Highlights from EAL Coordinators Course (Day 5): Teacher Assessment Literacy

On the last day of the course in the morning, Constant Leung delivered a session for EAL specialist surrounding teacher assessment. According to his King’s College London pages (2014), Constant has worked for many years in second and additional language education. He is a very well known scholar and researcher in the field – a Professor of Educational Linguistics and Deputy Head of Department at King’s College in London. He is interested in the language of schooling in ethnically and linguistically diverse societies and language assessment (so obviously a great expert for our session!) He teaches on a great number of programmes at the university, such as BA English Language & Communication, MA Language, Ethnicity & Education and supervises PhD students.

He began by saying that nowadays teachers are expected to be informed about assessment. He says that, for instance, TESOL/NCATE standards for teacher education programmes (TESOL International Association, 2010) have about 12 pages on levels of knowledge required of teachers regarding assessment of learners (pp.55 to 66 of the document). Issues that are important for teachers nowadays, he says, are (drawing from his own research – see his own article Classroom-Based Assessment for Language Teacher Education (2013):

  • different reasons / purposes for assessment
  • different assessment tools (such as standardised large tests, teacher made tests for their own classes, formative assessment as part of their every-day work)
  • how useful and relevant assessment is
  • consequences of using a particular type of assessment

Constant reminds us that assessment is broadly divided into summative and formative assessment. In summative assessment, the scores of teacher-made tests reading comprehension tests, for instance, administered at the end of a given year can be used to check how much students have learned. This is also when regular teaching comes to a stop and students’ performance is checked. In formative assessment, teacher can use the results of his/her assessment to check how to help students. Here, teachers assess their students learning as part of their day-to-day practice and use their performance to plan for the future. Constant argues that the more formative assessment we use, the better it is for our learners’ education.

Now, referring to a number of scholars such as Bachman and Palmer, 2010 and Davison and Leung, 2009), he spoke of the validity of assessment: that is, to how much an assessment can be justified in terms of :

  • content validity: does it actually verify the knowledge and skills it claims to be checking?
  • what use is actually made of the assessment outcomes?
  • what consequences for stakeholders (students, teachers, parents) it may have.

Constant asserts that the National Curriculum (in England) assumes that all school children English as a mother tongue and their learning is a cumulative effect of year-on-year-built knowledge – built on mother tongue (in this case, English) assumptions. It assumes that a child will come to school from a certain background and will have a certain knowledge at a certain age and that their education has been uninterrupted. However, none of these assumptions can be applied to EAL children safely, –e.g. there are different ways of expressing politeness in different social contexts; some children with EAL backgrounds  might have  a good working knowledge of how politeness works in their first language, but they would need teaching and support to develop this kind knowledge in their English language repertoire.  He briefly spoke at this stage of how the English grammar system tends to be rather irregular and depends a lot of social conventions: for instance, Present Simple is used for football commentaries – we say, “He passes the ball,” even though the sentence is about current moment, which, logically, should be Present Continuous/Progressive. So you need to have awareness of how grammar may be influenced by conventions of use. .

Constant said that the Additional Language Competence can be divided into:

  • linguistics – e.g. vocabulary, intonation, grammar
  • sociolinguistics – e.g. sociocultural conditions of language use and being sensitive to social aspects of language use
  • pragmatics – e.g. being aware of scripts of social and classroom conversations and using language resources for specific (desired) purposes – what counts as a good essay in one subject could be a poor one in another domain.

At this stage, we moved to the stage of the session concerned with specific language assessments. First, referring to DfES, Aiming High: Guidance on the assessment of pupils learning English as an Additional Language (DfE, 2005, p.6-7). The DfE stated here that summative assessment was to be referenced to the National Curriculum assessment framework and attainment levels.  (However, since the announcement of the current changes in the National Curriculum assessment framework  a few months ago, things are likely to change.)

