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Assessment for learning in action in the classroom

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Author: Michelle Bambawale

Formative assessment or assessment for learning is a familiar term in education. Most teachers know the theory but struggle with the practice. I felt the same, till I took this Assessment for Learning Masters’ class, and experienced it firsthand.

For the first class, we had to read an article (Black, 2009) on formative assessment and were encouraged to posit our own theory. I did my homework, thought I had understood the concept and was ready for the teacher to explain it to us in class. Much to my surprise, she put us in groups and told us to discuss our ideas with each other, compare notes and see if we agreed or disagreed. I did not want to listen to what my peers thought! I just wanted to listen to what the teacher had to say. I wasn’t ready for either autonomy or peer learning.

Activating students as instructional resources for one another and activating students as owners of their own learning

I tried to ask the teacher questions directly, she guided me through the process of taking control of my own learning and peer learning, she asked questions like: ’What does your group think?’, ’Have you asked your peers?’ ’What do you think?’ I was required to redirect my attention to the group and construct my own learning based on the reading and the discussion. I felt very frustrated after this first class and hoped things would change, and we would be back to a lecture format. They did not.

For the next class, the reading was quite challenging, hence I really hoped the teacher would explain, it was on the power of feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). She used a jigsaw reading in the classroom for us to discuss and understand the article. Left with no option and no teacher teaching, I decided to focus and slowly realised that I was learning from my peers.

Eliciting evidence of learners’ achievement

After about four classes, we were given an assignment to write a short paper on what we thought assessment for learning was and how we could use it. I had to push myself to reflect on the class and analyse the ideas and strategies used and how they had been effective. I was beginning to develop my own ideas, beliefs and theory on assessment for learning. I was learning from my peers and through self-reflection.

Providing feedback that moves learning forward

Over the course we worked on goal setting using the following steps:

  1. Setting personal goals: this was an individual activity as everyone was at a different place in their learning and also had different goals for themselves.
  2. Finding strategies to reach our goals: for me, these included reading related research papers, watching videos and discussing with my peers.
  3. Providing support: the teacher used several techniques like wait time, pair and share, and exit slips.
  4. Providing feedback which was timely, focused and precise and deepening learning by asking probing questions and suggesting readings.
  5. Reflecting on progress to develop self-assessment skills.

On reflection, I realised our teacher had used all the strategies for formative assessment in action in the classroom and I had learnt them through experience. I encourage you to do the same: reflect on your own teaching practice and try these strategies in your classroom. Empowering learners to take control of their own learning will enable them to do better and feel better about their own learning, just like I did!

Useful links:

Some ideas for self and peer assessment in the language classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/jvl-narasimha-rao/self-assessment-peer-assessment

Easy assessment for learning ideas you can use

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning-activities-0

More ideas on Assessment for Learning

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning

Read how to run a jigsaw reading in your English classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw-reading

Watch Dylan Wiliam elaborate on the five strategies discussed here in this blog, from his book Embedded Formative Assessment

www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3HRvFsZHoo

Read Black and Wiliam’s original research paper ’Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment‘ to understand how assessment for learning can work in the classroom.

www.rdc.udel.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/InsideBlackBox.pdf

Bibliography:

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press. Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.

Black, P. a. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability (formerly: Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education).

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Conferences for professional development

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Authors: Amy Lightfoot, Adi Rajan and Deepali Dharmaraj

Conferences are a great way to collaborate, learn from peers and meet colleagues from across the globe. It is also an opportunity to present your own research and learning thus sharing with others. IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference, held annually, is one such example that brings teachers from across the globe together. It’s a key event in the professional development calendars of many teaching professionals and an opportunity to attend or present at the IATEFL conference can be a significant career milestone.

This year’s conference was held in Liverpool in the first week of April and had over 500 talks, workshops and sessions over a four-day period. Around 3000 delegates from over 100 countries met and shared ideas through these scheduled sessions as well as social events such as quizzes and pecha kucha presentations organised in the evenings. A popular exhibition takes place alongside the conference, giving delegates an opportunity to engage with ELT publications and institutions. The exhibition is also the venue for the IATEFL Careers Fair and a series of pop-up presentations on topics ranging from becoming a freelancer to presenting at IATEFL for the first time.

There has been a clear evolution in the IATEFL conference in the last decade, becoming more diverse and inclusive. This is evidenced by the election of the association’s first president from Africa – Dr Harry Kuchah Kuchah from Cameroon. As he recently posted on Twitter, ‘IATEFL is increasingly inclusive to teachers working in the global south [and this] is something to celebrate. I’m definitely interested in pushing this on because it’s been long overdue and very few thought it was a problem’.

