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IELTS Teacher e-newsletter – November 2018

Assessment and teaching

When teachers think of assessment, they often imagine exam halls full of students answering grammar questions, or standardised international tests such as IELTS. It’s true that these are both examples of language assessment, but there is much more to the world of assessment than this.

Assessment is a vital part of what teachers do every day, although many teachers think of it simply as part of teaching. Whenever we monitor an activity, we are mentally assessing students’ performance and making decisions about what feedback and/or support to offer. Despite this, most teachers report having had little or no formal training in assessment. Instead, teachers tend to pick up ideas about assessment from colleagues, or through their own reading and professional development activities. As a result, teachers may not always be aware of the range of assessment possibilities, or the relative strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.

HLAW aims to address this gap in teacher training to help teachers make more informed choices about effective assessment for their students. The workshops combine animated videos, worked examples, and discussions to explore practical ways of testing and assessing each of the four skills.

The videos help to make key concepts accessible, and provide a structure to the workshops.

Worked examples are used to illustrate various ways in which skills might be assessed in recognised international tests.

Discussions allow participants to share their own ideas and experiences of assessment, which helps to relate the workshop to the local educational context.

How did the HLAW project start?

Countries such as China and Japan are moving towards four-skills testing as a way of encouraging a focus on English for international communication. In practice, this means that in addition to reading and listening, students will soon be assessed on their speaking and writing abilities. For many teachers this presents a new challenge, so we decided to start HLAW by developing a speaking assessment workshop. After successfully piloting Assessing Speaking in Malaysia and the UK, we added the Assessing Writing session and introduced them together at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, as pre-conference workshops for the New Directions conference. The feedback was very positive, with a lot of teachers commenting that it was helpful to understand the kinds of tasks and criteria often used to assess speaking and writing.

Based on the same format that worked well for speaking and writing, we created the Assessing Reading and Assessing Listening workshops, and launched the complete How Language Assessment Works family at a trainer-training event before IATEFL in Brighton. Since then, workshops have been delivered all over the world in countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Egypt, India, and Japan, as well as a number of cities in China. The future

In the six months since we launched How Language Assessment Works, the response has been overwhelming. To make the workshops as available as widely as possible, we are now working on online versions, which we are aiming to have ready for April 2019. In addition, we are planning a new video and workshop on assessing grammar and vocabulary.

Teachers in China and other countries around the world will soon be preparing students for a new generation of four skills tests, so it is important that they understand what is being tested, and how. Knowing more about assessment helps teachers to select, create, and evaluate assessment tasks for their students. It can also improve classroom teaching by helping teachers to give effective feedback to students. Through better understanding of assessment, the HLAW project aims to enhance the new tests’ positive impact on classroom teaching and, ultimately, students’ language learning. Click here for some videos about HLAW


By Gordon Allan



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