Involving learners in assessment is a conscious, organised decision which represents a paradigm shift in second language assessing practices and in ways that a curriculum is delivered to create optimal learning opportunities for learners. This decision does not always align with an established culture of assessment of learning (summative assessment) as practised in many international, educational, and EFL/ESL contexts. A more ideal model of assessment for learning in which learners are directly informed of how they will be assessed from the outset, are involved in feedback, feedforward and evaluation at every level can be an effective learning pedagogy in itself. Committing to assessment for learning by implementing established best practices and behaviours in teaching and learning, and by integrating a workable model in the curriculum, is achievable.
Definitions from Literature: AfL and Formative Assessment
Assessment for learning (AfL), formative assessment, learning-oriented assessment, interactive assessment. Not just buzzwords of the moment, but a principled approach to learning through assessment which is in place in schools and tertiary institutions around the world. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the UK defines AfL simply as ‘the process of using classroom assessment to improve learning, whereas assessment of learning is the measurement of what pupils can do.’ (retrieved 3 May 3, 2009). The Assessment Reform Group (ARG) give a more detailed definition as ‘the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there (2002). Two key advocates of AfL, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam (1998), define AfL as the information gathered through learning activities undertaken by teachers and/or learners which can be used as feedback as a way to inform and modify the teaching and learning that is taking place. AfL as the header encompasses all that happens in formative assessment, learning-orientated assessment and interactive assessment, and the terms are often interchangeable.
Our Working Definitions: AfL and Formative Assessment
It is useful to take definitions of approaches and fine-tune them to align with your own context. Therefore, we have come up with our own definitions to work with.
A fL in our context is the overriding idea that assessment is not solely a tool to measure and judge but to be used as effective pedagogy to ensure learning is taking place, assessment and improvement paths are transparent, and our learners are actively involved in assessment processes and decisions.
Formative Assessment in our context is the conscious planning of assessment and learning within the curriculum, mainly in the speaking and writing evaluation of our learners’ English skills. The learners are involved from the first day of the course, feedback is the concern of everyone, and completion percentage of the course mark is given, rather than an individual grade.
Hamp Lyons & Tavares (2008) define interactive assessment as,
- ‘a very clear and carefully developed system of assessment for learning
- which emphasises formative uses of an eventual summative assessment:
- Teachers engage students with thinking about their learning during the
- assessment process; assessment is one stage of the teaching, learning and
- assessing cycle in the classroom; every assessment is therefore for
- feedforward as well as for feedback’
Their work has concentrated on the intervention of the teacher-assessor through scaffolding while the spoken assessment is taking place so that the learners are supported during the assessment and in their learning. The intervention or interaction ‘stimulates and challenges’ the learners to produce discourse higher than their actual ability (Hamp Lyons & Tavares, 2008). Therefore, interactive assessment, in this sense, is when the teacher can meet the needs of the learner, (especially) during a speaking ‘assessment’ task through interaction with the learner, i.e., scaffolding, guiding questions, additional questions, wait-time, back-channelling and other strategic interaction to use the assessment itself as a tool for learning and to ensure students are producing the language they are capable of (Hamp Lyons & Davidson, n.d.). This is based on Vygotsky’s theory of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD) where learning takes place in the ‘zone’, which is above the knowledge and skill level of the learner at that current time. Vygotsky’s concepts of the ZPD also include,
• the difference between what a learner can do without help and what they can do with help,
• the learner following an adult’s example, gradually developing the ability to do certain tasks without help or assistance,
• the learner’s development being determined by social interaction and collaborative problem-solving. (1978)
In our context, however, we see interactive assessment as having four distinct layers.
Figure 1: The Four Layers of Interactive Assessment at CLE
The first level resembles that of Hamp-Lyons and Tavares’ interactive assessment description; response to/from the teacher and learner, and with peers (in our context) at any stage of the assessment.
The second involves the learners at both a cognitive and meta-cognitive level, creating opportunities for the learners to think about, talk about, ask and answer questions about, and reflect on, their role and involvement in the formative assessment process. This happens when the learners are part of feedback at the pre-, during and post-feedback stage, i.e. involving the learners in planning, discussing, reflecting and deciding what is understood by the AfL process. An example of this is through questionnaires and reflection tools. One such tool in our model is the use of a peer evaluation questionnaire to gauge our learners’ views about peer evaluation on writing before it takes place, and then immediately afterwards using the same prompts. Another tool is the use of a preferred feedback type and medium handout before any response is given to 2nd draft writing. Our learners have the opportunity to choose the type of feedback and in the medium they prefer – hardcopy, softcopy, audio-video, or audio. These two tools are examples of what we consider to be part of interactive assessment.
The third layer is about empowerment, growth and choice; giving freedom to the learners about how their assessment for learning is going to happen and with whom.
The fourth layer, professional growth, is related to our context and the fact that our learners are going to be teachers of the future. Providing them with the opportunity to engage in formative assessment experientially as learners can help them develop their own principles about AfL for when they are teachers.