What does Assessment for Learning have to do with student wellbeing?

My recent involvement in a project that focuses on student wellbeing has led me to consider the ways in which Assessment for Learning strategies provide structure and support for this important work of schools and teachers.

When at school, students identify primarily as learners, and so their engagement with learning is a key ingredient in the creation of their wellbeing.  Without engagement, students lack motivation; without motivation it is difficult for them to experience success in their learning – and lack of success can lead to issues of self-esteem and to negative behaviour.

There are many positive ways in which schools seek to promote students’ engagement with their learning, and the use of Assessment for Learning strategies by teachers in the classroom is one of them.

The explicit communication of expectations promotes student understanding, so therefore the strategy of sharing learning intentions and success criteria is an important one.  If students know what it is that they are expected to learn, and know also how they to tell whether or not they have been successful in their learning, then they are much more likely to be motivated.  They are much more likely to be motivated than those students who do not have that knowledge and who, as a result, feel that their learning is in the hands of arbitrary teachers who might or might not approve of what they  have done.  They know where to direct their efforts and are far less likely to find that they have been ‘on the wrong track’.

The use of effective teacher feedback provides a positive recognition of what students already know, understand and are able to do, and therefore also helps to promote self-esteem.  The students are able to see that their efforts have ‘paid off’.  That same effective teacher feedback helps students to see where there is a need for improvement and, importantly, offers specific advice about how to achieve that improvement.  The students are supported and scaffolded to the next stage. Effective teacher feedback is an important element in building a positive learning relationship with students.

When conducted in a classroom in which there is a positive collaborative culture, peer feedback further enhances student engagement.  Supported by their peers, students are less fearful of making mistakes, more connected to others, more engaged and more likely to contribute positively themselves.

In its broadest sense, self-assessment helps students to understand themselves as learners, to recognise how they best learn and to analyse their progress and needs as learners. Combined with the encouragement of a growth mindset that appreciates that intelligence is not a fixed commodity but one that develops with effort and ‘exercise’, this Assessment for Learning strategy complements the social and emotional understanding that is necessary to promote wellbeing.

Using these Assessment for Learning strategies in the classroom not only serves to improve student achievement, but also to reinforce all the other practices undertaken as part of the whole-school approach to the creation of student wellbeing.

Toni Glasson is the author of Improving Student Achievement, A Practical Guide to Assessment for Learning, Curriculum Press http://www.curriculumpress.edu.au/