At this stage, we had a good look at some other approaches to assessing EAL students. We inspected (and were given some extracts from) ESL Scales (Education Services Australia, 1994), South Australia ESL Scope and Scales (year cannot be verified), McKay’s (2007) ESL Bandscales and ACARA (2014) EAL/D Learning Progression (ACARA’s page with more related resources: click this link). We looked at these systems in conjunction with NC KS2 and KS3 English (not EAL) attainment targets that are currently in operation in England for September 2014: one for Key Stage 1 and 2 (DfE, 2013) and another for Key Stage 3 and 4 (DfE, 2014). We looked at the spoken language portion for NC English – just one page for Ks2 (p.17 of the document) and even less for Ks3 (p.17 of the document). As I understand it, what students are expected to attain should inform our decisions about the validity of a chosen assessment (language) system.

As we got together to discuss in our groups the pros and cons of the two Australian assessment systems, we noticed that ESL Scope and Scales were very closely linked to the actual English outcomes: there are skills related to Text in Context and Language here, which are very specific. Whilst this might be considered as good (I found the document very difficult to read and reader-unfriendly – and wasn’t the only one who thought this), this was just for one subject (English) and, therefore, what about across the curriculum? The older system, ESL Scales, from 1994, on the other hand – divides the English language skills into Communication, Language and cultural understanding (I love this one!), Language structures and features and strategies. This system comes in 3 scales: oral interaction, reading & writing.

ACARA’s system provides characteristics of learners groups first and then divides the assessment into listening, speaking, reading/viewing and writing. It also provides short overall descriptions for the above skills first before providing lists of bullet points to consider later.  McKay’s ESL Bandscales are very different to what I’d normally expect. It provides a written-up, paragraph-based (not inside a table) descriptions of language abilities of students, a paragraph on how this student might function in an academic/school context. There are also implications for placement at this level (how much immersion vs. direct ESL teaching should be considered). Most usefully, however, it provides other staff with a sample of a learner’s writing at this stage (we were given McKay’s writing assessment pages at the course by Constant) – very helpful!

Of course, as Constant stated, none of these systems are ideal and we should choose carefully from and between them for the purposes of our own contexts.

Constant now focused on formative assessment. He first said that formative assessment is oriented towards learning itself, which makes it very distinct from summative approaches. In that, it functions alongside the Vygotskian type of thinking – think Zone of Proximal Development here, meaning that you lead your students to achievement by lending them a helping hand. With help and support, they can achieve more. He says (based on Gardner et al.’s research, 2010)that summative assessment doesn’t help – it only taps into existing knowledge, whilst formative assessment aims at providing feedback on  targets areas that need to be explain – you have to hear from other people to learn. One of his references here was Gardner et al.’s (2010) Developing Teacher Assessment – worth checking out.

Much like Steve Cooke in his session earlier in the week, he spoke of IRE (initiation – response – evaluation) type of exchanges and warned against the closing down kind of interactions and encouraged exploratory interaction. Feedback is meant to be, therefore, teacher guidance on what to learn / how to learn next. In Constant’s mind, formative assessment = dynamic assessment, i.e. representing what our learners can do in the future with the currently possessed knowledge.

Constant also said that when we carry out formative assessment, there are some other aspects we need to consider. That is, if we as teachers ask questions, what do our questions represent? We need to make sure, he says, that our feedback is useful. He says that there are three approaches to language teaching and assessment:

  • traditional grammar-based approach: mostly focus on grammar
  • constructivist approach: people need to create/construct their own answers
  • sociocultural approach: focusing on how language is used in real situations.

Constant suggests that the formative process should be:

IREF

The E-F part of the process, therefore, is taking the learner’s point of view and allows him/her to learn. Perrenoud (From Formative Evaluation to a Controlled Regulation of Learning Processes. Towards a Wider Conceptual Field, p.89, 1998, cited by Constant) says that we need to “accompany [the student] in a ‘metacognitive’ journey, in the form of a dialogue which, being anchored in an activity, separates itself to concentrate on knowledge and the learning process.”

