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Assessment for Learning: Secondary

Assessment for learning is at the heart of differentiation. We know that the students in our classrooms are at different places in their learning and we differentiate instruction in order to meet their needs. To do this we must know our students : where they are, what they understand, and how they learn.



We gather evidence of understanding on a daily basis, while the students are in the process of learning. This information about student learning guides our decisions about what we will do next in order to fill in gaps, clarify misconceptions and provide the kind of feedback that will help students get back on track and move forward.


Assessment for learning is:

  • built in to the daily teaching and learning process
  • non-judgmental
  • generally a quick gathering of information about student understanding
  • used to adapt our teaching to meet student needs
  • a way of better understanding student’s thinking
  • what you do with the feedback you get from a variety of instructional strategies and techniques
  • done with students to engage them in their own learning

How do we know when our students are learning ?

When teachers build assessment for learning into their daily classroom practice, they plan discussions, tasks and activities that will provide evidence of learning. There are many simple, quick and effective ways to make assessment for learning an integral part of your day.

The following examples highlight some of the ways that secondary teachers use assessment for learning in their classrooms to check for understanding, give feedback and inform their teaching. It is important to remember that assessment for learning is not the specific strategy or tool, but how the information gathered from the tool is used.

Observations and Conversations :

  Teacher Maya Dougan of Marymount Academy in Montreal, listens in on group discussions to check whether or not students are on the right track. She is able to step in when needed to clarify misconceptions or ask a question that will move students forward in their thinking. Finding time to observe students and listen to their discussions provides feedback about learning as it is happening that teachers can use to adapt learning and teaching activities to the needs of the students.


Asking Better Questions :




Andrew Adams at LaurenHill Academy in Montreal, makes effective use of questioning as part of daily assessment for learning during his lessons. For example :

  • asking questions to find out students’ starting points
  • asking a range of questions to develop understanding and deeper thinking

Andrew encouragea greater participation and deeper more thoughtful responses through the use of strategies such as:

Wait Time   Think-Pair-Share   No Hands Up   Exit Cards

Providing Effective Feedback


Charles Northey, gives feedback to his students at Laurier MacDonald High School while there is still time for them to act on it.

When?, how much?, what kind?, are all important considerations when giving feedback that will help students understand what they are doing well and what they need to work on next.

The following article by Susan M. Brookhart. provides teachers with a wealth of practical information for using feedback effectively in day-to-day assessments for learnings.


Record Keeping


Anecdotal records and checklists can help teachers record student thinking and track progress over time. With this information teachers are able to give students feedback and adjust teaching strategies to meet their needs.



Graphic Organizers and Mind Maps

  Grade 9 teacher, Mary Sauve, has her students create Mind Maps as a way of assessing what they understand about a particular concept. These Mind Maps also help students organize their thinking before starting on a project.


Building Assessement Criteria


Many teachers work with students to develop assessment criteria and build rubrics for the work they are doing.

This process helps students internalize expectations and makes expectations clear and transparent from the outset.  

For more information see Defining Excellence: Building Assessment Criteria with Kids.