Classroom Based Assessment in EFL Classrooms

 

Let's stop using tests and focus on alternative forms of assessment

By Irini Renika Papakammenou

In the educational context teachers tend to assess students in order to measure what students have learnt and to evaluate their academic achievement at the end of a unit, course, semester or school year. Teachers also assess students to determine whether students have reached a goal or a level, have mastered a skill or to place students in language programs. In order to achieve all these teachers use summative assessment in which learners’ evaluation is done by comparing learning against some standard benchmarks. Summative assessments results are often recorded as scores or grades and they end up on a report card. In the EFL educational context, this type of “assessment” is often associated with “testing” for most of the teachers, learners and other stakeholders.  Most often tests are used in classes such as chapter tests or end-of-term tests but some of the most well-known and widely discussed examples of summative assessments are the standardized tests administered by states and testing organizations.

However, classroom based assessment should be more than measuring and evaluating knowledge through a test. Classroom based assessment should be used to gather information about learners’ knowledge, ability, understanding, attitudes and motivation. It should allow teachers to collect data on students’ learning progression and make real-time adjustments to the lesson, activities and tasks and teaching strategies. It should serve a formative function which can be achieved through the use of formative assessment which allows evaluation during the learning process, monitors the learning process, considers evaluation as a process and its goal is to improve students’ learning. Formative assessment can be integrated to the process of teaching and learning and it can help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work, and help students to develop self-awareness. Through the formative assessment process specific and immediate feedback is provided not through marks or grades but through verbal and written conversations. If formative assessment is used and students participate in it then achievement and motivation increase.

Formative assessment’s goals can be achieved through the use of alternative assessment techniques which are techniques beyond tests. Alternative assessment techniques can prepare students for life beyond the classroom since students use and develop other skills as well. They can vary and be adapted to the needs of the learners and reflect the goals aimed at in a particular class. Alternative assessment is also designed to understand what a student can do rather than what he/she knows and thus supports instructional practice. Students gain a lot through alternative assessment since it encourages them to think, analyze, perform, create, innovate, use their communication abilities and regulate and understand assessment.  The focus of alternative assessment is not only on the product but also the process and that is why it can be more inclusive and so more authentic.

So, what is alternative assessment and what are its characteristics? Alternative assessment provides more choices to record students work such as marking schemes, rubrics, checklists, anectodal records and observations.  Alternative modes of assessment can be group assessment, peer assessment self-assessment, projects, presentations, debates, portfolios, video or audio recordings and teacher observations to name a few.  A significant element of alternative assessment is feedback which can justify to students how their mark or grade was derived, identify and reward specific qualities in student work and guide students on what steps to take to improve. Feedback needs to be constructive (set out ways in which students can improve their work), timely (given at the time of learning) and meaningful (should target individual needs).

Being a student-centered approach, alternative assessment is ideal for many children in special needs classrooms or inclusive settings. Learners with exceptionalities find it hard to cope with a test and time constraints. Alternative assessment becomes more essential in special education since there is a need for an emphasis on the individual student and his/her educational needs. Harris and James (2006) note that assessment is most effective if students understand its purpose, what they are required to do, and the standards that are expected. So, involving students and especially students with learning disabilities in assessment practices can have a positive impact on their learning and it can improve their achievement. Alternative assessment can help because it provides a more comprehensive feedback since it can take place as a conversation or be initiated by a student. Teachers can provide students with a word processor or let the child speak and record ideas into a recorder and draw or act out to represent what he/she would otherwise have to do in writing. Finally using videos, images and video games to assess students, learners do not need to write or read as much and they can find it entertaining rather than seeing it as work.

Below are some forms of alternative assessment:

Presentations & Projects

After a unit in a book has been completed, you can assign a presentation or a project on the topic of the book to your students to assess what they have learned. Students can work in groups or pairs or individually. Presentations and projects are a great way to assess students in all language systems areas (vocabulary, grammar, discourse and phonology) and skills (speaking, reading, writing and listening).

Group/Peer assessment

Get the most out of group and peer assessment and make assessment an enjoyable activity. This type of assessment should involve peer-to-peer communication about what is good about a piece of work and how it can be improved. It can perfectly work in writing and speaking and it can be written (use a smiley face system) or spoken. It is really important to have a list of guidelines for your students such as to always make positive comments, not make personal comments, say what is good or bad and why and try to explain how it could be better.

Minute papers

It can be used at the end of a class or at the end of a unit or task. Its advantage is that it provides rapid feedback and it can be assessed easily. It can be in a form of questions or have students write a few sentences or use faces (one smiling face, one puzzled face and one sad face). 

Applying formative assessment or else assessment for learning in foreign language classrooms is an opportunity to make classrooms more inclusive and creative. It’s the continual cycle of feedback and improvement that makes learning both useful and effective when using formative assessment. The multiple uses of assessment can affect the motivation of learners and benefit them throughout their lives. •

 

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