Andrew Strachan


Kilsyth Academy

  • Assessment For Learning

How Does Traffic Lighting Influence Pupil Learning?


One of the main aims of curriculum for excellence is to enable young learners to become ‘confident individuals.’ (Curriculum Review Group, 2004) But for confidence to be valuable it should be built upon accurate self-awareness and genuine reflection. Self-assessment, therefore, ‘depends, in part, upon whether the student can accurately or realistically judge the qualities of their own work.’ (Brown & Harris, 2013) If a pupil is either overly confident or, as can be the case with some less able pupils, ‘don’t like to admit that they are not coping and sometimes say they understand when they do not’ then the insight gathered from pupil self- assessment can be flawed. (Black & Harrison, 2001) One such method of self-assessment is traffic lighting, which colour codes confidence levels in an area of learning ranging between red, amber and green. The benefit of this model is that it is supposed to ‘make learning visible so the student knows what to do and how to do it and the teacher knows if learning is occurring or not.’ (Hattie, 2008)

With this in mind, I adopted a homogenised version of the traffic lights system with the similar but more specific exit pass method of self-assessment in order to determine pupil perceptions of their understanding versus the actuality of their understanding. ‘There is a stream of research that has claimed that realism or veridicality in self-assessment is moot, since the self-assessment process helps students develop greater awareness of the quality of their work.’ (Brown & Harris, 2013) However, the outcomes are potentially being judged inaccurately which could render the assessment and learning moot. Despite the assertion that ‘most pupils are honest in their own assessments most of the time’ it would be prudent to enquire into the actual truth behind this and the impact this might have upon learning. (Black & Harrison, 2001) Dylan William asserts that ‘teaching for understanding, rather than rote recall, results in better learning’ so I aimed to model this enquiry around productive literacy based experiences and outcomes which permeate the whole school curriculum. (William, Lee, Harrison & Black, 2004) Wilson (2008) outlines the necessity to reinforce and re-teach outcomes in order to ensure that learning has actually taken place, rather than making assumptions based on one lesson. Therefore the model for this enquiry allowed for sequential development of key techniques and skills.

There is a school of thought which argues that ‘when self-assessments are disclosed (e.g., traffic light self-assessments displayed to the teacher in front of the class), there are strong psychological pressures on students that lead to dissembling and dishonesty.’ (Brown and Harris, 2013) It was with this in mind that I did not ask pupils to disclose or display their colour coding but I was able to discern their confidence levels at face value across the room with the post-it notes. This aimed to cut out any pressure while still enabling self-assessment.


  • To focus on the impact of introducing traffic lighting in relation to key grammatical and punctuation skillsets.
  • To evaluate the impact of this introduction on class results, as tested through individual charts and formative assessments.
  • To observe differences between pupils self-perception and the actuality of their understanding.
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