Skip to main content

Formative assessment and language teaching

Our department has been buzzing a bit more than usual following our training with Dylan Wiliam last week. Most of us have been trying out a few techniques or tweaking our practice a little to make sure all students are positively engaged. I'd like to make one or two observations about AfL (otherwise known as formative assessment), however.

The "no hands up" approach poses problems for us. True, if you impose no hands-up, you are likely to engage a wider range of pupils, but this comes at the cost of pace and at the cost of stretching the most able in the class, who enjoy putting themselves forward and who benefit from doing so. I would argue for compromise in this area, by judiciously allowing hands up, but having sections of lessons with no hands up. Interestingly, Professor Wiliam pointed out to us that the act of raising your hand to answer makes you smarter. Interesting.

Another approach which was recommended to us, and which makes some sense, is allowing students longer to answer questions. We have consciously worked on this. It is so easy, isn't it, to maintain pace by sacrificing the opportunity for the less able to think through an answer. I have been guilty of this in the past, but will allow weaker pupils more time in the future.

However, I do not support the use of equally hard questions for all students, as recommended by Professor Wiliam. So no lolly sticks or random name generators for me, I'm afraid. My instincts tell me to differentiate questions to some extent. As language teachers we depend on careful selection and grading of questions and I shall continue to aim the toughest questions at the most able.

As regards pair and group talk I have always set plenty of pair work - notably using guessing games, information gap tasks, battleships etc, but I am now inclined to get pairs to discuss conceptual issues like tenses and endings. Simply asking pairs to spend a minute working out a definition of the infinitive, or asking them to figure out how regular -er verbs work in the present tense, involves more students in their learning. On a few occasions this week I found myself saying "You've got two minutes - go!" Not rocket science, I know, but you get stuck in your ways after a while!

We have also been doing a bit more checking of progress within the lesson. We have noted, however, that getting kids to put their thumbs up has its limitations, as children will naturally tend to want to please you, even when they do not fully understand. I have to remind myself how often out classes do not understand what we say in the target language. It really is worth checking with students quite regularly whether they understood what you were saying. They appreciate it and you get a better relationship as a result. Not sure whether I shall go down the coloured cups or traffic lights route, but there is a very important principle involved. (If you haven't heard of the cups, you give each student a green, red and yellow plastic cup. If they are following the work they show the green cup on top, if they are lost they show the red cup, if they are a bit uncertain, they show the amber cup.)

Student involvement is very important in lessons, but for effective language learning to take place, lots of listening is needed, so the teacher will have to take a prominent role and talk quite a lot. If we do not supply plenty of TL from our own voices, the computer or the CD, we are letting our students down.

Dylan Wiliam talked a good deal about effective questioning too. This is a tricky one for us, since our questioning is of a very particular type. We ask questions to practise structures and vocabulary as much as to elicit meaning. We should not worry about repetitive drilling and repetition; these are important for the embedding of linguistic competence. In language teaching we exploit the behaviourist dimension more than in other subjects. This is especially true of the early stages. It requires a brisk pace and instant responses, not necessarily a reflective, slow answer.

So, in sum, there are some really good lessons to be learned about formative assessment techniques, but I would suggest that we adapt them to our own personalities and instincts, and that, even more important, we bear in mind what we already know about how language learning takes place.

Comments

  1. Steve, I think your comment about the complexity of questions for more able students is spot on. I love challenging higher-ability students further with extra questions to get them slightly out of their comfort zone and see their brains really engaging, and I love even more watching the proud look on their faces as they figure out something both they and I know is quite difficult, and get the appropriate praise for it.
    One strategy I used to use (not so much recently) is wait until I had at least 10 hands up. Sometimes I would share that with the class, so they knew I was waiting for more volunteers. Another I still use frequently is asking students to discuss my question in pairs for 20 seconds before I accept an answer - this tends to wake up even the most unresponsive pupils. Good to see that I'm on the right track!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I think that technique you mentioned at the end is a good one. Breaks up the lesson a bit, keeping all involved too.

      Delete
    2. really very informative information for me and also very helpful.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.


Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …