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Professional Books: Outstanding Formative Assessment: Culture and Practice

Outstanding Formative Assessment: Culture and Practice

by Shirley Clarke

2014 pb 208 pages
ISBN# 978 1 471 82947 5
Item # 556

The most comprehensive of Shirley Clarke’s titles includes updated key strategies and thinking, extensive full-color examples, and more focus on whole-school development and success than in her previous books.

Best-selling author Shirley Clarke provides a wealth of high quality ideas, practical strategies, classroom examples and whole-school case studies for teachers in primary and secondary schools.

The book is clearly structured around the ways in which teachers actually teach, with QR coded web video clips to illustrate key points in action. You can access and view the video clips using a QR code reader on your smart phone, tablet, or computer.

Core sections of the book include:

  • Laying the foundations for formative assessment – establishing the learning culture, involving pupils in planning and talk partners
  • Effective starts to lessons – question and activity starts, setting learning objectives and pupil-generated success criteria
  • Developing the learning – through questioning with self-peer and teacher feedback and marking, encouraging reflection and improvement
  • Developing excellence – with a focus on writing
  • Effective ends to lessons – summarizing the learning
  • Developing a whole-school approach – stories from outstanding schools in the US and UK, including lesson study; assessment policies and staff development

“Whatever the learner’s age, the curriculum demands, the subject, the educational setting or testing arrangements, formative assessment is always relevant, as it revolves around the only focus that makes any sense: the empowerment of the learner. Once this becomes the prime focus of every teacher and pupil, with formative assessment as the driving and guiding force, outstanding achievement is not only possible, but highly probable.”
—Shirley Clarke

About the Author

Shirley Clarke is an Associate of the Institute of Education, University of London, and a leading expert on formative assessment, an education consultant in the UK, internationally, and does work periodically with teachers in the US. She is an experienced primary teacher, advisory teacher, and a popular speaker. Her courses and training for teachers, and ongoing work with her many action research teams, give her a down-to-earth perspective on day-to-day classroom realities which is reflected in all of her books.

Shirley Clarke’s books on formative assessment are published by Hodder Education in UK. Shirley Clarke’s DVD’s are published by Shirley Clarke in UK. We are honored to distribute her books and DVDs in North America.

More Books by the Author

  • Growth Mindset Lessons: Every child a learner
  • Active Learning Through Formative Assessment
  • Oral and Written Feedback from Teachers and Children
  • Targeting Assessment in the Primary Classroom: Strategies for Planning, Assessment Pupil Feedback and Target Setting
  • Unlocking Formative Assessment: Practical Strategies for Enhancing Pupils’ Learning in the Primary Classroom


I wrote my last book, Active Learning through Formative Assessment, in 2008, with a clear vision of what I wanted it to do. I have always tried to answer the needs, as I perceive them at the time, of teachers on my courses and in my action research teams. I had, in my previous books, introduced the basic principles of formative assessment as a response to the initial confusion about it; woven the elements together in whole-lesson accounts to help teachers see how the bits fitted together; written in depth about effective feedback (as it was in 2003…) and produced a book for secondary teachers. Active Learning through Formative Assessment featured hundreds of examples across the age ranges, including nursery and special schools: exactly what teachers were telling me they needed at that point.

By 2010, I was inundated with teachers asking for copies of the videoclips in my presentations, and the idea of creating a DVD began to form. I took ten teachers from my action research teams and filmed them demonstrating formative assessment in the classroom. Gradually the successful implementation of formative assessment was becoming clearer, as a range of excellent examples was shown. Now we could see success criteria being generated across the age ranges, with talk partners, self- and peer evaluation in action with 5 year olds and 11 year olds.

Last year, although tempted to write this book then, I decided to create another DVD. ‘Lesson study’ (see Chapter 11) was becoming more significant in my thinking about staff development and I believe that video is the next best thing. I found an extraordinary Inner London teacher working in challenging circumstances whose formative assessment practice is exemplary and whose children’s achievements and test results were amazing. Any in-depth study of one excellent teacher is enough to promote in-depth thinking and discussion about how the teaching impacts the learning and lead to implications for one’s own thinking about facilitating children’s learning. Videoclips from his classroom and from other teachers are provided throughout this book, illustrating key points made.

What I have learnt from my own close observation of excellent teachers and their impact on the learning is central to my own thinking and development, and I make reference to teachers and their anecdotes and strategies throughout this book.

The rationale for the book is as usual to update the key strategies, with excellent examples, but also to introduce more whole-school development examples and issues. Most of all, this book includes more of my thoughts than I have ever included before about the often complex issues involved in formative assessment. I have learnt, and continue to learn, so much in my years of experience in this field, mainly from the hundreds of teachers in my action research teams, in discussion with them, hearing their feedback and in watching many of them and their children in action. My very own lesson study experience! I am indebted to those teachers for allowing me that privilege.

I am always surprised at how far the practical strategies to fulfil the principles of formative assessment evolve each time I write a new book, and this book contains updated thinking and examples. This time, however, there have also been some shifts about our understanding of schooling. The work of John Hattie (see Chapter 1 and throughout) has been highly significant in helping us see, through his rigorous, long-term synthesis of research findings, what we have been wasting our time with and what really matters. Top of the list of effect-sizes is of course formative assessment – the single most important factor in raising achievement and enabling children to become lifelong, learners.

My books have so far all followed the same basic pattern: a journey though the various aspects of formative assessment with principles, thoughts and examples. For the first time I am linking the various elements in a different way – a way which I believe is more helpful for a teacher to work with, focusing more on the structure of a lesson.

The first chapter describes the background to formative assessment and where it is now, giving the various definitions and hopefully some cutting through them to give clarity.

The main body of the book is then split into four sections, each colour-coded for easy reference:

  • Laying the foundations, in which the conditions for pupils to be active learners, constant reviewers and self-assessors are set up: a learning culture, involvement in the planning and talk partners.
  • Effective starts to lessons, in which questioning strategies, exploratory activities and examples of pupil work are used to establish prior knowledge, capture interest, co-construct success criteria and discuss excellence. 
  • Developing the learning, in which dialogue is key, establishing and helping children articulate their understanding so far and focusing on constant review and improvement.
  • Effective ends to lessons, in which various techniques are described which help to encourage pupil reflection and find out what has been learnt so far and what needs to be rethought or developed.

The final section focuses on whole-school development, including lesson study.

There are many excellent teachers practising formative assessment in their classrooms, but in this book, for the first time, I have been able to include schools in which every teacher practices formative assessment and the school as a whole has embedded its spirit as well as the practice. A number of excellent schools share their stories and it is enlightening to see the common threads and key factors that have contributed to whole-school success. In Chapter 2 there are accounts from three schools about how they established a whole-school growth mindset learning culture. In Chapter 12, on whole-school development I have included the fascinating and inspirational journeys of three other excellent schools and included some useful examples of school documents. Those stories are rich with expertise and wisdom and should be extremely helpful to senior managers who have formative assessment as a vision for their schools.

Through all the changes in education and curriculum, it is heartening to know that formative assessment remains immune. In the UK at this moment, teachers are concerned about assessment without levels, soon to be enforced. Good formative assessment focuses around successes and improvement for each learner, against their own previous achievement (ipsative assessment), so grading or other benchmarks are irrelevant. Summative assessment summarises what the learner knows or understands at that moment – again, with or without any benchmarking. Whatever the learner’s age, the curriculum demands, the subject, the educational setting or testing arrangements, formative assessment is always relevant, as it revolves around the only focus that makes any sense: the empowerment of the learner. Once this becomes the prime focus of every teacher and pupil, with formative assessment as the driving and guiding force, outstanding achievement is not only possible, but highly probable.

Using the QR codes

The videoclip tasters throughout this book originate from Shirley’s two DVDs, which can be purchased via her website: www.shirleyclarke-education.org

You can access and view the videoclips using a QR code reader on your smartphone/ tablet. There are many free readers available, depending on the smartphone/tablet you are using.

