Rethinking formative assessment from a sociocultural perspective : a practitioner investigation in a history classroom

Bird, Michael John (2012). Rethinking formative assessment from a sociocultural perspective : a practitioner investigation in a history classroom. EdD thesis The Open University.



This thesis investigates and analyses the practice of formative assessment, or assessment for learning (AfL) in a secondary school context. It is oriented from a personal account of my practice, both as a researcher and a teacher and charts the challenging journey of change in both. Assessment for learning (AfL) as it was presented in staff training at my school did not engage pupils in my history classes. This experience defied the recommendations of those who claimed that greater learner autonomy and better results could be achieved using it (Black et a l2003; Black and Wiliam, 2006a). My department linked AfL to summative test performance so that faults by individual students could be identified and targeted. This was a view of formative assessment that ran counter to' what many researchers working in AfL intended. Lesson observations, interviews with staff and pupils in the Drama Department, which the school held up as a model of best AfL practice, revealed that this was a common approach which produced similar results.

Nevertheless, observations of practice in drama did reveal a more spontaneous and emergent form of formative assessment embedded in pupils' and teachers' interactions and dialogue. It appeared much more purposeful in terms of pupils' learning but it remained unrecognised by teachers and school leaders. The thesis explores this conundrum by establishing what is problematic with the enactment of the practices advocated at institutional level and seeks to understand formative assessment based on sociocultural learning theories, which view learning as situated and social. It uses tenets distilled from the theories and observed practice to inform how similar conditions could be created that would enable a formative assessment dialogue that engages pupils in their learning to emerge in the subject of history. The main study employs a sociocultural action research design taking account of Rogoff's three planes of analysis and foregrounding the interactions in the history settings to explore the intervention in my practice to generate a formative learning discourse. Detailed analysis of interactions and dialogue within classroom settings and interviews with pupils focused on the impact of changes and lessons learned.

The findings from this investigation suggest that the embedded version of formative assessment that stresses its use during engagement in learning tasks rather than after them emerges spontaneously given certain pedagogical shifts in orientation and practice. These shifts
comprise, firstly, viewing subject disciplines as sets of ways of thinking rather than as collections of knowledge items. Secondly, that the teacher pupil relationship needs to be one where the pupils are treated as competent and knowledgeable rather than one which emphasises the teacher as the source of all knowledge, Thirdly, that the view of knowledge interchange within classroom interaction needs to be widened so that the traditionally privileged individual explicit version of knowledge is balanced by recognition f the importance of tacit individual as well as explicit and tacit collective knowledge (Cook and Brown, 1999). Finally the thesis documents the extent of change and challenge teachers face to develop practice in which 'moments of contingency' are capitalised for the formative benefit of both teachers and pupils.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions