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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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“Teaching hardly matters, learning does”

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

I’ve shamelessly stolen the title of this blog from Jim Scrivener, whose presentation I attended at the recent IATEFL* conference in Brighton. I’m not sure I entirely agree – good teaching clearly supports effective learning – but the sentiment interests me, not least because it seems to sum up one of the emerging themes of the conference this year: English language teachers need to remember what is truly important about the work that we do and not let ourselves get distracted by all the various trappings of the multi-million dollar industry that has grown up around ELT**.

In my experience, most conferences can be boiled down into a few key messages for participants to take away. I don’t think these are always planned or intentional – although the existence of a conference theme can help give them some direction – but instead the current collective consciousness of the profession often seems to emerge during the course of the event. Of course, these are subjective to a large extent, but conversations with others suggest at least some commonality. These themes aren’t shaped only by fads or trends within the profession, but also by the way the world is changing around us. Technology is an obvious example – many recent conferences have reflected on (and usually championed) the integration of technology into our teaching. But this year at IATEFL it was interesting to note people questioning the its role. As its use gathers pace, do we need to consider going back to basics and ensure that we are controlling the use of digital tools, rather than the other way round?

Similarly, there were questions raised around the publishing industry and whether it has lost sight of its true purpose. According to the hugely popular plenary speaker Dorothy Zemach, many publishers are focusing too much on making money and retaining their market share rather than ensuring the quality of their products and capitalising on the creativity of experienced ELT writers. She called upon teachers to be more discerning in their choice of course book and to question the motives when offered multiple wraparound elements for free which might actually just distract from effective classroom teaching and learning. Dorothy also questioned whether a one size fits all global approach to product development was really helpful, beyond the reduction in costs this provides for publishers. This was highlighted again in Barry O’Sullivan’s entertaining plenary, where he called for assessments to be made more localised and personalised to individual needs and context.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt from Women for Women International had a strong message for delegates about the purpose and power of English and education more generally: women supported by this organisation in countries including Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan have escaped poverty, violence and damaging ingrained social norms as a result of educational interventions. English has considerable power to enable positive change by generating hope and opportunity for a better life and as English language teachers we have the capacity to be agents of that change. To paraphrase Spider-Man, we mustn’t forget the great responsibility that comes with that power.

To return to Jim Scrivener’s statement, it is true that learning matters most of all, not only for our students but also for teachers. Attending conferences supports teacher learning – and hopefully as a result of that, their learners – not just because of the content and ideas shared in each session but also the learning that takes place on the sidelines. Networking with colleagues and meeting new ones is key, as is critically reflecting on the messages and themes that bubble under the surface, taking shape only as the conference develops.

What conferences are you attending this year? Our new conference calendar might help you to decide. If you know of others we should include, please let us know.

A selection of the best sessions from IATEFL 2018 are available to view online here.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

*IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

**ELT: English language teaching

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English and Employability Skills for Higher Education Students in Andhra Pradesh

How we equipped 1800+ teachers to deliver the learner programme on the Andhra Pradesh Higher Education English Communication Skills Project.

The ten-day teacher training programme was delivered over three phases with 112 Master Trainers training more than 1800 teachers.

The training aimed to equip teachers with the required facilitation skills so that they can deliver a blended learner course focusing on employability skills and based around LearnEnglish Select effectively to the students. The ten-day teacher training programme focused on introducing communicative teaching strategies and methods, learner-centred techniques such as elicitation, collaborative learning activities that develop speaking, reading and writing skills of learners. Another key element of the training was to familiarise the teachers with the learner course materials.

The training capitalised on teachers’ general pedagogic knowledge (such as classroom management skills), and contextual knowledge of students’ social context and integrated teaching demonstrations where the teachers experienced taking part in a lesson using the ideas from the input they had received. The teachers then took part in microteaching where they practised facilitating a lesson using ideas they had been exposed to in the input and practical demonstration sessions. This was then followed by a reflection stage, where the teachers discussed and reflected on ways of using or adapting the ideas from the training into their own classrooms in their own contexts.

Teachers gave extremely positive feedback in the monitoring and evaluation activities conducted during the first two phases of the training. Teachers credited the acquisition of learner-centred methods for the classroom to the training and stated that these are essential to make the classroom more interactive for the students. Teachers also acknowledged that the training had a positive impact on their English ability and microteaching sessions allowed them to practise learner-centred methods and strategies in a no-risk environment and get valuable feedback from their peers and the Master Trainer.

When the teachers were asked about applying learning in the classroom and how they would achieve this, one of the teachers responded:

‘By adopting the strategies, methods and techniques such as reflecting on my own teaching skills and practices, shifting from a teacher-led approach to a learner centred one, reducing teacher talk time, conducting activities including warmers, using instruction checking questions, effective and relevant teaching aids and most of all giving due priority to L-S-R-W skills.’

