What is assessment?
Successful teaching involves setting goals, monitoring performance and giving feedback and assessment is the way teachers understand whether their students have reached those goals and learned what they have been taught.

Assessment vs. Testing: what’s te difference?
During a course on Language Assessment in the classroom, I heard Dr Neus Figueras describing this two concepts using an interesting analogy, she said: Continuous assessment is like a mirror – it allows you to keep checking what you look like, and you can make changes based on what you see. A test, on the other hand, is like a photograph – it captures one moment.

Just as you use a mirror to make sure you look your best before having a photograph taken, so classroom assessment can help to check progress when preparing for an important test.

So while testing usually happens at the end of a course with the aim of producing a score, continuous assessment is ongoing throughout the duration of a course, it is usually friendly and it may have different forms such as peer assessment or even self-assessment.

Assessing speaking
First of all, we want to assess students in a real-life situation, setting a context which is relevant to their needs. Then, we can evaluate their speaking skills considering several features: the fluency, the accuracy, the register (formal/informal), the tone (speaking to a child vs adult, telling a sad new vs. happy news), etc..To reproduce the conditions of a real life situation I personally use group discussions and role plays: I take them to “the museum” to describe pictures, “to the restaurant” to order food, “in the city center” to give directions to tourists. I get them to exchange personal information, tell an anecdote or organize plans for the future.

A good ally for teachers is the CEFR (The Common European Framework of Reference for languages)
I assess the skills of my students by choosing a band on the scale that I think best describes their speaking ability and the following step is: based on my students’ level and the level above theirs in the chart, how can I help them progress towards the next level? the answer usually lies in our constructive feedback.

Assessing writing
As for speaking, writing is a complex form of communication and also in this case, we need to create the most suitable situation for them to be assessed.
Start from this question: who are my students and how do they use writing in real-life?
Are they professionals who need to communicate via e-mail?
Are they college students who need to write a research paper?
Are they aspiring journalists or young teenagers doing most of their writing on social media networks?

It is as important for them to meet our evaluation criteria as it is for us to meet their needs and likes so get them doing things that are relevant and/or that they enjoy doing.

Then, again ask them to adapt their language and register to the purpose and the reader, be always clear about task requirements and give detailed information about the strengths and weaknesses of their writing

You can use the analytic rating scales and again, ask yourself what kind of feedback can you give in order to help them progress from their current level to the next one?

Assessing reading
It is important that we present students with a type of text that they find motivating and interesting.

Nowadays, thanks to social media networks, we read more than we might think: posts, articles, blogs, reviews, messages.. and it is crucial to consider why we read what we read in order to adjust the way we do it (skimming, scanning, intensive and extensive reading), one way to describe this is to differentiate between ‘higher’ and ‘lower-level’ reading processes.

You can have a look at the Overall Reading Comprehension Scale where you can see the progression of reading skills, which means that students will move:

  • from individual words (Pre-A1) to texts (A1 – C2)
  • from very short (A1) and short (A2) to long texts (C1 – C2)
  • from simple (A1 – A2) to complex messages (C1 – C2)
  • from concrete information (A2) to abstract concepts (C2)
  • from standard high-frequency language (A2) to idioms (B2) and colloquialisms (C2)
  • from familiar matters (A2) to topics of interest (B1) and specialised subjects (C1)

Assessing listening
Why do people listen? We need to ask this question first, in order to identify ‘real-life’ listening scenarios and decide which of these are most relevant to our learners’ needs. Interviews, songs, lectures, radio programmes, phone conversations all require different listening sub-skills such as listening for gist, for specific information, for keywords and important ideas, listening for detail, for inferred meaning and listening for attitude.

Many of the tasks used for assessing reading are also suitable for testing listening skills: Multiple choice questions, True/False questions, matching tasks, gap fill, short answer questions, information transfer are tasks and integrated tasks that require the use of a different skill (usually a productive one, like speaking and/or writing) but when assessing through those systems, It’s important to keep in mind that each task type has advantages and disadvantages, therefore, including a number of different task types is probably our safest approach.

Click here to download your free CEFR grid!

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