Once you have downloaded a QR code reader, simply open the reader app and use it to take a photo of the code. The file will then load on your smartphone/tablet.

If you cannot read the QR code or you are using a computer, type the URLs into your internet browser.

Table of Contents


PART ONE: Background to Formative Assessment

1 Why do we need it and what is it ……………….2


PART TWO: Lesson Culture and Structure

Laying the foundations

2 The spirit of formative assessment in the learning culture of the school and classroom ………………..10

3 Involving children at the planning stage ………….47

4 Talk and talk partners ……………………………57


Effective starts to lessons

5 Questions and activities……………………………..72

6 Learning objectives and success criteria……………79

7 Developing excellence.., for all subjects, and beyond the success criteria for Writing……………………….95


Developing the learning

8 Ongoing questioning………………………….114

9 Feedback……………………………………120


Effective ends to lessons

10 Summarising the learning…………………………148


PART THREE: Whole-school Development

11 Lesson study: definitions and practice……………..152

12 Whole-school accounts ……………………….157

13 The impact of formative assessment, and conclusion ……194


Read the articles by Shirley Clark published in Peter Dewitt’s blog, Finding Common Ground in Edweek


 Katherine T. Smith, Quote:
“I have read the book and found it to be extremely valuable and undiscovered in our community. Specifically, I find Clarke’s clarification of the definition of formative assessment to be extremely needed. Her book provides the research to support the importance of formative assessment with clear suggestions for how and samples of student work. I will be ordering more copies for next year’s professional learning events in our district. Thank you.”

“If you haven’t read Shirley Clarke’s new book, Outstanding Formative Assessment, move it to the top of your list.

Before I began reading the book, I was trying to sort in my mind what I thought “formative assessment” was and what teachers we work with think it is. Many teachers have been led to believe it is a test or task that assesses student progress up to that point. This has little to do with Shirley Clarke’s work on formative assessment.

I was hoping this new book would bring home in a very clear way what formative assessment is. And it has!

I was happy to see a 2012 quote from Dylan Wiliam (of the well known 1998 research review duo of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam) in the first chapter of the book: “The problem is that government told schools that it (formative assessment) was all about monitoring pupil progress; it wasn’t about pupils becoming owners of their own learning. The big mistake that Paul Black and I made was calling this stuff “assessment”. Because when you use the word assessment, people think about tests and exams. For me, AfL is about better teaching.” “Assessment for Learning” (AfL) describes Shirley Clarke’s new book. When you see, Outstanding Formative Assessment, remember that it is about better teaching, not about tests and exams. If you have not read it – do. I think the book will make a great course for all teachers.”
Jim Moore
Regional Teacher Partner/Master Teacher PIMSER,
Partnership Institute for Math and Science Education Reform
University of Kentucky College of Education


 “Outstanding Formative Assessment serves as a valuable resource for K-12 educators. Shirley Clarke’s approach to the book describes a framework for effectively integrating the formative process at the classroom level. The author provides the necessary background information, numerous examples of teacher tested strategies for implementing the framework across a range of grade levels and content areas, and QR codes that access video clips of what the ideas shared in the book look like in practice. The author includes examples of strategies from her recent work in the US and in England.”
Kim Zeidler-Watters
College of Education
University of Kentucky Director of the Partnership Institute for Math and Science Education Reform 


“Shirley Clarke’s work is extremely practical — she brings the research to the classroom through her films, examples, and her clear and concise writing. I find that when I’m speaking about feedback or formative assessment these can be buzzwords or saturated constructs that elicit a sense of theoretical principles rather than sound, doable practical solutions/techniques. Shirley strikes a wonderful juxtaposition of scholarly work and practical application, but stays closer to the practical side of the things. She also doesn’t confuse the audience or go for a larger unit of analysis than the classroom, although she does go to whole school in this last book. It comes from a place of teachers working together to create a system of stronger learning. This broader realm makes sense and is, I believe, appreciated by practitioners in the field.”
Michael McDowell
Superintendent Ross School
District Ross, CA