As a teacher and a trainer, I am often puzzling about how best to provide feedback to students and teachers. The most common way to give feedback is giving a grade, but this is not necessarily the most effective or meaningful. What are the alternatives? Of course, as teachers we are constantly giving some kinds of feedback to students. For example, a student says, “Teacher, what you do yesterday?” And the teacher is faced with a situation in which he can give feedback (about the mistake) or not. When and how teachers give feedback is based on one’s beliefs about learning. What will best help students learn?
However, I’m thinking about more structured, formal, approaches to feedback. There are many options, including checklists, portfolios, short notes, and verbal; also, it could be from peers, self, or the teacher. In the literature, this seems to be what is often referred to as “authentic” (or alternative) assessment. For me, it is basically giving and/or getting feedback in some form other than a grade.
One of the challenges with authentic assessment is that it is not traditional. Thus, many people (teachers and students) are not familiar with it. Often, as is our nature, we tend to fear and/or resist that which is not familiar. This is probably a practical evolutionary trait! In any case, I’d like to say that authentic assessment is valuable and ought not to be feared! I encourage teachers to experiment with it. So, finally, I’m wondering about how you may have experimented with it—what have you done (or experienced) with feedback to help students’ learning and participation, or what have you done that has hindered it?
1. Huerta-Macias, Ana. “Alternative Assessment: Responses to Commonly Asked Questions,” in Methodology in Language Teaching, 2002.
2. O’Malley, J. Michael and Lorraine Valdez Pierce. Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners, 1996.
3. Porter, Larry. “Giving and Receiving Feedback; It Will Never Be Easy, but It Can Be Better,” 1982.
This month I have been thinking and reading a lot about assessment (maybe too much, which is why I’m not posting until the end of the month). In particular, I’ve been considering how teachers can best assess students’ speaking. In the literature, it seems that there are four good options that stand out to me for assessing speaking, including setting up role-plays, having students give presentations, doing interviews, or recorded speaking “tasks.” All of these assessment activities, if students have been provided ample time to practice, are set up well, and have clear grading criteria, can provide fairly accurate evaluation of speaking. In the end, teachers probably want to include a variety of more than one of these, in order to feel they have a complete assessment picture.
The main “puzzle” (there are several minor ones!) for me has been, what creates students’ buy-in (buy-in = support for an idea or plan) for speaking assessment? In other words, when are students excited to have their speaking assessed? So far, the best that I can come up with is that it depends. Of course, students are different, classes and contexts are not the same, and teachers are distinct. I’d like to know what teachers have done that has worked well and not worked well, in order to get students' buy-in. I’d like to know what students have experienced that has helped them “buy-in” or has caused them to resist. For example, if a teacher tells you that you have to speak for 2 to 3 minutes in front of the whole class (i.e. "present") about a person you admire, in order to assess your speaking, are you excited and motivated, do you support this plan? Or are there better alternatives?
1. Bailey, Kathleen. Learning About Language Assessment, 1998.
2. Hughes, Arthur. Testing for Language Teachers, 1989
3. O’Malley and Pierce. Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners, 1996.
4. Thornbury, Scott. How to Teaching Speaking, 2005
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