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Most people have a good idea of what a professional development course looks like, although courses vary considerably in most aspects. However, usually one or more experts lead the course, choosing the content to cover and the order in which it is covered. The experts plan the sessions and prepare materials, such as handouts for teachers. A course has a beginning and an end and consists of a series of meetings, during which the participants cover the course content which is pre-determined by the leader(s) of the course.

The FaSMEd experience

Professional development courses were used by four partners. While University of Newcastle upon Tyne (Newcastle) and University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany) met with teachers for a one-day training programme at the beginning of the project in order to inform teachers about the project and educate them about formative assessment, Maynooth University (Ireland) and Utrecht University (Netherlands) designed a number of professional development sessions for their teachers. Maynooth University held four 3-5 hours long professional development sessions with teachers over their academic year 2014/2015. These sessions were followed up by school visits and classroom observations. Between sessions teachers shared their reflections and student work in the online learning environment Schoology. Utrecht University designed a professional development course consisting of three meetings with a cluster of schools (3 schools for the second pilot study and 25 schools for the ongoing main experiment). The meetings involved discussions about the output of the developed DAE materials with researchers and other teachers as well as generating ideas for further teaching based on the teachers’ findings.

At Maynooth University, and based on teacher feedback, classroom observations, student feedback and the interaction between teachers on an online platform, the professional development course was seen as effective in ways that:

  • Workshops were interactive and activity-based, encouraging participants to develop their own thinking on formative assessment and collective professional learning,
  • Workshops focused on pedagogical practices to enhance student learning,
  • Key readings were provided to participants to engage with research underpinning the pedagogical practices advocated in order to promote reflective professional enquiry,
  • Participants were encouraged to share practice in both a formal and non-formal way during PD events to encourage collaboration focused on learning and teaching,
  • Workshops were tailored to suit the needs of the participating schools but were at all times focused on formative assessment in order to optimise resources and structures,
  • Participants were encouraged to think and plan how they could develop formative assessment to build on existing practices and to explore new practices using a plan, do, review, redo cycle,
  • Participants were encouraged to discuss FaSMEd classes with their students and to be explicit on formative assessment skills they were developing so that students were focused on their own role in learning, and
  • Participants were encouraged to view each other’s practice and to give feedback so as to promote mutual respect, trust and support.

The efficacy of the professional development course developed by UU was evaluated based on teacher questionnaires and student performance as indexed by the use of the national Cito Mathematics Test in the Netherlands. This evaluation took place in a pilot study and in a large-scale experiment with upper-primary school teachers. The pilot study showed that teachers generally find the professional development meetings useful and develop interesting insights from assessing the students’ work revealed by the Digital Assessment Environment (DAE), but the involved teachers needed more time to use this information in their teaching than they had available at the end of the study, which was near to the end of the school year. The large-scale experiment, which took place over an entire school year, showed that teachers are able to draw relevant information from the student results revealed by the DAE, and that they are capable and eager to adjust their teaching based on the information.

Professional development course resources

Working with the
Digital Assessment Environment
FaSMEd partner:
Utrecht University
Werken met de
Digitale Toets Omgeving (DTO)
FaSMEd partner:
Utrecht University
FaSMEd PD course FaSMEd partner:
Maynooth University
Diagnose und Förderung im
mathematischen und natur-
wissenschaftlichen Unterricht
FaSMEd partner:
University of Duisburg-


Click below to read about another approach:




Formative assessment in Science and
Mathematics Education (FaSMEd)
The Research Centre for Learning and Teaching
Newcastle University