John Gulliver


This thesis relates to the debates about assessment in education that marked the final years of the 20th century. It attends to the assertion, widely made in policy pronouncements within and beyond the UK, at every level of the education system, that assessment is an integral part of teaching, pronouncements seen by some writers as rhetoric-driven and atheoretical. It focuses in particular on formative assessment, with its underlying assumption that, to be effective, teaching must match the cognitive requirements of learners. The study examines the psychological and epistemological foundations of this assertion, contends that both are problematic, and confirms that advances in theoretical understanding are required. It argues that, to secure these advances, laboratory-based investigations of tutoring must be complemented by studies of what proficient teachers do in complex classroom settings. At the centre of this work is one such investigation, a case study of one teacher's practice in relation to the humanities curriculum within an English primary school. The enquiry is in the interpretive tradition, in that the understandings developed are founded on the perceptions of the teacher involved. With regard to this teacher, the principal findings are four. Matching involves the continuous calibration of teaching action to perceptions of learners' needs within extended interaction, not discrete assessment encounters. His evaluative concerns involve fine discriminations of both thinking and feeling. What is involved is ultimately understandable in terms of his broad educational philosophy. In this sense, his formative assessment practice is integral to his teaching. In this light, it is suggested that efforts to shape an adequate theory of formative assessment that is relevant to classroom settings within a social constructivist framework may require to embrace extended teacher-pupil interaction as well as discrete assessment encounters. This points to a need for a reconceptualisation of formative assessment, placing teacher consciousness at its centre.

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