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The Importance of Initial Assessment

The Importance of Initial Assessment

Initial assessment is an essential part of fair and effective admission procedures. It is used by governing bodies to determine the level of a learner whether or not he/ she is qualified for acceptance and/or to determine the level of the learner. An assessment may be formal or informal. Formal may include telephone interview, essay, and portfolio. Informal may include group critiquing and self assessment.

Advantages of initial assessment include the following:

Makes pupils feel they belong to the learning culture

Reduces pupils’ anxiety

Provides the necessary information for the careful planning of learning activities needed

Determines individual learning needs

An appropriate, challenging task/goal is given or negotiated in advance so students know what’s coming.

However there are also negatives or pitfalls of initial assessment. Evidence (Heywood, l989) suggests that some traditional methods of assessment (e.g. tutor marked examinations) are unreliable: those results are not consistent with repeated applications. Several studies have shown that not only can the same candidate be given different marks by two different tutors but also the same tutor may give different marks to the same candidate when the same paper is remarked (Heywood, op cit). In fact, one of the major arguments for reforming assessment in higher education is the unreliability of some of the more traditional assessment practices. It is hardly fair for tutors to question whether students can reliably assess themselves when it has been demonstrated that tutor-marked assessments are themselves prone to a lack of consistency.

There are also difficulties that may hinder the purpose of initial assessment. Prior knowledge about a specific subject is a vital consideration. Knowledge about the medium of learning such as English language could also make or break what is expected from the learner.

Various methods are used for assessments.

1.Essay: Strengths may include: for the learner; able to demonstrate writing ability; chance to express the knowledge about a specific subject. Negatives: limited knowledge about a given subject; language barriers such as grammar and idioms. Validity and reliability is according to given standards by a specific teacher/organization.

2. Oral test: Positives: precise and direct to the point, good for learners with excellent speaking ability. Negatives: limited knowledge about language, specific subject. Reliability is slim. Validity depends upon every requirement.

3. Objective test (multiple choice): Positives: reliable and straight to the point of for a chosen subject. Answers do not change or vary according to standards.

Negatives: Memorisation and understanding for a particular subject matter might be tedious for many students.

4. Tutorials: Positives: intensive and precise, the attachment between the tutor and the learner to enhance learning. Negative: time constraints

5. Skills test: Positives: may be reliable according to given standards. Negatives: It is subjective.

Methods could be formative and summative. Formative assessment is continuous checking and consolidation of learning process. It is used to determine if there is a learning going on and to consolidate individual needs to prosper in learning. Formative assessment is helpful as a tool to determine the strengths and areas for developments not only of the individual learner but also of the teacher and all the other bodies such as providers and educational organization to check whether or not a scheme of learning is working. However a formative assessment could hinder progress for some pupils who don’t have or lacking in coping mechanisms against their more brilliant peers. Summative assessment is a tool on the other hand to assess if there was learning in the whole process. It is vital to check every end of a session or course to assess a learner’s progress. Individual learning needs and areas of developments may be highlighted in every summative assessment. Both formative and summative assessment might be questioned for reliability and validity.

By evaluating ways of planning, negotiating and recording appropriate learning goals with targets, a learning environment is on the right tract.

The use of tutorials and ILPs; to monitor learners’ progress and set targets need evaluation. Through tutorials a teacher could have the chance to talk about strengths and areas of developments of a learner. This is also a good way to negotiate concerns like projects, assignments and aims regarding learning. In my experience as an English teacher, one to one tutorial was a very helpful scheme to check about a learner’s progress. My awareness about what went wrong and what went well with a learner could give me pointers to reconsider for targets for the student’s development. Individual learning process is also a scheme to have awareness about what is going on in the learning environment. ILP is a device set to record and to track a learner’s progress. If there are targets such as assignment due date, areas for development concerns, activities missed, an ILP is a handy tool. Having a recorded tract is a responsible way that could be used for future planning. If a teacher has a record for all assessments used to measure a student’s learning process, problems like priority student, negligence, etc. could be avoided.

Inclusive learning is necessary in every learning environment. Individual needs of students must be considered to maximise expected learning outcomes. Students with physical and mental disabilities do not justify a learning failure. The following are considerations for inclusive learning.

  1. Coloured paper for dyslexia
  2. Peer support/group work engaged
  3. Differentiated questioning and differentiated tutor support

In my experience as an English teacher for foreign students in my country

it was very important for me to consider the students with learning difficulties by giving them tutorial support when necessary. Physical disabilities such as eyesight must also be taken into account. The arrangement of the classroom however simple it may seem as a problem must be considered for situations like this. Working in groups could enhance the confidence and self esteem of students who find it difficult to cope with the stronger students. Giving specific tasks to students to highlight their strengths could also enhance inclusion for those who feel less capable. I always choose these methods for inclusive learning because I find them helpful especially during an activity. Asking easier questions to less active students also promote inclusive learning. (Refer to appendix for inclusive learning activities)

Teaching methods vary for every teacher and situation derived from differentiation among learners. The following are teaching methods that I used and will use in my future teachings.

Teach/test teach and the following activities may be used:

1. Watching a video film

2. Book based exercises

b. Demonstration with the following activities:

1. Hands on

2. Role play

3. Listening activities followed by group discussions/work

c. Private tutorials with these activities:

1. Question and answer

2. speaking/listening/writing/materials with actualisation like visit to places such as restaurants, theatres, etc.

Again, teaching methods can be differentiated by individual needs such as coloured paper for learners with dyslexia, differentiation of questions for students with learning difficulties; mental and physical. Individual support has always been my consideration as well. In the two lessons I did for the course “English language for beginners,” I chose methods teach test teach for all the activities I did. (refer to appendices evidence: learning plan.) I always find it helpful to give exercises for every topic tackled to have an immediate assessment if there was learning that happened. Immediate feedback and corrections could be given through monitoring and answered exercise materials. (For other teaching methods, see appendix)

There are ways in which session plans can be adapted to the individual needs of learners. These ways include coloured paper for learners with dyslexia, sitting arrangement that suits learners’ needs for group work, etc. differentiated questioning, extension activity offered, visual materials adjusted for learners with eyesight problems, audio adjustment for those with hearing impairment, safety and convenience in the classroom for those with phobias and physical impairments. Lesson plans must be fair for every learner. There are learners with learning difficulties and changes in lesson planning like differentiated questioning, encouragement of group work, and differentiation of expected aims with the use of all, most and some to classify learning outcomes. In my experience as a teacher, checking of prior knowledge is also a vital part to measure what is expected from the students, and then the differentiation for questions to check if there is learning is easier because awareness about the learners’ subject knowledge is already achieved.

Feedback is a very important element to help inform practice. Feedback is a tool to consolidate learning outcomes achieved. As a teacher I use as a practice to incorporate feedback after every session or lesson. Question and answer and discussions about errors committed by learners are checked on white board to promote awareness and learning aims achieved. For the learners who did a good performance is always given recognition through nice remarks such as “well done, very good and you deserve a commendation” to promote confidence. For an extension activity I always use in my specialist subject for a feedback to error corrections heard and noticed through monitoring during exercises and discussions and group activities.

Professor John Hattie found that Feedback has more effect on achievement than any other factor. Professors Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam of Kings College London spent four years studying and reviewing research into feedback which is closely linked to ‘formative assessment’. They concluded in agreement with Professor Hattie that formative assessment has a huge effect on learning quality. It has been found to add the equivalent of two grades to students’ achievement if done very well. According to Geoff Petty (2004) “In Teaching Today I try to summarise Black and William’s main findings, by saying feedback should include:

Medals: This is information about what a student has done well, e.g. ‘Your paragraphs and punctuation are good’ or ‘That’s good evidence’ written in the margin next to a well made point by the student. Grades and marks are measurements not medals. Medals are information about what exactly was done well.

Missions: This is information about what the student needs to improve, correct, or work on. It is best when it is forward looking and positive. e.g. ‘try to give more evidence for your views’ or ‘Use more paragraphs to show the structure of your writing’. Again, measurements such as grades do not usually give this information.

Clear goals: the medals and missions need to be given in relation to clear goals usually best given in advance.

To promote inclusive learning in my two learning plans, I used group work and role play to promote equal learning opportunities to active and non-active learners. Again, consideration for students with learning difficulties is vital.

According to Geoff Petty (Active learning 2004), we learn by doing. Research shows that active learning is much better recalled, enjoyed and understood. Active methods require us to ‘make our own meaning’, that is, develop our own conceptualisations of what we are learning. During this process we physically make neural connections in our brain, the process we call learning. Passive methods such as listening do not require us to make these neural connections or conceptualisations. Active methods also:

• Give the learner feedback on their incomplete understandings and encourage them fix this, for example by helping each other.

• Give the teacher feedback on which learners understand, and who needs help

• Develop thinking skills such as analysis, problem solving, and evaluation

• Help learners to use their learning in realistic and useful ways, and see its importance and relevance

I believe that active learning is a method of inclusive learning that is exercised through group work and feedback.

The use and innovation of modern technology is vital to achieve learning aims and goals. I find starboard very helpful because of the many things you could do with it such as internet based learning. Automatic saving of lessons and students’ work could be immediately saved and be printed for future purposes. However, there are some pitfalls about the use of such. Electronic problems could happen that is why paper based and/ or a back up is always a must. Learners who are visual could find the use of starboard a remarkable one. Kinaesthetic learners will find it interesting as well. (see appendix paragraph 8 for inclusive resources I used with my students in my specialist area)

My specialist subject is ESOL (English for speakers of other languages). It is then vital for functional skills such as writing, speaking and listening to be incorporated to achieve maximum learning. Essay, discussion, debates, theses, assignments, oral test, interview, portfolio and other methods to go with learning require a minimum knowledge or core to achieve certain standards for specific learning environments.

The ongoing literacy, language, numeracy and ICT skills which are integral to my own specialist area, ESOL make me a better equipped educator because these areas widen my horizons to know better how to meet my learners’ needs. By knowing what my strengths and areas of developments are, it is easier to relate to students’ needs as well.

In my first micro teach in Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning sector,

to promote inclusion, I used handouts (with visualiser for checking) and white board for group activities for grammar test to be able to achieve inclusive learning. Checking and feedback were also done in groups to promote inclusion. However there were remarks from my peers as my students for not considering prior knowledge in the grammar activity.

This evaluation made me realise to consider prior subject knowledge and do not assume in any way that all learners have the same level of knowledge about a specific area. Learning outcomes will always be achieved successfully through inclusion and active learning.

Observation is a two way process, by the teacher to the learner and vice versa. Observation has been ongoing for me since the course started. I observe my tutors on how they manage to cater everybody’s needs. Tutorials are offered to discuss matters and to simply liaise as well.