Considerations on assessing and giving feedback
Assessment and evaluation practices reflect our educational culture and our cultural beliefs about teaching and learning.
Many multilingual learners come from a classroom in which assessment and evaluation are summative, often in the form of a final exam worth 100% of the course grade. They are unfamiliar with the concept of formative assessment, which assesses learning in progress and contributes to the learning process. Therefore, they do not understand the importance placed on attendance and participation in classroom activities as a means of monitoring and assessing their progress.
Distinguish between language and content
Language can be an issue in relation to assessment as you may have trouble interpreting responses due to grammatical or linguistic errors, and therefore may not recognize that a student has demonstrated an understanding of the course content. Similarly, the wording of a question may cause students to misinterpret it and lead to responses that do not demonstrate what the student has learned.
It is important to distinguish between language and content and to focus on content when assessing student learning. It is equally important to think carefully about the language used in assessments. Using language that is simple and clear will help learners identify the appropriate response.
Providing students with rubrics and clear assessment criteria also helps to clarify expectations, as does providing models of well-executed assignments and giving students a chance to use the instructor's rubric to compare them to poorly executed examples.
Instructors at Thompson Rivers University noted that employing assessment tools other than oral presentations and written assignments can also help international students demonstrate what they have learned. They commented that incorporating "well planned multiple choice or true/false components can level the playing field and give a clearer indication of comprehension" (TRU: A globally minded campus — A resource for academic departments, "Assessments", p.52).
Provide more time for assessment
The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill points out that multilingual learners need more time for assessment. According to the website:
"Research summarized by Grabe (2009) has demonstrated that even fluent non-native speakers read 50-70% slower in their foreign language than in their native language. Writing in a foreign language is similarly slow because of the extra layer of cognitive processing required to produce well-developed, coherent texts in a foreign language."
They conclude that, "In the interest of gaining a more reliable measure of student learning, providing extended time for assessment to ESL students has been recognized as a reasonable practice by several universities and professional credentialing boards. Reasonable accommodation is determined locally, but ranges between 25% and 50% extended time."
References and resources
Shapiro, S., Farrelly, R. & Tomas, Z. (2014 ). Fostering International Student Success in Higher Education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association Press.
UFV Library Catalogue: ABBOTSFORD LB 2375 S43 2014 STACKS
Chapter 4 overview — Assignments and assessment
- Some pros and cons of different forms of summative assessment (p. 53 in the box).
- Backward design (pp. 54-55) and front-loading (pp. 55-56).
- Lack of clarity in the assignment description or instructions. Some guidelines are included (pp. 56-57 and p. 58 in the box), and explicit rubrics are discussed (pp. 57-59).
- The section on grading and evaluation (pp. 65-71) includes many helpful strategies to help instructors "navigate" the issue of assessment and make decisions about how they will decide on and deliver assignments in their courses.
- The discussion about accents (pp. 68-69) is related to the discussion about accents in the video "Writing Across Borders".
- Some suggestions for possible "accommodations" are offered (pp. 67-71). The section "Toward Equity and Empowerment" reminds us that the purpose of assessment and evaluation is to allow students to "show what they have learned in class" (p. 71).
- Rather than lowering the standards, any accommodations or assessment practices should enable us to "create conditions whereby all students can be successful in meeting the high standards we set for them — not to change our expectations for those who are struggling" (p. 71).
Assessment practices need to measure what students have learned
You need to ensure that your assessment practices measure what students have learned in a way that is fair to all learners and provides an accurate way to know whether students have met the learning objectives for the course.
Questions for reflection and discussion before viewing the video:
- What kind of assessment practices do you employ in your teaching? Why do you prefer these types of assessment?
- Which of these assessment types is most difficult for multilingual learners (e.g. multiple choice, short answer, essay)? Which is easiest? Why?
Questions for reflection and discussion after viewing the video:
- What constitutes a "thoughtful" response? Is this an important aspect of your assessment practices?
- Did you agree with the instructor’s comment that providing "immediate and thoughtful" response is more challenging for multilingual learners?
- Would you consider any of the accommodations suggested in the video? Do you think they would work with the assessment tasks you give in your classroom? Why or why not?
- Do you feel that it is fair to all learners to provide accommodations like these to everyone? Would it be better to offer the exam separately to multilingual learners and provide them with specific accommodations? Why or why not?
What kind of feedback do students want?
- What kind of instructor feedback do students want? What do they find most helpful?
- What should you think about when giving correction and feedback to students?
The video Student perspectives on instructor feedback include short interviews of students answering these questions.
Student meetings and assessment practices
Instructors at UFV find it helpful to establish contact individually with students at the beginning of the semester, whether it is during office hours, by email or using Blackboard. Instructors feel that meeting with learners helps establish a relationship that will encourage them to attend office hours and seek help when they need it.
In the short clip from "Writing Across Borders" (Oregon State University), a writing instructor explains that what she learns from meeting individually with learners helps her make decisions about the feedback she provides on their written assignments.
Effective and action-oriented feedback
The video Action-oriented feedback discusses the characteristics of effective feedback and provides a framework for action-oriented feedback.
- Action-oriented feedback handout
- How to use the action-oriented feedback framework in your discipline
What's working at UFV
This section includes suggestions and strategies contributed by UFV instructors. If you would like to make a contribution, email firstname.lastname@example.org to share approaches and strategies that you have used in your classroom.
Assessments and testing
An instructor in the Kinesiology department gives a set of exam questions that require a longer, thoughtful response before the exam, stating that questions will be chosen from those that have been distributed. On the exam day, the students can vote for the questions they want on the exam or the instructor chooses question numbers by chance.
This strategy is particularly helpful for multilingual learners as it gives them the time they need to think through the questions and prepare a well organized and thoughtful response. This strategy also gives them the time to ensure that responses are well worded and to check for grammatical errors.