What do we mean by pedagogy? (Part 2) Conceptualising assessment.

As outlined in part one of this strand of posts, I argue that we should see pedagogy as an overarching concept which positions teaching, curriculum, learning and assessment as interpenetrating systems which create a complex whole, making little sense when treated separately. Here, I want to consider how assessment might relate to other elements of pedagogy in master’s level study, particularly in education courses.

The explicit link between learning and assessment has become an increasingly accepted element of pedagogy at HE level, there is even a journal given over to the role of assessment at this level. Assessment, related to both teaching and learning, should begin at the start of a module, using diagnostic assessment to gauge and understand the complexities of prior learning within a group of students. How this is achieved is not the focus of this post, although there are a number of ways in which it can be developed. The diagnosis of prior learning is crucial as the insights gained should feed into both curriculum and teaching development, particularly challenging when working with widely diverse groups of students. By doing this, pedagogy becomes to a degree emergent, developing in response to student need rather than as prescribed by tutor assumption and preference.

Beyond initial diagnostic assessment is formative assessment, a vehicle for helping students take forward their learning, particularly through the use of targeted and well considered feedback/feed forward. The use of formative assessment is well embedded in higher educational practices, but can it be taken further? Dann (2002), working in the primary education phase, takes a view that formative assessment does not go far enough in redefining the link between learning and assessment. She argues that assessment should be fully embedded within learning, describing this as Assessent AS Learning. She sees this as a natural development of formative assessment, consisting of:

– assessment whilst teaching, leading to the directing and modification of that teaching;

– assessment by teaching, derived from an interpretation of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, where once the task has been set, the teacher gauges the amount and type of help required to ensure success and modifies teaching to give the greatest chance of this occurring.

This outline begins to blur the boundary between what counts as teaching and what counts as assessment. Indeed, this view of assessment in many ways suggests that the main focus is actually the process of teaching as informal and minute-to-minute reflection and assessment to inform the emergent direction and structure of the session itself. Hence, the interface between assessment and learning becomes dynamic, complex and collaborative; student involvement in assessment becomes a feature of learning.

The suggestion from the outline above is that there should be a clear synergy between teaching, the conceptualisation of learning and feedback discourses. The table below is a synthesis of the discussion developed by Askew and Lodge (2000) which links the role and approach of the teacher, the associated conceptualisation of learning, and the resultant tone for feedback discourse. To develop a feedback system where feedback is more informal (most of the time), and becomes an embedded element of learning, where a constant dialogue takes place to aid development and progress that is dialogic and iterative, a movement towards the Co-constructive end of the spectrum is a natural trend. In contrast, at the Receptive-transmission end of the spectrum, it can become necessary for staged, written input to make the ‘gift’ of tutor knowledge worthwhile and this may translate to a seminar room dynamic where grades begin to play a major role in feedback with little associated feed forward; students are told what the correct answers should be, with the degree of success mainly demonstrated through a summative indicator. The Receptive-transmission model can become more closely aligned with students playing only a passive role in extending their own learning.


Masters level study, is in part, characterised by a drive towards increased independence and an ability to play a part in a community of inquiry. Given this intention, a Receptive-transmission approach seems out of place, and with it, more traditional forms of assessment. Instead, a more critical and appropriate approach is one which is co-constructive. But for this to be coherent there needs to be a synergy between teaching, views of learning and feedback/feed forward processes in both diagnostic and formative assessment.


Askew, S. and Lodge, C. (2000) ‘Gifts, ping-pong and loops – linking feedback and learning’ in S. Askew (ed.) Feedback for Learning, London: Routledge-Falmer.

Dann, R. (2002) Promoting Assessment as Learning: Improving the Learning Process, London: Routledge.


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