From social participation to a reciprocal practice: the role of student agency in transforming formative assessment

Year: 2016

Author: Fletcher, Anna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Formative assessment has been described as a bridge between teaching and learning (Wiliam, 2011), in which the student is a critical connector between assessment and learning (Earl, 2013). Yet, the student’s role as an active agent in this learning process has largely remained unexplored by formative assessment researchers. This paper presents explores Assessment as Learning (AaL) as a process, from a perspective of social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986). The paper pursues three goals. First, it overviews social cognitive theory and relates the three domains of factors – intrapersonal, behavioural and contextual influences – to formative assessment principles. Second, the notion of triadic reciprocality among the domains is examined in respect to students’ intrapersonal factors, curriculum outcomes and the classroom context. A particular focus is the interplay of considerations taken by students and teachers before, during and after an AaL process shaped by the self-regulated learning cycle (Zimmerman, 2011). Third, drawing on the notion of generations of assessment practice (James, 2008), an argument is presented that social cognitive theory enables a broadened understanding of formative assessment to emerge. Insight into how AaL transforms the role of students, from being participants in a social practice directed by teachers, into agents of learning in a reciprocal learning process draw on interview data and students’ planning documents from a cross-sectional study into AaL, involving 10 teachers and 256 students from years 2, 4 and 6, at a primary school in the Northern Territory, Australia. The study aimed to integrate understandings from self-regulated learning theory into formative assessment classroom practice that scaffolds students’ assessment capabilities (Absolum, Flockton, Hattie, Hipkins, & Reid, 2009). The study used external standards and elements from large-scale assessment Australian regimes such as the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) to investigate how curriculum goals can be used to individualise the AaL process. Interview data and analysis of students’ planning documents indicated that students –when given the opportunity and support– direct their learning by making novel, yet appropriate task choices as they address the targeted learning outcomes. Furthermore, findings clearly suggested that AaL served to build students’ confidence in their ability to complete tasks, resulting in students increasing their will and skills to learn.