This inclusivity has two key effects: first, it enables teachers from diverse contexts to benefit from the professional development on offer at the conference and through its Special Interest Groups. Second, it provides opportunities for teachers to network with peers from around the world, potentially establishing collaboration between their students as well.

We’d like to recommend some talks from the conference if you weren’t able to attend:

Teacher empowerment: leaving the twilight zone by Paula Rebolledo

This insightful plenary drew on research from general education literature to demonstrate a link between empowered teachers, effective teaching and learning outcomes. Rebolledo explored six dimensions that play a role in empowerment: impact, professional growth, autonomy, self-efficacy, status and decision making. Within this framework, she reiterated the importance of teachers making their own decisions about their professional development and encouraged institutions and associations to go beyond talking about empowerment, to practising it in meaningful ways.

British Council: Is English teaching inclusive? Do we practise what we preach?

Inclusion was one of the recurring themes at the conference this year and the British Council’s signature event explored an integrated approach to inclusive practices through policy, educational culture and classroom practice. The speakers at this event included Maha Khochen-Bagshaw, Varinder Unlu, Fiona Robertson and David Crabtree who presented best practices from different contexts and prompted an engaging participatory discussion with the audience on the possibilities and challenges of adopting inclusive practices.

Developing teachers and enabling reform and internationalisation in higher education

ocus on teacher development has always been an important part of the IATEFL conference and this year was no different. Of interest to professionals who work in teacher education was a talk by Zhanna Sevastianova from the British Council in Ukraine and Simon Borg who explored findings from a five-year teacher development programme at 32 Ukrainian universities. They identified practical ways of enhancing the teaching of English as a Medium Instruction (EMI) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at the tertiary level.

Future directions in ELT: where are we headed?

Finally, the concluding plenary featured an Indian speaker, Amol Padwad. This talk was by a panel of speakers from different contexts and areas of expertise and Dr Padwad was joined by Mercedes Viola who specialises in inclusive practices, Katherine Bilsborough who is a materials writer and Evan Frendo who is one of the joint coordinators of the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group. These four speakers looked at the future of ELT from very different perspectives. Dr Padwad spoke about the English teacher of the future, suggesting he or she would still be a human being and probably a non-native speaker who is multi-skilled and navigates technology effectively.

Useful links

 

Plantation Primary photo (002)Photo: The South Asia IATEFL delegation visits Plantation Primary

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The criticality of critical thinking in the classroom

written by Girish Mulani and Soumen Das Choudhury, Freelance Training Consultants, British Council 

Why do we have brakes in a car? Take a moment and try to answer the question before you read further.

Here are some answers from a class of teenagers:
To stop the car.
To slow it down.
To prevent accidents.

Were these some of your answers? All of them are correct but one may surprise you: So that you can drive fast!

When explored further, this unusual answer responds to another question: What is the real purpose of a car: to drive it or to stop it? And that’s how critical thinking works.

Identified as a 21st century skill, critical thinking can be defined as the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you. [1] In other words, it is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. [2]

Often closely associated with problem solving, these skills promote self-directed thinking that produces new and innovative ideas and that solves problems. They are also about reflecting critically on learning experiences and processes, and about making effective decisions. [2]

The process of critical thinking

Critical thinking can be divided into seven stages:
1. Formulate the question clearly and precisely.
2. Identify the purpose, reasons, goals and objectives of what needs doing or answering.
3. Gather information, facts, data, evidence, experiences about the problem from various sources.
4. It’s also a good idea to get different points of view.
5. Distinguish between facts and assumptions / opinions.
6. Analyse and try to find similarities between similar incidents in the past.
7. Conclude and decide on the actions to be taken or opinion to be formed

Critical thinking in the classroom

Very often as teachers, we feel the pressure to know all the answers and to have all the solutions. However, in our experience of being teachers and teacher educators, this has been the most liberating aspect of our practice. When we focus on developing the curiosity of learners to explore and question, it’s not up to us to have all the answers – it’s up to them! We delivered a workshop at the recent ELTAI conference where we demonstrated just how this could be done. Using ‘fake news’ as our topic, we showed teachers how simple learner training can help young people today discern the reliability of all the information that is thrown at them on a daily basis.