Constant suggests, taking the above into consideration, that the essential assessment-related characteristics of a good language teacher are:

  • awareness of one’s own opinions about what learning and teaching actually is
  • ability to watch students’ tendencies to benefit from teaching
  • ability to take different approaches
  • ability to ask questions about what is to be learned and whether it’s language, content or both (Constant referred here to Schulman’s Those Who Understand : Knowledge Growth in Teaching (1986) here

So we need to ask ourselves, Constant suggested, the following:

  • how we see learning and teaching (please see how he changed the usual T&L to L&T!)
  • what we see as related to language knowledge and skills
  • what questions we need to ask when working within a subject (group work? individual work? teaching grammar and/or language?)
  • what kind of feedback we provide
  • how to ensure that our assessment has validity – i.e. looking at students’ progress (profile, portfolio of students’ work we provided support for)
  • how responsive to our learners our pedagogy is.

At the very end of this session, he noted the report done by the school leaders association NAHT in light of the fact that NC levels are to be phased out. They have come up with the following recommendations:

  • schools should approach assessment consistently across the country
  • next year (i.e. from September 2014), schools should hold on to levels whilst creating a new system of student assessment
  • students should be assessed against objective criteria – not ranked against each other
  • assessment should be based on the curriculum
  • all assessment should be moderated externally

The second bullet point here: means that you would be able to work with your school (as an EAL Coordinator if you are one) throughout this year and perhaps adapt your current EAL assessment system(s) to the needs of your school. I agree with Constant when he says that this development, lack of levels, and the ability to develop new ones, might be actually freeing you to be more creative and meeting the needs of your particular context more securely. So why not have a look at one or more of the Australian assessment systems that he mentioned to us and see how you can adapt it? I am excited! Are you?

 

REFERENCES:

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (2014)English as an Additional Language or Dialect Teacher Resource: EAL/D Learning Progression: Foundation to Year 10. Available at: <http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/EAL_D_Learning_Progression_Foundation_to_Year_10_09052014_file_2.pdf> [Accessed 19 August 2014] In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Bachman L. and Palmer, A. (2010) Language Assessment in Practice. OUP: Oxford. In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Davison, D. and Leung, C. (2009) Current Issues in English Language Teacher-Based Assessments. TESOL Quarterly. Vol.43(3). Pp. 393-415. In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Department for Education (2005) Aiming High: Guidance on the assessment of pupils learning English as an additional language. Available at: <http://www.naldic.org.uk/Resources/NALDIC/Teaching%20and%20Learning/5865-DfES-AimingHigh1469.pdf> [Accessed 19 August 2014] In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Department for Education (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Key stages 1 and 2 framework document. Available at: <https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&sqi=2&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gov.uk%2Fgovernment%2Fuploads%2Fsystem%2Fuploads%2Fattachment_data%2Ffile%2F335138%2FPRIMARY_national_curriculum_220714.doc&ei=8OHyU6rgJOzgsAS5hIKADw&usg=AFQjCNGON0FFZhZkAF_XUXBcRZkx82CW7g&sig2=7uB3aPrvULdkGXYYD9ECvw&bvm=bv.73231344,d.cWc> [Accessed 19 August 2014] In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Department for Education (2014) The National Curriculum in England: Key stages 3 and 4 framework document. Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/330327/SECONDARY_national_curriculum_FINAL_140714.pdf> [Accessed 19 August 2014] In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Education Services Australia (1994) ESL Scales. Curriculum Corporation: Carlton South Vic. In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Gardner, J., W. Harlen, L. Hayward, and G. Stobart (2010) Developing Teacher Assessment. McGraw Hill Education: Maidenhead. In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

Leung, C. (2013) ‘Classroom-Based Assessment Issues for Language Teacher Education’ . The Companion to Language Assessment: III. Vol.12(89). Pp. 1510-1519. In: NALDIC (2014) NALDIC-Bell EAL Summer School 2014.

King’s College London (2014) Professor Constant Leung. Available at: <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/people/academic/leungc.aspx> [Accessed 19 August 2014]

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