Before I begin, I just want to wish everyone across the world a happy new year and I hope that 2017 is a year full of wonderful experiences.
This post aims to tackle the point of assessment and what is its purpose. This is a point that has been researched and discussed countless times but I just want to make a point of how in reality, it should be a simple process that benefits both the teacher and the student. Effective evaluation and assessment are key aspects of a teachers working life, but there are many questions about how exactly to go about it. In the UK we have set standards in The National Curriculum for Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) and in Spain we have the ´Criterios de Evaluación de inglés/frances´. Both of these systems have a margin of flexibility which I see as a fundamental part of the process and also they both highlight the importance of motivation and enjoyment, but a point I really want to make is about the way students are assessed and how our teaching is evaluated.
The first point to understand is the difference between evaluating and assessing. Effective evaluation and assessment is a continuous process. It’s not simply something that’s done at the conclusion of a unit of study or at the end of a lesson. Effective assessment and evaluation are integrated into all aspects of the curriculum, providing both teachers and students with relevant and useful data to look at progress and determine the effectiveness of materials and strategies. The difference is in what is being looked at. EVALUATION reviews the program of study and teaching strategies, evaluation is a judgment by the instructor or educational researcher about whether the program or instruction has met its Intended Learning Goals based on the information collects (normally from assessments or lesson observations). Whereas assessment is focussed on the students and how they achieve the learning objectives. ASSESSMENT is the collection of data to monitor the success of a program or course in achieving intended learning outcomes for students. It is a good idea to assess students before instruction to get a baseline of what students know (initial assessment). Assessment is used to determine what students have learned (outcome) and the way they learned the material (process).
It is essential for teachers and students (the parents of our students in many cases) to understand that not all assessments in language learning should be written. This is a terrible way to assess as assessment needs to be varied and incorporate at least the 4 main components of language (reading, listening. Speaking and writing). Speaking and listening skills are difficult to assess due to time constraints but they need our (the teacher´s) attention. It is not the easiest thing for teachers to explain because there are aspects of language that can be difficult to measure and/or even define. Key issues that I feel need to be incorporated into assessment are participation, motivation and enjoyment. These are integral factors in the learning of a language and need to be considered. As I have said before, some aspects of language are difficult to measure but as quoted by Albert Einstein “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”.
Teachers need to be clear with the different ways that they assess and evaluate. This should be an ongoing process and teachers should always be looking for improvement, both in their teaching strategies and the degree to which their students achieve the set learning goals. My mentor at university always used to tell me that there is no such thing as a bad student, what he meant that with the correct teaching strategy, any student can achieve their potential. A key part of evaluating and assessing is to be positive in the process, I have previously touched on this in 19. Reflexive Teaching – How can I improve?. What teachers need to be aware of is the different ways of assessing their students to get the best out of them and inform them of their progress.
The two main ways are as follows:
Analytic scoring defines and separates the characteristics of an assignment into parts, allowing the scorer to single out exactly which aspects are strong, and which ones need improvement. The advantages of this system is that students have a clear idea of which aspect of language they need to improve and also how they can improve it. The negative points include preparation time (for the teacher) and the number of assessment points being confusing. If the teacher needs to specifically break down every piece of work that they are going to evaluate it supposes two main problems. One, it takes a long time to prepare and find exactly the correct level to evaluate at and also as there are many different points, language learners will find it difficult to take in everything and complete the task.
Holistic grading is the most commonly used form of evaluating writing in ESL. Although holistic scoring does lay out specific criteria just as the rubric for analytic scoring does, evaluators should not assign a score for each criterion in holistic scoring, but instead, as they read, take into account the strengths and weaknesses among the various criteria to assess the success or effectiveness of a piece of writing. This voids the case of negative marking systems (deducting points based on errors) but the reliability of it can be questionable. “Writing in ESL is often evaluated in English programs through the use of holistic grading of writing samples…, this procedure is not without its problems. Of the major problems, reliability-both inter-related and intra-related is the most troublesome” (Hirsch 1977). The issue being that almost all evaluation forms are subjective and can vary depending on the evaluator. A simple method to counteract this issue is double marking which can be found in various universities or language schools throughout the world.
So, to sum up. Teachers need to evaluate their teaching strategies to constantly improve them and adapt to their student´s needs. Also, language teachers have to assess pupils in the four different skill areas on a variety of learning topics and situations to make sure that students are clear on how they are progressing and what they need to do to improve their speaking, writing, listening and reading skills. It is important to let students know how they are progressing without demotivating them with bad grades or unachievable objectives. All of this is much easier said than done, due to time constraints and the sheer amount of students or volume of content that us teachers are put under pressure to cover.
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