Effective use of assessments and feedback relies on how well you know your students. Your knowledge needs to extend beyond the time they spend in the classroom environment.
Think of a student in your class who is learning English as an additional language. Do this quiz to see how well you already know him/her as a person.
- Does his/her name have a special meaning in his/her language?
- Is it a common name in his/her country?
- If s/he has an English name, who chose it and why?
- What is his/her first language (L1)?
- Does s/he speak any language(s) apart from L1 and English?
- How long has s/he been learning English?
- Can his/her parents speak English?
- Is s/he a similar age to Australian born students in that year at school?
- What is his/her date of birth?
- Where was s/he born?
- Has s/he any siblings?
- What is his/her position in the family?
- Who does s/he live with and who is his/her major caregiver?
- When did s/he arrive in Australia?
- Did s/he have any schooling before arriving in Australia? How much?
- What are his/her literacy skills in L1?
- What are his/her current literacy skills in English?
- What interests does s/he have inside school?
- What interests does s/he have outside school?
- Are his/her friends from the same language background?
- If there are gaps in your knowledge for this student, are these gaps the same for all students in your class? How can you find out the missing information?
- Do you and your colleagues have similar gaps? Share strategies for finding out important information to help you know your students better.
Effective formative assessment depends on students feeling safe within their classroom environment. The culture needs to encourage students to ask questions, say when they don’t understand something, view errors as learning opportunities and feel comfortable about giving feedback to and receiving constructive feedback from their peers. In a safe classroom, responsibility for learning is shared between the teacher and the students and students are aware how they can be effective learners. Knowing your students well and then incorporating that knowledge in the learning process will build their trust and establish an effective teaching-learning partnership.
Knowing the whole child means knowing about their life beyond the school gate. This knowledge includes their past experiences, present life outside school and future dreams. Children are not empty vessels and much of what they achieve in school is affected by their life outside school. Students also enjoy knowing about you. Can you incorporate some of your history – family and professional – into teaching? Everyone enjoys stories and yours may prompt your students to tell you some of their own, helping you to know them even better.
Education is a very personal journey. Viewing the classroom as a learning community means each individual is well known and recognised as unique. Our uniqueness defines how we learn and how we react to different experiences. To provide effective feedback we need to know students as individuals.
Using formative assessment effectively depends on knowing students’ existing strengths and areas that need further work. To build on previous learning, you need to know what students already know and what skills they bring with them.
Knowledge of student learning can include:
- the extent of their ability to learn in a particular mode (eg speaking, listening, reading, writing)
- the level of language used to express understanding (eg circumlocutions to compensate for unknown technical vocabulary, extent and accuracy of grammatical knowledge, using appropriate discourse register and generic features to express ideas/needs)
- the extent of their knowledge on a particular topic in terms of learning content (may need to be expressed in L1)
- whether they need scaffolding to demonstrate what they know, can demonstrate it independently or can go beyond by applying it to new learning
- the attitude they bring to learning in general and learning in this area in particular (the extent they value the learning process, the interest they display, the extent they engage in feedback on their learning).
Understanding where students are at in their learning helps you make connections between their prior learning and the new learning. It helps provide just the right amount of scaffolding to move them forward, whether they are learning something new or developing independence. The feedback you provide will also be tailored to their current needs.
Teacher-student relationships are very powerful and have important implications for learning. The power comes partly out of what teachers know and do and to a large extent out of what of what they care about. When students know you know and care about their prior experiences, interests, skills and needs, their engagement with learning is likely to be high. The feedback you offer will be taken seriously since the positive comments and strategies for improvement will be recognised as genuine and personal.
Knowing your students well means you can celebrate their achievements, respond respectfully to their problems and offer help in timely and meaningful ways. By responding to them as individuals you will help them realise they are on a unique educational journey. Because you reflect on their learning and provide meaningful feedback, they will learn to reflect on their individual learning styles and strategies too.
The easiest way to find out what students want and need is to ask them – either by using an interpreter or by using various scaffolds and supports to encourage them to discuss their views. For example, see what one group of EAL students said when asked What can teachers do to help us?
- Divide a piece of paper into three columns.
- In column 1 list your students by name. Order is not important. Simply write each name down without referring to any list. Count the names you have written to make sure no one has been forgotten. Check for any misspelt names, as correct spelling is a sign of respect.
- In column 2 write one interest for each student. Place a tick next to each interest if you are sure the student knows you know about it.
- In column 3 write one important thing about each student’s family.
- Any blanks or an interest without a tick indicate goals to work on.
The Colorin Colorado web site list six strategies for getting to know your English language learners.
The web site also includes a link to a YouTube video, Advice for teaching ELLs. Getting to know your students. In this video, Clara Gonzales-Espinoza highlights the value of getting to know ELL (English Language Learner) students.
Adapt the Learner Profile Document to record information about EAL students in your class. Name of School Languages Other Than English Where/ When learnt Dominant* language(s) Other languages Language Other Than English (LOTE) at school *The dominant language is the student’s strongest language. Other languages may have been used at home, school or in the community. Family languages spoken at home Mother _________________________________________________________________ Father _________________________________________________________________ Other family member ______________________________________________________ Family languages used at home (reading and writing) Mother _________________________________________________________________ Father __________________________________________________________________ Other family members _________________________________ English Language Learning Profile
Year at school
Other schools attended
Intensive English program on arrival?
Date of birth
Place of birth
Date of arrival in Australia
Position in family
Other family members in the home
Year at school
Adapt the Learner Profile Document to record information about EAL students in your class.
Name of School
Languages Other Than English
Language Other Than English (LOTE) at school
*The dominant language is the student’s strongest language. Other languages may have been used at home, school or in the community.
Family languages spoken at home
Other family member ______________________________________________________
Family languages used at home (reading and writing)
Other family members _________________________________
English Language Learning Profile