Assessment is an important issue to Reflective Teaching in Modern Foreign Language Education, too. The aim of this essay is to dive into a featured topic of Modern Foreign Language teaching in the UK, specifically to investigate assessment activities in the MFL schoolroom. In order to do so, this essay will focus on different research papers that have been produced on this issue. The essay will first provide the issue of Assessment with general definitions which are necessary to understand how Formative and Summative Assessment is working in MFL classroom. Then it will provide an explanation of this issue used during my placement activity. Within this part, the essay looks at my experiences, as well as the reasons they are used. Finally, the essay will summarize its finding and provide a brief conclusion on its takeaways.
I come from Hungary where I have spent many years both as a learner and a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages, mainly Russian, French and Italian. Teaching for me a profession which means that I set my ‘standards’ and the love for MFL learning. I do not teach students only to take an exam, however, I am a teacher who believes that studying a subject means a lifelong enjoyment in that field. In addition, I am a life-long learner, too so I can exactly understand what my young students can feel when they come into in MFL classroom to be considered their Speaking, Reading, Listening and Writing skills.
Hungary has a long experience of MFL teaching. The assessment process is one of the foremost features in the Hungarian education. Students are given marks for their performance during their education. They may be tested any time, without any previous warning to take a test, to write an essay or to answer questions in front of the class. The marks are from 1 to 5, the 5 is the best. These marks define the final mark for the whole school year for each subject they learn. These marks also decide on the secondary school entry for each student. Concerning the MFL learning, at the end of the Secondary education, students are requested to take also a school leaving exam where there is a chosen MFL exam, too. Students can get university degree unless they have a valid exam pass in an MFL at a level B2 according to European Language Proficiency Frame descriptors. Therefore marks and assessment, mainly summative assessment, is part of the entire school system, as well as for language performances from year 4.
In the UK, I have found a totally different approach to teach and assess students’ activity in the Primary and Secondary school system. The aim of this paper is to show how assessment activities are fundamental in MFL day-to-day in the UK Education, in this “changing landscape of languages” as an OFSTED report described it.
1. Assessment definitions
According to 6th point of the Teacher Standards and Associated Descriptors, an Outstanding teacher can confidently and accurately assess pupils’ attainment against national benchmarks. They use a range of assessment strategies very effectively in their day to day practice to monitor progress and to inform future planning.
Teachers systematically and effectively check learners’ understanding throughout lessons, anticipating where intervention may be needed and do so with notable impact on the quality of learning. They assess learners’ progress regularly and work with them to accurately target further improvement and secure rapid progress.1
In the UK the present assessment system is concentrated on exam tasks which can be Summative- Assessment of Learning or Formative – Assessment for Learning.
1.1 Assessment of Learning:
The summative assessment should make available feedback which conducts students to be familiar with their next step. Students should know the National Curriculum level descriptors to enable clearer feedback on progress. In addition, it is important to have a process where both the teacher and students elaborate assessment information by reviewing and reflecting on. The teacher should be in the practice of developing class and individual’s target setting for students. Students should progress according to official criteria, which include examinations such as GCSE, and A-level exam.
National Curriculum Guidance for England requires that MFL teaching should enable students to understand and communicate personal and accurate information with linguistic competence, which related to speaking, listening, reading and writing skills to prepare them to GCSE exam.
In case a student wants to study abroad he/she needs to take international or national language exam such as Delf, Dalf in France, DELE in Spain, Cisl in Italy, Telc in Germany, e.g Origo in Hungary and etc.
Nevertheless, frequent summative assessment papers against the national standards can cause a detrimental impact on students’ motivation, particularly on low-ability students. However, it checks what a student has achieved. It is associated with reporting, certification, and selection.
1.2 Assessment for Learning
Assessment for Learning (AfL), called Formative Assessment founded on research led by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, professors at Kings College. Their study is entitled Inside the Black Box (1998). The “Black Box” representationally symbolizes the classroom where the learning process takes place involving interactively both teachers and students. Teachers have to cope with a group of students in order to involve them in the learning process. The better teacher-learner collaboration is, the better results can be achieved. Black and Wiliam concentrated on classroom relations and effects, concerns of teachers’ day to day relationship with learners. AfL comprises of all the activities doing in the classroom, which make available information how to go on teaching and learning.
Teachers should know a variety of ways to motivate students in the classroom; however, some pedagogical approaches work well with one group of students, but, are not operative with another class. The teacher plays a key role in the learning process in positive or negative ways.
Formative assessment serves to identify students’ weaknesses to improve them and create students’ appropriate targets. These targets should be clear and specific, challenging and difficult, but at the same time realistic, suitable for students’ capabilities. These learning goals should be measurable and clearly assessed. Teachers often face the common conflict between individual goals and ‘high –stakes’ official constraints. Assessment needs to be used throughout the curriculum and not just a single module.
The teacher shares learning objectives with students to support them know as well as recognize the criteria that they are pointing to. S(he) plans and uses peer-assessment as well as students’ self-assessment as an assessment for a learning tool.
It is indispensable to make available oral as well as written feedback which helps students to identify their following steps and how to take them. The teacher encourages students to explain their thoughts and reasoning thus encouraging an ethos of student improvement. Furthermore, the teacher should make available time in lessons for students to reflect on what they have learnt and to identify possible difficulties.
High-quality assessment can help both teachers and students to understand what has been achieved and what must be done more. Any assessment can only give a snapshot of what students have done. Therefore, assessment should be matched to the knowledge and competencies of students.
1.2.1 The importance of feedback
Teachers should make available tangible feedback, which increases students’ self-confidence to reach targets. Sometimes it is sufficient a small personal word of praise or encouragement. Teachers should communicate positive elements, believing that the student is able to achieve predetermined goals. An effective feedback enables students to understand what they need to do to continue or improve their progress.
Feedback on students’ progress in MFL classroom constantly takes place during lessons. Teacher corrects students’ pronunciation in speaking. She/he circulates around the classroom and gives praise for the right use of Target Language. The teacher can support students with immediate feedback on written or speaking task.
After an effective feedback, it is possible to set goals, targets in order to support students’ progress and the assessment information can be used to decide the next step to take in a logical manner. However, a negative feedback can drive students back in their learning.