AfL – What Really Works?

formative dog

The 15 Minute Forum tonight was led by one of our Learning Innovators, PE teacher Stuart Axten.  Over the course of the year, Stuart has been introducing a variety of new ‘AfL’ techniques to his department.  They try a new one every fortnight and then assess it’s effectiveness – in terms of ease of use and impact on learning.  There has been much discussion on twitter and blogs recently about AfL – is it really useful? Is it just a gimmick? Does it actually help or impede learning?  Stuart is developing a pretty clear picture about this, having tried out a range of techniques – yes, some of them are gimmicky and not terribly high impact, but then some of them are just……good teaching.

Stuart started us off by watching Ron Berger and his now legendary ‘Austin’s Butterfly’ video:

Stuart then went on to say that to him, this video clip sums up what counts.  Having high expectations of students and then using critique methods to help students improve and strive for excellence.  Call it AfL or just good teaching.  It’s the thing that makes the difference to learning.

He then went on to describe two of the strategies the PE department have tried out, that appear to have made the biggest difference to student learning.

Independent Development Task

  •  Students must work in groups to create practices or drills that demonstrate the skill against the level criteria on the board – the steps to success.
  • Give them set number of equipment, rules, conditions or time limit.
  • Students demonstrate how the skill looks as a level 4/5/6 and 7.
  • Other groups feedback whether they think the group have successfully demonstrated the skill to that level and allow them to progress to next stage. They write the initials of the students on the board, once they have met that level.
  • Groups can suggest adaptations or progressions to help for next level – a group critique.
  • Students are encouraged to be highly specific with their critique.


  • The picture above shows how their ‘steps to success’ are recorded on the white board.
  • The teacher needs to moderate the assessments the students are making – don’t just rely on their peer assessments.
  • Question students on why they have awarded a particular level.
  • This activity has served as a good motivator.  The students like the idea of the ‘steps to success’ – and this would work equally well without numerical levels.


The Student Plenary

Great learning happens when:

  • Questioning varies to stretch the individual learner.
  • Questioning is open and dynamic and encourages students to listen and respond to each other and so promotes a collective increase in understanding.
  • Individual learners understand what is to be learned and why.

These principles have been used in the development of the student plenary:

  • Let the whole class know at the start of the lesson that someone will be leading a plenary back to the rest of the class.
  • Pick the plenary student at the end – so keeping them all on their toes during the lesson.
  • Plenary student demonstrates the skill that you have been teaching during the lesson. Insist on excellence here.
  • At each point they ask a random student why each teaching point adds to the success of the skill e.g. “Why must my weight be on my back foot in preparation for the smash?”
  • Student can build in deeper level questioning by asking how the skill contributes to effectiveness in matches/games e.g.  “What impact will the drop shot have in game situations?”…..  “What is the purpose of the long serve?”… “Why/How will this increase your opportunity to outwit your opponent?”
  • Students can put hand up and add any points the plenary student missed or ask questions about the skill to draw out purposes/ skill developments or tactical uses at the end.
  • Teacher can add final comments if needed.


  • Students can give incorrect information on purpose and students have to correct when they think the wrong answer has been given.
  • Students can explain the impact of the teaching point without saying it and let ‘audience’ guess what teaching point they are explaining.
  • Plenaries given in multiple groups with multiple plenary students.

Purpose of student plenaries

  • Engages all pupils as anyone may be asked a question about the skill.
  • Encourages students to ask and answer own questions – and often students come up with great questions.
  • Helps teachers gauge how well students understood the lesson – so informs planning for future learning.
  • Can stretch pupil knowledge through deeper questioning.
  • Develops reflective thinking of the task.
  • Develops confidence and leadership roles in front of peers.
  • Create a sense of achievement.




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