Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Find out how language assessments empower high school students to gain insight into their proficiency and set realistic goals with this guide!
For over 20 years, I have been dedicated to teaching and learning.
With my experience teaching English language learners, both at post-secondary schools in Canada and adult English learners in China, and high school students in China, I am very familiar with the need for language assessment.
My specialized lesson planning and curriculum development skills have enabled high school students, post-secondary students, and professionals to develop the necessary competencies for successful conversations.
This blog post shares tips and strategies for language assessment.
Purpose of Language Assessment
Language assessment is important for educators and students to measure the outcomes of lessons.
My choices for language assessment include developing a strategic plan for overall language learning goals set in one month, three months, six months, and ten months.
I use pre-assessment and post-assessment for reading and writing. Pre-assessment is at the beginning of the year in the first week of classes, and post-assessment is at the benchmarks throughout the year.
The assessments throughout the school year are both formative and summative.
- Formative is used with each lesson to ensure the learning outcomes are met at the end of each unit.
- Summative is the form of mid-term and final exams in reading and writing.
What makes a Good Language Assessment Tool?
In the reading, ‘Supporting English Language Learners with Formative Assessment (Guest Author, 2018), the author suggests ‘teachers work with students to co-create appropriate goals for using more sophisticated academic language.
It’s critical to promote student ownership of the assessment process through goal setting, self-assessment, and peer assessment opportunities.’ (2018)
This resonated with me as I have always asked learners their goals for English reading and writing and then discuss what I think is best with my learners.
Discussing goal setting with timelines students set for themselves and self-assessment is helpful to guide your assessment process throughout the year.
Here are two key teaching strategies for incorporating student self-assessment:
- Ask students to prepare one goal they are willing to share with their peers.
- Create a classroom norm to support each other and work together with peer assessments.
This is a great strategy for my high school students to take ownership of their own learning and prepare them for the peer assessment process in university studies.
Process for Lesson Planning
I teach grade ten students at a Chinese high school international department. The students are learning English reading and writing.
Here is the process I use when teaching reading and writing to English language learners:
- Choose appropriate novels. In this class, I use fiction novels we read together, and at the end of each chapter, students discuss the plot and characters.
- Identify key target vocabulary. We extract vocabulary words as they are asked to highlight them while reading.
- Use the target vocabulary. Create a word list of synonyms and antonyms from each chapter for students to make connections and expand their vocabulary.
- Use Translanguaging in students’ mother-tongue language. Discuss these words in Chinese and set expectations when students speak and write to communicate the new vocabulary they have learned.
Teaching Strategies to Reinforce Learning
Students will discuss the chapter questions together and then complete five questions about the reading in their writing journals.
I find this helps them with reading comprehension and writing as they have opportunities to learn new words, and I can assess their writing for grammar and spelling.
In reading, ‘Watch Them Grow: 5 Non-test Alternatives for Assessing English Language Learners’ (Saralicain, 2019), the author listed this method as ‘describing/explaining/retelling/paraphrasing/summarizing texts’ (2019).
The strategies suggested include asking students to retell the story or to choose their favorite character and tell the story from their point of view.
This assessment for discussing the chapters during class stimulates creative thinking and sense-making of the readings.
My students are creative artists, and most are phenomenal at art and drawing. Questions related to creating a visual description of the readings help them tap into their artistic abilities and write creatively.
Creating a Language Assessment
In choosing language assessments, consistency with previous assessments is important.
In this example, I evaluated the English speaking proficiency of one of my students based on the IELTS Band Descriptors for English language learners (British Council, 2020).
The modification I made was choosing my own topic for the assessment. I chose the topic my student has been reading and writing about in classes.
This decision seemed most appropriate as it provided him with the most meaningful feedback about something he was interested in and helped him meet his goal of presenting a public speech about his topic the following week.
This assessment also helped him prepare for his public presentation and any follow-up questions he may get from his audience.
Speaking Assessment Example
For this assessment, I worked with a student to prepare a speech he was presenting to the Hainan government and educators for primary, secondary, and university.
This is the method for the IELTS evaluation for speaking:
- Choose a topic for discussion.
- Ask the student to describe their topic.
- Ask follow-up questions for clarification and further exploration of comprehension about the topic.
During this language assessment, some corrections are made for word choice, grammatical structures, and pronunciation.
Students are not provided with information about the topic before the assessment.
Video of Speaking Assessment
The follow-up debrief includes the following questions:
- What do you think you did really well?
- What do you think are some areas for improvement?
- What would you have said differently?
After we discuss these questions, I provide my feedback.
Speaking Assessment Outcome
For this assessment, Eden made minor word choice errors, like when he said ‘publics’ instead of public.
His vocabulary was appropriate for his level of English learning, consistent with our studies in class, but he could have expressed his ideas more succinctly.
For example, I offered him the option to use ‘compound’ to describe how little problems turn into big problems.
From the IELTS Band Descriptors rubric (2020), I have assessed him at:
- 6.5- Fluency and coherence
- 5.5- Lexical resources
- 6- Grammatical range and accuracy
- 6- Pronunciation
Eden is a high-level English learner in my class, as he has voluntarily studied English since the age of eight years.
He watched English videos online and started learning how to read English independently with self-study. He did this while living abroad and studying at a Dutch primary school for grades two to six.
His mother tongue is Chinese (Mandarin), his grandparents speak the Hainanese dialect specific to the region of his hometown in Hainan, China, and he also reads, writes, speaks, and listens with understanding in both Dutch and English.
- Edens’s goals are to attain university entrance level English to be competitive in an English environment for his studies.
- Besides school, he only speaks English with his brother, who is currently studying at the University of Toronto in Canada.
- English exposure outside of class and talking with his brother includes reading English books and watching English television and movies.
- He is a talented artist and spends most of his free time drawing and creating artwork he can commission for his passion for the environment.
Eden’s age at this language assessment was sixteen years old.
Self-Reflection Following a Language Assessment
It is important to self-reflect following an assessment process with your students. Self-reflection helps to uncover missed opportunities in the administration process and learners’ areas for growth.
For example, in the assessment you just reviewed, I noticed Eden’s word choice and how he chose safe words in his explanations. He did not attempt an expanded vocabulary for a more concise message. He also made a few errors with pluralizations throughout.
Self-reflection on my language assessment process helped me to see that Eden, in particular, would benefit from my giving feedback to him about grammar and word choice when articulating his ideas.
Asking students to also self-reflect provides an expanded view of the assessment process. Eden’s feedback was that he could have used better words when describing the environment. He said, “I know to say climate change, but I was nervous” (Wei, 2021).
In reading and writing classes following this assessment, I focused on the two key goals we discussed pluralization and word choice.
There is confusion with pluralization and past tense with my English language learners, and Eden’s assessment showed me what may be helpful to focus on in his last weeks of school.
Language assessment is an essential part of teaching English language learners.
Assessment is a valuable tool to reflect on lessons, adjust goals, and prepare for upcoming units.
Assessments help identify the underlying language items that may need further practice so teachers can create tailored learning opportunities for their students.
Thanks for stopping by!
Until next time,
World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages
Assessment of English Language Learners
Cambridge Test Your English- Young Learners
5 Ways to Assess English Language Learners
Criteria for High Quality Assessment
Culturally Sustaining Assessment
Guest Author. (2018, February 13). Supporting English Language Learners with Formative Assessments. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/04/supporting-ells-with-formative-assessments/
PETER PAN BY J. M. BARRIE – Free eBook Online. (n.d.). Www.literatureproject.com. Retrieved June 10, 2021, from http://www.literatureproject.com/peter-pan/
sarahlicain. (2019, January 17). Watch Them Grow: 5 Non-test Alternatives for Assessing English Language Learners. FluentU English Educator Blog. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/assessing-english-language-learners/
SPEAKING: Band Descriptors (public version) Band Fluency and coherence Lexical resource Grammatical range and accuracy Pronunciation. (n.d.). https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/speaking-band-descriptors.ashx?la=en
Speaking Assessment IELTS. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://youtu.be/4PEn6RyV–8
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