Assessing when to give assessment!

Judging the quality of a student’s level of English can be a daunting task for teachers and strike fear into the hearts of students, who, like most sensible people. hate to be judged, especially on their mistakes. For teachers, we are always asking ourselves when should we carry our assessment, how should we do it, and what exactly are we looking for in order to give a kind of score or opinion. Let’s break those three important questions down.

When should we carry out assessment?

There are two main schools of thought regarding assessment: Summative assessment and formative assessment. 

Summative assessment is usually carried out towards the end of the course. It is designed to produce a ‘summary’ of what the student has successfully learned during their time with you. An example of this is an end of course test. Summative assessments can be very valuable, as tests are usually comprised of the material a student is expected to have seen before and are therefore connected to the learning aims you have set during each class. Another good point is that they are usually very comprehensive, with sections on listening, reading, writing, speaking and grammar and vocabulary.

Formative assessment is carried out throughout the length of the course. The idea is that you are ‘forming’ an assessment week by week or month by month and gathering evidence until you have the completed assessment of the student. An example of this could be assessing regular presentations students make in class and sharing your feedback with your students so that they improve every time. This is the main reason why formative assessments are considered very valuable, as the student plays a more participative role in their assessment – they know the assessment criteria and they receive feedback in order to improve.

In your classes you are probably doing a little bit of both – giving short quizzes, setting writing assignments with feedback and end of unit tests (all formative assessments) and then in the middle and end of the course you are giving a much larger test to assess how much a student has learned (summative assessment). All of these are extremely important in order to help your students recognise strengths and needs and to motivate them to achieve their goals.

A final benefit teachers, students and parents can select is official exams, such as the Pearson English International Certificate. This method provides a full picture of a student’s ability when compared to other English speakers worldwide. It’s extremely useful for universities and employers, and the Pearson English International Certificate not only provides students with a certificate, but also includes a deep dive into the results so students can continue to assess themselves and learn from their mistakes. Finally, this exam also offers student’s the option to take the test in the comfort of their own homes, which fits perfectly with a busy and demanding world and can compliment the English classes they are in.

How should we be integrating assessment into our teaching schedule?

It does depend on the length and purpose of your course, and mathematically thinking about time and material can help us make an informed decision. You have to calculate the time you have in order to teach the materials and then see what time you have left to give assessment and feedback. From there, you can look at your course book and identify tasks where formative assessment would be valuable and when to implement summative assessments.

Depending on the method of grading work and giving feedback for formative assessments, we can spend more time or less. For example, if you are a lover of technology you can audio record feedback for students to listen to on your class portal, rather than write it out every time. You can use writing corrections codes in order to avoid complex written feedback in writing assignments, for example:

Students can be given the answers to an end of unit test and grade themselves or their partner’s work. If you have a digital course book, very often the software allows you to set tests and assess students’ progress. For example, the new Pearson English Connect has the ability for teachers to see continuous progress of their students as they work through the course book, work book and extra activities. This is valuable data to collect and know where your students’ strengths and needs lie.

What exactly are we assessing?

Before giving any task to students, we should be clear about what we are assessing, and the criteria for success. It vastly helps students to complete a task well if they are also told what you will be assessing them on. For a grammar and vocabulary end of unit test, it’s simple enough to tell students you are assessing them on knowing the correct answer and how to spell it. For a skills based activity, for example a speaking activity, it’s a good idea to tell students your criteria, otherwise students do not know what they need to work on, and criticism can seem personal. Imagine the speaking task is to tell an anecdote to your partner. Our criteria can be (but not limited to) the successful use of linking phrases to tell a story, good body language with their partner and the correct use of past tenses. Putting this criteria on the board before students start the task helps them to visualise success, and also encourages our students to self-assess. As the teacher, you also have the opportunity to focus on just one or two criteria or add more. Finally, do explain your scoring system to the students if you are going to implement one, and be sensitive to cultural differences regarding grades and what they mean in the main school – for example, an 7 out of 10 may seem like a great score to you, but culturally it may seem like a ‘fail’.

The Importance of student self assessment

The world in general is moving towards the idea of students being able to critically and fairly self-assess themselves as a future life skill. The ability to recognise strengths and weaknesses and further improve on them rationally will help students to obtain the life goals they are striving towards. They learn to listen to and trust their own voice rather than relying on outside voices. Therefore, teaching students how to self-assess is as important as ever. This does not happen automatically, and teachers need to guide students in learning how to self-assess. It is definitely not a time-saving exercise for the teacher, initially. You have to show plenty of examples and ways to self-assess in order for students to find the process useful. An example of the stages of implementing self assessment is taken from James H. McMillan and Jessica Hearn’s article:

The most effective form of student assessment is not to for teachers to create a checklist in advance and then students apply the criteria to themselves, rather student’s opinions on what they think is fair to assess should be included. It’s a two-way negotiation. Whichever method you choose, it needs to be fully implemented across all levels and classes within an academic institution, not just within your own class.

Some problems we face when students self-assess are the fact that lower performing and less experienced students tend to overestimate their achievements. Students may also resist self-assessment, being too shy or perceiving assessment and grading to be the teacher’s job. Finally, issues can arise if students’ self-assessments are not consistent with peer or staff assessments. However, the more you implement self-assessment, they more natural it becomes for the students.

Assessment is a wonderful tool for teachers and students so do take the time to implement it regularly in your lesson plans and help your students to successfully self-assess. If you’re looking for a tool that gives teachers and students evidence and follow-up on how students are really progressing in their English skills and proficiency, Pearson’s Benchmark Test could be useful for you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in knowing more about a complete assessment journey, you can see what else Pearson proposes here.

If you would like to read more about assessment you can read Michael Brand’s blog post on digital assessment here.

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