During observation of training sessions, it seemed that a gradual shift from a traditional approach was taking place. This was evident in teachers’ feedback in focus group discussions as the majority stated that ‘learner-centred activities develop critical thinking skills, communication skills and social skills. They encourage alternative methods of assessments and help students transfer the skills to the real world and promote intrinsic motivation to learn.’

Teachers have now received a wide range of input related to using learner-centred methods in the classroom. We would like to invite teachers to continue building on skills and knowledge acquired in the training and embrace continuing professional development; Please visit https://www.britishcouncil.in/teach/continuing-professional-development for more details.

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How did I ace my course? Successful time management strategies for myEnglish

Why do some students do better than the others on online courses? Most adult language learners lead a very busy life. It’s a struggle to find a work-life balance. Add to that the workload of an English course and you may suddenly feel overwhelmed! We spoke to three highly successful myEnglish students, who gave us tips on tackling online study.

Ishrat Ishrat Pirani is a student in Mumbai and myEnglish was her first experience of online learning.

Sayed

 

 

Sayed Faiz is an IT professional. He’s an online learning pro, having done multiple myEnglish courses.

 

1Pranav

 

 

Pranav Ingle works in the education sector. He learnt about the myEnglish course from his boss, who recommended it to him.

 

  1. Keep your goals in mind. Remind yourself why you’ve enrolled for the course. Your improvement and investment in the course can be your key motivators. This helps keep you focused.
  2. Do a little, but often. Don’t try to do all your coursework at one go. Log in whenever you have a few minutes to spare. This will make the workload more manageable.
  3. Keep the task in mind. myEnglish discussion forums and assignments give you the chance to use the language you’ve learnt each week while communicating with others. So try to make sure you’re using the target language. Look carefully at the task assigned to you and focus on answering the question closely.
  4. Organize. Keep notes of your coursework. You can use a word processing program like MS Word to organise any new language learnt. This will make writing revision less time consuming.
  5. Do make use of teacher feedback on your forum posts. You can ask your teacher any language question on the Language Help forum. Keep a list of questions you’d like to ask and post them once or twice a week. Remember to read your teacher’s response to each post. Take note of this feedback and as the weeks go by, you will find it easier to participate in discussions and make fewer errors.
  6. Improve your speaking skills by attending every Live Online Class. This is a wonderful platform to practice speaking and the language you have learnt on the course. Your teacher will also help you correct your mistakes. Regular and active participation in online classes will boost your confidence in speaking English.
  7. Enjoy learning.  Remember to have fun while learning. myEnglish allows you to participate in plenty of interesting discussions about real life topics and situations. Focus on topics that interest you. And remember to give yourself an occasional reward, like taking a short break from coursework or having a chocolate after completing an assignment. This will keep you motivated and the course will not feel like a chore.
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British Council launches ELIPS 2 with Government of Maharashtra and Tata Trust

 

In March 2016 British Council signed a tri partite contract with the Government of Maharashtra and Tata Trust to launch an innovative teacher training project, English Language Initiative for Primary Schools – 2 (ELIPS 2) for primary school teachers in Maharashtra, India. ELIPS 2 represents a transition from more traditional model of teacher training to a more sustainable internally-supported approach which promotes holistic professional development through local communities of practice.

ELIPS2 will focus on primary teachers in government schools in Maharashtra and will take place over three years. In the first year, the project will cover nine districts in Maharashtra and in the second year the project will be scaled up to include the rest of the state. Following discussions with the government, it was agreed that the project would include initiatives for capacity building of the State Institute of English (SIE), establishment of Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) at cluster level for the nine districts and exploring the potential of online training programmes and social networking applications including WhatsApp to support teacher training and mentoring.

Building the capacity of the SIE through the development of a core team of English experts is central to this intervention and its sustainability. In addition, a teacher training and development model focussing on building the capacity of the state to provide appropriate Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for teachers will be developed.  This will be achieved through a combination of face-to-face training, online learning through e-moderated and self-access courses, Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) at the cluster level, the creation of online communities through popular social networking platforms and a teacher mentoring programme. All of these elements of the project aim to put the teacher at the centre of his/her own development.

Master Trainers, and later selected Teacher Facilitators, will be supported with British Council resources to facilitate TAGs. Existing Kendra Pramukhs (KPs) will be responsible for administrative aspects of these groups. The project will therefore build the state’s institutional capacity to support and implement large-scale, long-term in-service teacher training programmes which do not rely solely on cascade training as the medium of delivery.