These questions can help teachers be more purposeful in promoting critical thinking with their learners:

  • How am I directing learners in the classrooms to think beyond the obvious?
  • What should I do to hone their skills to think beyond the textbook?
  • How can I adapt the syllabus to promote critical thinking?
  • And am I, in fact, asking questions to make them think at all? If yes, what are those questions?

 Resources

  • Improve your own critical thinking skills by doing free Sudoku puzzles. You can pause, print, clear, modify difficulty level and ask, ‘How am I doing?’ in the middle of the puzzle.
  • Encourage your learners to create their own stories based on current events or topics using StoryboardThat.
  • The Critical Thinking Workbook, available as a free download, helps you and your students develop mindful communication and problem-solving skills with exciting games and activities. As a paid support, there is also a teacher’s workbook.
  • For teachers, watch this sample lesson on encouraging critical thinking with the help of the map of the world.
  • For a paid course, Business Result, published by Oxford University Press, comes with interesting case studies at the end of each unit. Except for beginners, there is  one for each level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
  • Preparing charts on a given topic, using song lyrics for subjective interpretation, giving project work, analysing simple situations and showcasing practical aspects of them, brainstorming ideas, reflecting at the end of a lesson on what was learnt and more importantly how it was learnt are some of the ways to promote critical thinking in the classroom.  
  • Watch this creative lesson, Learning to be a superhero, which develops critical thinking.  

 Additional references:

[1] dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/critical-thinking

[2] The Foundation for Critical Thinking at www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766. Last accessed on 21 November 2018.

[2] schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/international-learning/core-skills Last accessed on 21 November 2018.

 

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Technology for teachers: from awareness to integration

By Adi Rajan, Project Coordinator, British Council, India

How do you feel about using technology for teaching and your professional development? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Does it depend what day, which learners, what technology it is?

For those of us who are digital immigrants, integrating information and communication technology (ICT) into our teaching practice and using technology for our own professional development can seem either an impossible challenge or perhaps a distraction from ‘real teaching’. This is especially true when we are confronted with the skills our students, who are often digital natives, demonstrate with new technology, along with what might seem to be an unhealthy obsession with screens. On the other hand, using technology offers exciting opportunities to improve our teaching and new routes to professional development.

The digital landscape we find ourselves in is vast. Where do we start and what path should we follow to make the process of developing ourselves with technology manageable and meaningful within our teaching contexts? The professional practice of ‘Integrating ICT’ on the British Council’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Framework for teachers gives us a handy map for exploring this digital world across four different stages of development.

1.       Awareness

Setting off on a digital journey requires us to develop an awareness of what’s out there. The Internet is full of resources for professional development and classroom teaching. From blogs to e-books and webinars to online courses, you should be able to find something that meets your specific needs.

2.       Understanding

Before launching into active participation, it’s a good idea to observe interactions and gradually develop an understanding of how communication takes place in these forums. Another way of building your digital confidence is through participation in online conferences. These are hosted regularly by the British Council and teaching associations including IATEFL, OLLReN and the Virtual Round Table.

You can also sign up for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) – for example on the FutureLearn platform – and join thousands who are learning online in a flexible but collaborative way. If you’re looking for a more personal experience, enroll in an e-moderated course. These are like MOOCs but tend to be on a smaller scale with more opportunities for completing assignments and getting feedback from a tutor. Examples include the British Council’s tutored courses on special educational needs and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

3.       Engagement

Now it’s time to start producing your own digital content. For instance, if you’ve been reading and becoming inspired by blogs written by other teachers, why not start your own teaching blog? My own experience with writing an ELT blog  has been extremely enriching. Blogging has made me a more reflective teacher and given me opportunities to build deep connections with teachers from around the world.

You can also use online tools to design a presentation or document on a topic that interests you or explores some insights from the classroom. To make this a richer experience, you could work with peers using an online collaborative tool. The next step is sharing this work with colleagues on social media which will enable you to contribute productively to online communities of practice.

4.       Integration

Finally, you are ready to showcase your digital experiences and help other teachers complete their development journey. Identify opportunities for giving a webinar presentation or try to organise your own. This will help you consolidate a range of technology-enabled skills and provide valuable insights to others. You can also become more actively involved by coordinating and organising events such as hosting a Twitter chat or a webinar.

The digital world that perhaps seemed so unfamiliar at first is that one that you will hopefully come to see as a source of comfort and strength, as you draw on the global connections you build to overcome challenges and achieve your professional development goals. In time, you may even begin to recognise that this technology-driven world that you initially felt you didn’t belong to, was in fact yours all along!

