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Essential Assessment: Making learning visible to the learner

Visible learning is a term used in education, indicating the value of students being aware of what they are learning. Hattie, Fisher and Frey (2017) state visible learning has several aspects, including 'students and teachers should be able to see and document learning' (p. 14). This may seem straightforward, but the student's extended educational journey also affects many elements of the teaching and learning process. When considering making learning visible to the learner, this does not only mean on a day-to-day basis, perhaps through the setting of learning intentions or short-term goals, but where the learning is situated in a larger continuum of content or skills over a school year or several years. The advantage of the learner being aware of their learning is that they can see their personal growth in a content area.

Making learning visible to the learner can be approached in several ways. It can be at the lesson level by setting lesson learning intentions and making the lesson's focus clear for both the teacher and the student. Sometimes, these are recorded by the students, and often, reflection will occur against these intentions. Goal setting by the teacher or the student is also common, and the 'strategy of tracking student progress on specific learning goals is well supported' (p. 1, Marzano, 2010). This sometimes occurs on a lesson, weekly or topic basis. By having students aware of their learning goals and targets, it has been found that students become more independent as learners, become more active in the learning process, and identify what is important in their learning (Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2018). Learning intentions and goal setting are often short-term or topic-specific.

More recently, there has been a move to have students understand where their learning is on a larger continuum or scale. Learning progression scales have been developed (ACARA, 2018), focusing on student growth in learning rather than meeting benchmarks. The aim of using these progressions is so students can see their growth and where their learning is ‘going next’ over an extended time.

Essential Assessment supports all these processes. It allows teachers to set clear learning intentions by using the assessment data and identifying areas of misunderstanding matched against the curriculum. It provides the opportunity for student goal setting by identifying the ‘Numeracy skills that I need to learn next’ in the student interface. This forms part of the continuum or learning progression scale, as there has been a move to the use of the 'I can …' statements, which extend to encapsulate the proficiencies of the mathematics curriculum. This allows the learner to understand and demonstrate their learning around each proficiency strand from understanding, fluency, problem-solving and reasoning perspectives. Essential Assessment has always focused on growth, with indicators in the teacher reporting, and the availability of student learning progressions is similar to the documentation schools have been creating and utilising directly for student use. Thus, Essential Assessment is more than a tool for measurement; it can assist teachers in the classroom (Gibbs & Simpson, 2002) with teaching and student learning.

A recent research project with a cohort of Essential Assessment schools found schools were using various methods to create learning progression documents for students to support visible learning available for the students. Some schools used the ACARA scope and sequence charts, while others used curriculum documents. Some developed their own, using materials such as the ‘Numeracy skills that I need to learn next’. Some teachers re-wrote these statements into the ‘I can …’ format. Most schools from the research project had students highlight a printed copy of the document, often presented in table format. This was to indicate what they knew, perhaps evidenced by a pre-assessment. Students then highlight their document as they progress, indicating content and skills they have mastered through assessments, homework or classroom activities. Teachers found this allows students to see the 'bigger picture' of what they need to achieve and where they are progressing in a topic. It will also enable students to identify their achievements and celebrate their learning from a growth perspective. The highlighting was both a tactile and visual process. Some schools then used this document as a starting point for students to set goals continuously. ‘For goal-setting to be effective, it must be continuing’ (p. 4, Meader, 2000), and Marzano found 'when students track their progress on assessment using graphic displays the gains are even higher' (p. 1, 2010), which supports the process of highlighting statements in a table. Some schools had students record these statements using their Google Docs, and then teaching was targeted at specific areas. Using Google Docs made learning visible to students and the teacher digitally.

The research project with Essential Assessment schools found these different approaches to making learning visible tended to be across schools or at particular year levels, creating consistency across cohorts of students. This consistent approach supports ‘developing, monitoring and reporting on learning goals and targets will generally work best when the process is clear and common across the school.’ (para 6, Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2018). Essential Assessment works with schools to allow for a consistent approach to visible learning and values the celebration of growth.

Contact the Teaching and Learning Team at Essential Assessment at [email protected] to learn more.


Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and teaching in higher education (1), 2004 – 2005.

Hattie, J., Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2017). Visible learning for mathematics. Corwin, USA.

Meader, P. (2000). The effects of continuing goal-setting on persistence in a math classroom. National Centre for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. Retrieved from www.nscall.net/index.php@id=331.html

Marzano, R. (2010). The art and science of teaching/ when students track their progress. Educational Leadership, 67 (4).
Victorian Department of Education and Training (2018). Individual learning goals and target. Retrieved from https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/teachingresources/practice/Pages/reportsgoals.aspx

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