. For example, assessment criteria and rubrics need to be adapted to particular subjects, student groups, tasks and instructional purposes. This may seem like stating the obvious. However, much policy discourse appears to assume that teachers are simply “implementing” educational reforms and strategic initiatives. The reality is much more complex: teachers have to engage in significant ‘translation’ work to construct relations between generic resources and particular instances of practice. The analytical and creative work that this requires of teachers is often overlooked. This is problematic, since this type of work is important for how new pedagogical resources are realised in the classroom. Here I’ll present a few characteristics of this work, based on observations of different teacher teams who were working with AfL-related resources:
First, the teachers had to explore the different meaning potentials and use scenarios associated with new assessment resources. This involved considering how these resources could support students’ learning processes, their appropriate conditions for use, and how they challenged existing forms of practice. This exploration was an important point of departure for the subsequent process of making specific adaptations to the resources.
Second, the teachers had to adapt the characteristics of assessment resources to support their purposes. For example, assessment criteria had to be adapted to a given instructional task, the educational level of student groups, and particular school subjects. Sometimes this implied minor adaptations, at other times the assessment resources were radically reshaped. The consequences could be a renewal of existing ways of working, or the resources could simply be adapted to protect long established classroom practices.
Third, the teachers had to consider what kind of responsibilities were associated with the new assessment resources, both for themselves and their students. Previous research has documented how the introduction of AfL typically involves a new division of labour within the classroom (Webb and Jones 2009). Tasks such as formulating assessment criteria and designing templates for providing formative feedback involves careful consideration of what kind of expectations should be placed on students and teachers, and how they should be communicated.
Finally, the resources had to be validated against other aspects of the teachers’ existing practices. For example, the new resources had to be aligned with the curriculum, legal guidelines, the teachers’ conceptualisations of students’ learning processes, and the prevailing norms and values that governed the teachers’ work. This functioned as a form of quality assurance process as the resources were prepared for use with students.
Based on these findings, I’d like to highlight three implications. The first is that this kind of creative and analytical work with new pedagogical resources challenges the linear notions of reform implementation frequently implied by policy discourses. New resources for practice are not ‘implemented’, they are reshaped and recontextualised by teachers as they enter new settings – which they have to be, if they are to have instructional value.
The second point is that increased attention should be paid to this kind of work as an important area of teachers’ practice and professional jurisdiction. Teachers’ recontextualisation of pedagogical resources cannot be viewed as a ‘distortion’ of reform intentions. On the other hand, not all recontextualisation processes have desired outcomes. Therefore, we need to focus more attention on how these processes are played out, the factors that inform them, and the consequences they produce.
teachers are not simply ‘receivers’ but rather producers of professional knowledge
Finally, these processes emphasise how teachers are not simply ‘receivers’ but rather producers of professional knowledge. Recontextualising pedagogical resources is, to a great extent, about reshaping certain forms of knowledge in the light of other forms of knowledge. From that perspective, teachers’ work with recontextualising pedagogical resources is also a question of exercising professional agency and autonomy.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and Classroom Learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7-74.
Hermansen, H. (2014). Recontextualising assessment resources for use in local settings: Opening up the black box of teachers’ knowledge work. The Curriculum Journal, 25(4), 470-494.
Hume, A., & Coll, R. K. (2009). Assessment of learning, for learning, and as learning: New Zealand case studies. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 16(3), 269-290.
Marshall, B. & Jane Drummond, M. (2006). How teachers engage with Assessment for Learning: lessons from the classroom. Research Papers in Education, 21(2), 133-149.
Webb, M. & Jones, J. (2009). Exploring tensions in developing Assessment for Learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 16(2), 165-184.