Exploring the black box: a multi-case study of assessment for learning in mathematics and the development of autonomy with 9-10 year old children.

  • Amanda O'Shea

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The research represented in this dissertation is an exploratory study of teachers’ conceptions and classroom practices in assessment for learning. In this inquiry, assessment for learning is taken as necessarily involving pupils in order to understand and reflect upon their own achievements. This study further explores indications of the development of learner autonomy, which is conceptualised in terms of self-regulation, metacognition, self-efficacy and motivation.

    The research design employs an interpretivist methodology with multiple case studies. The inquiry is intentionally exploratory, with a focus on mathematics lessons in four case classrooms of pupils aged 9-10 in one school. The bounded system of each case includes the teacher and learners as embedded participants. Semi-structured interviews of the case teachers and groups of pupils, as well as observations of the participants, give a rich understanding of how assessment for learning is conceptualised and practised. The observations and interviews of pupils, together with questionnaires, also provide evidence of the possible development of autonomy in each case.

    The evidence shows that the conceptions of assessment for learning espoused by the teachers were reflected in their understanding of their roles and responsibilities as well as their classroom practices in assessment for learning. The use of dialogue and inquiry were important indicators of control in learning for the children. Such experiences of talk and control were also crucial to the learners’ perceptions of their roles, responsibilities and personal autonomy.

    The original contribution of this research study is in its exploratory link between teachers’ conceptions of assessment for learning, their classroom practices and the possible development of pupil autonomy. A typology of assessment for learning classrooms is suggested. There are important implications for policy in the need to focus assessment for learning on the analysis of achievement rather than the provision of evidence for measurement of learning.
    Date of Award1 Oct 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Cambridge
    SupervisorSue Swaffield (Supervisor)

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