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Try our new Technology for Teachers series which includes easy-to-use two-page guides some tools that explored in this blog. We’ll be sharing new guides every week over the next couple of months.


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Why you need to develop assessment literacy

Written by Neenaz Ichaporia, Academic Manager, Blended Learning  

Assessment of learning or assessment for learning?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘testing’? Do you imagine a large exam hall with rows of students, bending over their desks and furiously scribbling away, under a teacher’s vigilant gaze? Or you may think of a large-scale standardised test, like IELTS.

There is a tendency to consider assessment as big, standardised tests or summative, achievement tests. This traditional view is known as ‘assessment of learning’ and is used to evaluate learners, comparing them against established criteria, scales, or one another. Even the lexis we use reinforces this idea of assessment as something that is done to learners; a teacher ‘administers’ a test, while a learner ‘takes’ or ‘sits’ it.

Yet there is another increasingly popular position where assessment is learning orientated, known as ‘assessment for learning’. Rather than simply measuring a learner’s performance, assessment is used to gain valuable insights into the learning process. Both teachers and learners use feedback to improve learning and performance.

Educators increasingly acknowledge that ‘assessment of learning’ can weaken classroom practice, while using ‘assessment for learning’ can promote learner progress. Although the latter, more contemporary, view of assessment has gained popularity in pedagogy, it is unclear if it permeates our classroom practice. The fact remains that ‘assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning has preoccupied the minds of the profession for many years’.[1]

Therefore, it is increasingly important for teachers to recognise the role assessment plays in learning and teaching. In other words, we need ‘assessment literacy’, defined as ‘the knowledge about, and a comprehensive understanding of, students’ skills and ability, interpreting the collected data from the assessments, and using these interpretations to improve students’ learning and development by making appropriate decisions.’[2]

Perhaps without realising it, teachers assess learners all the time and in a variety of ways. In fact, many activities in regular classroom practice can be called assessment. For instance, this takes place each time a teacher sets a task, when learners perform that task or respond to questions, and the teacher uses their responses to make decisions about the learners’ skills.

Seen from this perspective, most teachers would benefit from training in how to use the information gained from assessment more meaningfully, provide constructive feedback to learners, and to help learners to use this feedback to build on their performance.

Assessment literacy is not only for professional examiners and teachers, but also for school leaders.  By aligning the objectives of the course with formal and informal assessment, teaching/learning practices may be made more effective. There is a further argument that learners too can benefit from assessment literacy. Such ‘sustainable assessment’ should ‘move from the exclusive domain of assessors into the hands of learners’.[3] It is argued that assessment can be used to build learners’ skills for continuing or lifelong learning, thereby building a learning society.

How can you develop your own assessment literacy?

When I started out in my career, I thought of testing in more narrow terms as ‘assessment of learning’. Gaining a better understanding of the purposes of assessment, and the principles on which good assessment is based, has been a journey of discovery. Some of this learning happened during my own professional practice, through trial and error. At other points, my understanding of assessment was sharpened by formal training.

There are several avenues available for educators looking to boost their assessment literacy and here are some relevant ones:

Free British Council resources:

  1. Start by watching the free short, animated assessment videos from the British Council. These give you an insight into some of the main topics in language assessment. Use the accompanying worksheets and answer keys for deeper knowledge.
  2. Refer to the British Council’s free comprehensive assessment glossary, which consists of hundreds of definitions of terms to do with language assessment written by practitioners with language teachers in mind.

Books and publications: 

  1. Two practical guides are: Arthur Hughes’ ‘Testing for Language Teachers’, and Marge Scherer’s ‘On Formative Assessment: Readings from Educational Leadership’.
  2. Browse the British Council’s Assessment Research Publications. Other reports that detail the main issues include these  two from the Learning and Skills Development Agency and the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

Paid association membership:  

  1. Become a member of TEASIG (the Testing, Evaluation and Assessment Special Interest Group) of IATEFL and connect with fellow professionals worldwide.

[1] Jones, C. (2005 p. 1). Assessment for Learning. London, UK: Learning and Skills Development Agency: accessed at http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7800/1/AssessmentforLearning.pdf

[2] Coombe, C. (2018 p. 10). An A to Z of Second Language Assessment: How Language Teachers Understand Assessment Concepts. London, UK: British Council.

[3] David Boud (2010 p. 151). Sustainable Assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22:2, 151-167, DOI: 10.1080/713695728

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