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More language, more person

The taxi-less roads did not deter ELT whizzes and exponents in Kolkata, who went on a linguistic, educational and cultural overdrive with a lively debate on ‘English Medium Instruction: Boon or curse? that followed an engaging talk by Prof. Andy Curtis on the subject.

Andy Curtis is Professor in the School of Graduate Education at Anaheim University, California and the president of TESOL International. His talk, on 11 August in Kolkata and 13 August in Patna, took great care to present research related to the two opposing schools of thought, viz. the perceived position of English as the ‘language of inclusion’ vs. the possibility of it being the ‘language of intrusion’.

He elaborated on the historical and political significance of the EMI debate in India, with particular reference to India’s colonial past, while also highlighting how the various Indian Englishes have contributed to keeping the language a ‘living, breathing organism’. Prof. Curtis stressed on the need for a strong debate on EMI in India.

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The panel discussion and the audience response turned out to be a thought-provoking session, with a combination of long-standing views of the Indian education system and progressive comments on the pertinent impact of technology, globalisation and India’s presence as a multi-lingual and multi-cultural expanse with an internationally competitive edge.

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Prof. Anuradha Lohia, Vice-Chancellor, Presidency University, pointed out how several generations of Indian school-going children learnt English ‘by default’ without there being any choice in the matter. She acknowledged that more and more learners of this generation had the option of continuing education in their chosen language, but higher education demands a knowledge of English. She attributed this scenario to the fact that English is the language of research and development, therefore a ‘language of necessity’ for young people who will soon become global citizens. She also put forth an interesting question of whether lack of English could become an impediment for those aspiring for a career in technical fields, or if they could still make it big in the international arena.

The Director of Modern High School for Girls in Kolkata, Ms. Devi Kar, responded to Prof. Curtis and Ms Lohia by raising the question of whether English might also be seen as the ‘language of exclusion’, especially in higher education. From her own experience of teaching and learning, Ms Kar pointed out how pronunciation and accent formed the ‘great divide’ for Indian English speakers, by bringing up the long-ensuing war between substance and language style. The crux of Ms Kar’s response was based on bilingual language teaching and how it was a more organic way of teaching languages in India, especially due to the need for constant code-switching and code-mixing in the diverse linguistic panorama.

Academic Manager of British Council Teaching Centre in Kolkata, Mr Rajeev Bakhshi, took on the debate of the purpose and need for English learning in India, by emphasising that students in the English classroom looked upon English as a means of seeking better jobs or securing a better future for themselves, not only in terms of monetary benefit, but also for more promising careers and a global identity.

The audience posed questions on a number of issues ranging from how English is taught in schools, to which Prof Curtis responded by saying that the current style of grammar-focussed teaching can limit linguistic creativity to a great extent. To another question on how English language is linked to ‘who we are’, Prof Curtis advocated the ideology of plurality while pointing out the fossilisation of language and clear markers of an individual’s identity, influence how we speak.

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The stimulating discussion ended with a consensus that despite the ambivalence towards EMI globally, multilingualism is the way forward. Prof Curtis encapsulated this belief with the comment ‘diversity is strength’ and Sujata Sen rounded off session by saying English language learning is indeed a boon in India and the debate on EMI should continue, in interest of betterment of education in India.

The debate continued in Patna  where a turnout of 86 people on a day it rained very heavily included a mix of senior education policy makers from SCERT (director and his deputy, VC of Patna University), teacher educators from our own BLISS project, Pratham Bihar unit (including their state head), several school principals from our schools network.

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A lively interaction followed the lecture, with questions of linguistic imperialism and dangers of English cropping up (and tackled very well by Andy). The discussion was moderated by Debanjan Chakrabarti.

Both events were covered very well in the mainstream media (the Telegraph, Hindu, Hindustan Times, several agencies).

This was the first in a series of programmes that strategically brings together our work in research and publications, particularly on the (tricky) issue of EMI and related pedagogic approaches, aligned to our state partnership programmes and looking at the medium term milestone of the Language and Development Conference late in 2015.

Post by: Samathmika Balaji

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It starts today

Hofesh Shechter Company, one of the UK’s most exciting dance groups, makes its debut this week in the Pearl City, Hyderabad.

With excitement building inside we waited at the Kamaraj International Airport, Chennai, to welcome the musicians who were on a nine-hour flight from London. The group arrived and appeared as excited as us and raring to go.

Norman, the leader of the group, was a storehouse of energy apparent in the way he moved around. Dominic Goundar alias Raju was excited to be touching home base. Probing him about the roots of his name, we were absorbed by the story about his forefathers being from the South of India, then they moving to Fiji, Australia and later settling in the UK.

