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Towards learner autonomy : an assessment for learning approach

By Jillian Ellen Willis


Using Assessment for Learning (AfL) may develop learner autonomy however, very often AfL is reduced to a set of strategies that do not always achieve the desired outcome. This research adopted a different approach that examined AfL as a cultural practice, situated within influential social relationships that shape learner identity. The study addressed the question “What are the qualities of the teacher-student relationship that support student learning autonomy in an AfL context?” Three case studies of the interactions of Queensland middle school teachers and their classes of Year 7, 8 and 9 were developed over one year. Data were collected from field notes and video recordings of classroom interactions and individual and focus group interviews with teachers and students. The analysis began with a close look at the field data. Interpretations that emerged from a sociocultural theoretical understanding were helpful in informing the process of analysis. Themes and patterns of interrelationships were identified through thematic coding using a constant comparative approach. Validation was achieved through methodological triangulation. Four findings that inform an understanding of AfL and the development of learner autonomy emerged. Firstly, autonomy is theorised as a context-specific identity mediated through the teacher-student relationship. Secondly, it was observed that learners negotiated their identities as knowers through AfL practices in various tacit, explicit, group and individual ways in a ‘generative dance’ of knowing in action (Cook & Brown, 2005). Thirdly, teachers and learners negotiated their participation by drawing from identities in multiple communities of practice. Finally it is proposed that a new participative identity or narrative for assessment is needed. This study contributes to understandings about teacher AfL practices that can help build teacher assessment capacity. Importantly, autonomy is understood as an identity that is available to all learners. This study is also significant as it affirms the importance of teacher assessment to support learners in developing autonomy, a focus that challenges the singular assessment policy focus on measuring performance. Finally this study contributes to a sociocultural theoretical understanding of AfL

Topics: assessment for learning, autonomy, formative assessment, learner identity, sociocultural theory, teacher–student relationships
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2011
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