Is Assessment for Learning Realistic for EFL/ESL Classrooms?

To better reflect the change in classroom assessment where assessment and learning are perceived as inseparable and assessment is viewed as a tool for learning, I prefer the use of the terms assessment for learning (AfL) and assessment of learning (AoL) instead of “formative” and “summative” assessment.

AfL consists of the assessments we conduct in the classroom, both formally and informally, to give feedback and grades to students about their learning; this feedback and these grades do not count toward the final grade. The purpose of AfL is to help students improve their learning and not for grading or judging students’ achievement of learning outcomes. AoL is the same as summative assessment and it aims to provide evidence of achievement of learning outcomes for reporting and decision-making purposes. Both AfL and AoL must be directly linked to the learning outcomes.

Despite the fact that teachers do realize the benefits of AfL in the classroom, in many cases, the focus is still on AoL. Teachers often feel there is too much material to cover in a course, or too much assessment already, to use precious resources like class time on AfL. AfL is particularly challenging in classes with large numbers of students. Teachers find it difficult to manage the volume and provide high quality individual feedback particularly for AfL tasks such as homework, drafts of written assignments that are not counted, reflection journals, etc.

In spite of these challenges, I think that AfL is beneficial and has a positive impact on student learning and affect. It is important to get teachers to recognize that AfL does not have to be time-consuming or complicated. AfL assessment strategies can be as simple as raising hands, cell phone polling, or asking effective questions. Questioning is really important as an AfL strategy because you can find out students’ level of understanding of the content and can extend and deepen their learning. You can involve students and get them to ask questions. Self-assessment is also a very useful AfL strategy.

Do you think AfL is worth the time and effort that teachers and students must invest in order for it to be effective? I would really be very interested in reading your opinions and ideas about this.

Read more about assessment in an article I wrote for TESOL Connections:
Formative vs. Summative Assessment: Does It Matter?

About Deena Boraie

Deena Boraie
Deena Boraie is the dean of the School of Continuing Education at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and president of TESOL International Association. She is a language testing expert and teaches research methods in the MA/PhD Applied Linguistics Program at Cairo University.
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One Response to Is Assessment for Learning Realistic for EFL/ESL Classrooms?

  1. Patricia Daniels says:

    As an English language teacher, I feel that assessment for learning (AfL) carries perhaps even more significance than assessment of learning. In fact I think AfL is unavoidable if we want our students to successfully achieve the set learning objectives. It’s a process that I believe should be embedded into classroom practice. I agree that AfL is about discovering where the students are with their learning and using this information to promote further learning and to keep them on track. I think techniques like questioning during class, self and peer assessment, use of technology for polling; tracking work; building and maintaining an effective workflow are examples of measures that can save time. However, they are strategies that need to be learned; require adequate digital literacies; require training and support, and motivation on the part of teachers and students. I do feel AfL is worth the effort and without any statistics to draw on, I can imagine that many teachers do put AfL into practice. Perhaps part of the problem of this emphasis on assessment of learning, could be caused by institutions themselves relying too heavily on top results and retentions rates as a means of quality assurance. It is certainly a complex topic that requires a multifaceted solution and one that is flexible and adaptable to suit a range of learning contexts.

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