Joseph Ashwin, the last name, you ask curiously. Well, that’s just an ironic coincidence he says, and I get that a lot. Jo then goes on to elaborate the incident at an Indian store when the shopkeeper assesses him against the identity card… nothing like an ‘Ashwin’ he says and no connection to India.

At the breakfast table, the troupe eagerly experiment with dosas!

They are excited about their debut in India and are rehearsing meticulously and we are more than excited to watch them at Shilpakala Vedika on Friday!

The tour starts today and it is gaining momentum with every passing hour…. Hyderabad, be ready to be awestruck and held spellbound.

Blog by Rajeswari Pradeep Kumar

British Council launches Impulse – Contemporary dance from the UK, Season 2 with a performance of Political Mother by Hofesh Shechter Company. For more details visit www.britishcouncil.in/impulse2. 

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World Voice Project Workshop for State-level Master Trainers

World Voice

The World Voice Project 2014 kicked off in Delhi with training for state level trainers from five states of India. The workshop was hosted with our partners at the NCERT and was attended by Gill Caldicott (acting Director), Sujata Sen (Director, East India), Vivek Mansukhani (Director Arts) from the British Council, Prof Parvin Sinclair (Director), and Dr Pawan Sudhir (Professor and Head, Department of Education in Arts and Aesthetics (DEAA) and Dr Sharbari Banerjee (Assistant Professor, Musicologist) from the NCERT.

The three-day World Voice Project workshop  (25 – 27 August 2014, DEAA Conference hall, NCERT New Delhi) for Master Trainers brought together 16 participants from each of the WVP partner states: Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Sikkim and New Delhi. Aiming at capacity building, training and skills advancement on Art Integrated Learning (AIL) with music and singing through British Council India’s World Voice Project (WVP), it offered an ideal platform for interaction, an exchange of best-practices, experiences, song repertoires, opportunities and challenges involved in AIL through music.

The interactive training was conducted by the resource person and trainer from United Kingdom, Dr Thomas Ian Young. He shared a range of new warm ups, singing games, use of puppets and actions with songs and encouraged sharing of personal song repertoires from the participants. The participants learnt 12 new songs during the workshop, including songs from the WVP songbooks alongside others from across the world such as, Canoe song (North America), Si-Si (Congo), Scotland and so on. They enjoyed singing and learning the songs, while they also shared their WVP experiences in their respective states through presentations, video and audio clips, as well as, photographs documenting their work. They highlighted how teaching through WVP songs had made classroom learning more enjoyable and interesting!

The participants attending the current workshop had been trained earlier by Master Trainers from New Delhi/ India over the past one year (October 2013 – March 2014) in their respective states. The current training was envisaged to help participants enhance their skills to be able to conduct similar trainings in their educational institutions and states; thus, taking on the role of master trainers in their respective regions.

Further, in an effort to promote AIL through theatre, the British Council India organised short sessions on ‘Theatre in Education’ with the support of 4 short listed participants trained previously during the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) workshop (held in January 2014) alongside this workshop. The hour-long theatre presentations with a focus on Shakespearean texts were scheduled before and after completion of Dr Young’s sessions during the ongoing workshop. The participants enjoyed the fusion of music and theatre sessions for classroom learning. The theatre component will be included in the next phase of the AIL activities in the various WVP partner states.

Participant’s responses

“ I have learnt four WVP songs and WVP introduced me to a new teaching pedagogy. It has helped me establish a good rapport with my students and made learning very enjoyable for everyone! ” – Mr Dary Marbaniang, Meghalaya

“ I have been using the WVP songs and warm ups.. I would like to share that Bebe-Yo is very popular with all the students! “ – Mr Subhash Shanker Suna, Sikkim

“ There are less teachers and massive pressure to ensure the syllabus and curriculum is covered. In the process, we tend to forget that learning must be joyful! After the WVP workshop, I am singing with a better purpose and am able to establish better links with the curriculum. The students in my state find English very difficult. However, I was delighted when they managed to learn and sing an English song, ‘ScarbouroughFair’ ” – Ms Geeta Bhatt, Himachal Pradesh

“I head a pre-school and teach students from the age group 1.5 to 5.5 years. After one week of teaching through WVP pedagogy, they were happier and learnt far better. Although, I was faced with initial resistance from the parents but once they observed the changes that music had brought about, they became more open and encouraging!.- Ms Zainab Ashraf, Jammu and Kashmir

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British Council marks Social Media Day with five golden rules for staying safe online

The British Council is marking Social Media Day 2013 with a set of five golden rules to help parents and carers keep their children safe on social media.

Every year the British Council engages directly with up to two million children globally, and seven million indirectly through teaching, exams, programmes, and projects. The organisation is committed to keeping children safe and protecting them from all forms of harm and abuse.

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