The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority defines formative assessment in the following terms:
‘Formative assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle. Formative assessment enables teachers to identify what a student can currently do and plan the next steps to progress student learning. Articulating the next steps in the learning process also benefits the students, as they have a clear view about their learning progression.’
The TEAL Professional Learning modules assume teachers are already familiar with basic assessment processes and the use of assessment criteria (or a task-specific rubric) through in-school training and formal professional learning. The modules incorporate time for teachers to reflect on their own, share ideas and practices with peers and try things out with their EAL students. Each module begins with a reflection activity and ends with a suggested action-oriented activity. The material in the modules is presented so that teachers can meet their own needs – by planning their own program of professional learning, using the materials and activities when and how they prefer.
1. Understanding the interrelationship between assessment, planning, teaching and learning
2. Knowing your learners
3. Identifying learning outcomes and sharing success criteria
4. Developing assessment tasks
5. Involving learners actively in assessment
6. Enhancing teacher feedback
7. Improving the trustworthiness of assessment
8. Reporting and using assessment information
9. Evaluating and developing teacher assessment literacy
10. Establishing and enhancing teacher assessment programs
- What are the areas of assessment covered by the modules in which you feel most confident?
- What are the areas in which you feel least confident?
- Why do you think this is so?
- Peer discussion
- What are the similarities and differences in your results?
- How could you build on your strengths?
- How could you address any perceived areas of “weakness”?
- What areas were not so important or critical for you?
- What do you think might be missing?
- In what areas of assessment literacy do you think you are strong?
- In what areas would you like to develop your skills and understanding further?
Watch this video of an EAL student talking.
How well can this student use English?
- What knowledge, skills and attitudes did you draw on to make your decision?
- What tools and resources did you draw on to help you in your decision-making?
- What tools and resources would have further enhanced your professional judgement?
High quality assessment decision-making depends on a number of interrelated factors, including:
- our assumptions about English language norms and targets
- our assumptions about the nature of the English language system and EAL development
- our assumptions about what teachers are expected to highlight and value in EAL development
- our access to an appropriate metalanguage to describe and evaluate student performance/achievement
- our assumptions about what is involved in assessment decision-making
- our access to trustworthy tools for assessment, benchmarking/moderation, and self and peer-reflection
- the consequences of our assessment decision making.
The role of assessment in planning, learning and teaching
Assessment is a process used by educators to gather evidence of student learning. Assessment includes the formal planned moments when students undertake an assessment task. However, it also includes the far more informal, even spontaneous moments when you are monitoring student group work and notice one student speaking more confidently than they have previously. It can happen on the train – when you think of a technique to help students improve their speaking skills.
Any program of teacher-based assessment must also incorporate self and peer assessment, as it is only when students understand the assessment criteria and how the criteria describe how they are currently using language that they actually begin to take responsibility for their own learning. The most important component of the assessment cycle is feedback and reporting, since unless assessment information is communicated clearly to students, it cannot be used effectively to improve learning (or teaching).
Watch Professor Liz Hamp-Lyons talking about the interrelationship between assessment, teaching and learning.
The nature of formative assessment and the need for summative assessments to be used formatively
In teacher-based assessment, assessment needs to be continuous and integrated naturally into every stage of the teaching-learning cycle, not just at the end.
Most assessment tasks can be used for formative as well as summative purposes. Summative assessment refers to those more formal planned assessments at the end of a unit or term/year that are used primarily to evaluate student progress. Formative assessment is usually more informal and more frequent, involving the gathering of information about students and their language learning needs and providing feedback on their performance while they are still learning.
Formative assessment has two key functions: informing and forming. Formative assessment shapes the decisions about what to do next by helping:
- the teacher understand and select what to teach in the next lesson, or even in the next moment in the lesson
- the students to understand what they have already learnt and what they need to learn next.
Click to view Prof Dylan Wiliam talking about formative assessment and the difference between formative and continuous assessment.
In a teacher-based assessment system, summative assessments can and should also be used formatively to improve future learning.
In an assessment for learning culture, the prime purpose of all assessments is to improve learning and teaching:
Assessment for Learning (AfL) is any assessment (including summative assessment) for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting pupils’ learning. An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback, by teachers, and by their pupils in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.
(Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall & Wiliam, 2003, p. 2-3, our italics added)
Assessment for Learning (AfL) is being strongly promulgated by a large number of education systems internationally as well as in Australia. e.g. Curriculum Corporation/ Education Services Australia, NSW Education Standards Authority
Assessment for Learning:
–emphasises the interactions between learning and manageable assessment strategies that promote learning
–clearly expresses for the student and teacher the goals of the learning activity
–reflects a view of learning in which assessment helps students learn better, not just achieve a better mark
–provides ways for students to use feedback from assessment
–helps students take responsibility for their own learning
–is inclusive of all learners.
Popham (2009, p. 6) argues that “assessment-literate teachers will typically make better decisions, and because we want students to be better taught, it should be obvious that today’s teachers must acquire more assessment literacy”. These modules will help you develop your assessment literacy.
Complete this AfL checklist to reflect on your own professional practice.
N = not yet; S = sometimes; Y = usually
- Do I have a clear understanding of what students will learn in each lesson rather than what they will do?
- Do I provide the learning goals in writing for students at the beginning of each lesson?
- Do I make sure that students understand the success criteria for their learning?
- Do students understand that they are expected to use the success criteria to monitor their own learning?
- Do students have access to samples of high-quality responses which demonstrate what success looks like?
- Do I provide assessment opportunities and feedback during the learning while there is time and opportunity for feedback to have an impact?
- Do the students receive descriptive feedback which recognises what they can already do and provides advice on how they can improve?
- Do I explain to students how they can be active participants through self and peer assessment?
- Do I use the information from observation and assessment to adjust my teaching program?
- Do the students track their own progress over time using the success criteria to demonstrate growth?
The processes of formative assessment
Look at the table of informal assessment-while-teaching strategies below and consider how many such strategies you regularly use in teaching EAL students? What strategies could you use more frequently and why?
Table adapted from Torrance and Pryor pages 160-161, cited by McCallum, B (2005) Formative Assessment: Implications for classroom practice
Now look at one of the units of work on the TEAL website, and consider to what extent it uses these assessment strategies. What other strategies are used, and why?
Dylan Wiliam highlights the importance of assessment in his article: Assessment: The bridge between teaching and learning. (This was published in Voices from the Middle, Volume 21 Number 2, December 2013). He also elaborates on formative assessment in this YouTube video: Unpacking Formative Assessment
He also describes strategies to embed formative assessment in our teaching in Embedded Formative Assessment.
In this video, Rick Stiggins explains the difference between assessment of and assessment for learning.
Make a list of all the informal and more formal assessments you did with your EAL students over the last term or so.
- Which assessments were only used for summative purposes?
- How and to what extent could you have changed the way you used these assessments in order to promote formative learning?
- Which assessments did you use for formative purposes?
- To what extent and how did these assessments help inform and shape your teaching? To what extent did they help your students improve?