Assessment Capable Learners in the primary classroom

In this guest post Kirsten Anne shares some great advice on encouraging self-assessment in the primary classroom. 

I am a primary school teacher and currently work in a year 3 classroom.  My students are between 7 and 8 years of age and attend an international school in Bangkok, Thailand.

I’ve been hearing the term ‘assessment capable learners’ used more and more frequently over recent years.  As teachers, we strive for ways in which we can assist students to have a sense of where they are now and where they are going.  Giving students the empowerment to do this and self-assess is an extremely effective teaching tool.  In our recent conversations between parents, teacher and learner, we asked students the question “why do you like reflecting on your learning?”  Unprompted, and about 85% of the time came the reply “because then I know what my next step is and how I can get better.”  Powerful stuff!

So, how do you go about helping your learners become assessment capable?

Primarily, they need to know what you are looking for in order for them to be successful.  There should be no second-guessing about this – learners need to know WHAT they are aiming to achieve, and HOW to achieve it. This takes on different forms depending on the subject. However, I’ll focus on Literacy here.

The ingredients learners need to include in their writing in order to be successful (the WHAT) depends on the writing focus, and will be defined by the teacher. Guiding the learners to include these ingredients – helping them realise how they can meet our ‘success criteria’, is something we’ve been working on at our school.

Marking codes

Colleagues of mine have discussed moving away from lengthy comments in books.  Who is it for?  Does it really have an impact on improving the learning experience for the student?  Not if the learner can’t read the comment—obviously not good for young learners or learners with only a basic command of English.  It’s also no use if the learner doesn’t bother to read the comments because they’ve switched off by the second line of the teacher’s feedback.

We find visual marking codes are great.  We wanted to create a marking code that was accessible not only for students to be able to understand, but also for them to use themselves.  Using symbols is a great way to do this and allows learners to communicate without words.  This technique is used with learners as young as 5 years of age, they just need training to do it.

Examples of the code

Here’s an example of the visual code in the context of writing narrative.  In a successful story, we would expect to see basic sentences, punctuated with full stops and capital letter.  The visual code for this is:

Even very young learners are capable of recreating these symbols. We might also expect to see a range of sentence types, including simple, compound (e.g. connectives including because, or, yet and so) and complex with dependent and independent clauses.  The code for this is:

C + claw = independent and main clauses (complex sentences)

S = simple sentence

C (BOYS) = compound sentences using connectives such as because, or, yet, so)

We might also choose a vocabulary focus and want students to focus on including a range of adverbs and verbs for example.  In which case, our success criteria would include the marking symbol:

Av = adverbs        V = verbs      N = nouns      A = adjectives

Creating a success criteria 

There are a variety of ways in which a ‘success ladder’ can be created.  For example:

  • Ask students to co-create it with you in the lesson.  This could be done by showing the students a good example of the task and asking them what makes it successful.  Adding these to the ladder as you go gives the learners a sense of ownership.
  • Prepare a success ladder before the lesson to give to the learners.
  • Give the learners a blank ladder and ask them to fill it in with  ingredients that they believe to be good elements of a particular writing genre.  This shouldn’t be guess work and will only be effective if your learners genuinely have an awareness of what they need to include.  This may take some training in the initial stages but will come in time.

After some careful consideration about the ingredients that must be included to ensure success, the ladder can be built.  You will end up with something similar to this:

Note: the 2A criteria is a reference to our assessment rubric – learners are required at this level to produce an ‘adjective, adjective, noun’ phrase.

It is important to note here that even though a success ladder is used, we do not use the ingredients with any form of hierarchy.  For example, your writing is not better if you include adjectives (bottom of ladder) with no full stops and capital letters (top of ladder).  Learners need to be taught this but I haven’t encountered any difficulty with them grasping this idea.

Learners are then able to write with a good understanding of how to be successful and which ingredients they need to useIt’s vital that this success ladder is displayed somewhere in the classroom that is visible to all learners.  This may be an individual ladder printed in books, it may be a class version that is on the whiteboard or it may be one that has been created with the class and jotted down by the teacher on the spot.  Whatever the method, it must be visible to every learner in that lesson.

Following the build up of skills and the chance for learners to produce their own piece of writing, it’s then time to give learners chance to reflect on whether they have been successful.  This may take place within the same lesson, perhaps as a plenary or teachers may choose to let the piece ‘go cold’ and ask learners to return to their writing the following day as a lesson starter.

This is an example of a good story introduction that I may use at the beginning of a unit of narrative writing.  In our school, we use pink to show areas that the children have done well and have engaged with the success criteria.  This satisfies the “Where am I now?” question.  You can see from the example below that the success criteria has been used to show how and also where the learner has been successful.  Time must be factored into lesson planning to allow this powerful process to take place.

But what if learners haven’t included the ingredients?  Well, we use green highlighters to assist learners answer the “Where do I need to go?” question where learners can go back, reflect on their writing and show where they could include the ingredient to ensure their success.

An example of this self-reflection might look like this:

The learner has identified that they have used capital letters and full stops.  They have also shown where they have used adjectives to describe the noun.  However, they noticed that they haven’t included a 2A sentence and in order to improve their writing, the feel that they need to add some further adjectives, which they do in green highlighter.

Why are these codes so useful?

This process serves two functions.

Firstly, teachers are given a very clear visual resource in which to see how a learner has engaged in their learning. If a learner, for example, has shown that they have identified lots of fantastic adjectives in their writing but have in fact underlined all of the verbs, then a misconception has been identified.  A teaching point has been found.

Secondly, it allows learners to have a great autonomy over their own learning.  We need to empower students to take an interest in their learning journey and this is a great place to start.  After all, we know that students learn the most from what they do, so let’s make the most of that in class.

See another post from Kirsten Anne here

Feature image:


Categories: General, Lesson Ideas, other, teacher development

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1 reply


  1. More creative displays and success criteria | ELT planning

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