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Formative assessment

Formative assessment occurs during learning. It typically provides qualitative (rather than quantitative) feedback for both student and teacher, and focuses on details of content and performance.

Formative feedback and metacognition

Formative feedback also has an important role in increasing students' metacognitive awareness of how they learn.

“Metacognition refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes or anything related to them, for example, the learning-relevant properties of information or data. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact.”

Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive Aspects of Problem Solving. Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum.

When reading a text in the target language, for example, students develop their metacognitive awareness by asking themselves questions such as these:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What strategies am I using?
  • How well am I using the strategies?
  • What else could I do?

Formative feedback and intercultural communicative competence

Today, the goal of language teaching and learning is intercultural communicative competence. Achieving this goal requires understanding of the relationship between culture and language. And the emphasis of all teaching is on learning how to communicate effectively rather than on being able to speak like a native speaker.

Quality feedback for learning languages:

  • clarifies performance expectations (goals, criteria, expected standards)
  • facilitates self-assessment and peer-assessment in learning
  • provides high quality information to students about their learning
  • encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning
  • encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
  • provides ways to close the gap between current and desired performance
  • provides information to teachers that they can use to adjust their teaching.

Learn more:

What might formative assessment look like?

1. Receptive skills

Formative assessment focuses on how well students recognise and interpret linguistic and cultural meanings embedded in oral, written, and visual texts.

Example 1: Radio talkback programme (oral) in German

The radio host opens the programme by addressing the audience: Liebe Hörer und Hörerinnen.

  • Can students recognise that the words "Hörer" (male listeners) and "Hörerinnen"(female listeners) draw attention to gender?
  • Would they be able to note that, in contrast, it is considered good form in English is to avoid gender-based distinctions?
  • Can they find examples to illustrate this point, for example, “actor”, which is used for both genders (and “actress” but rarely)?
  • What connections can students make to linguistic and cultural practices in their own languages(s) and culture(s)?
  • What further examples can they provide?
  • How do such understandings help them to differentiate between worldviews?

Example 2: A poster combines written and visual text elements to persuade potential travellers to visit Sāmoa for a holiday

  • Can students comment on how readers approach texts like this? For example, people don’t read posters in the same way as a written text (in linear fashion, from left to right). The visual image (photo), and the selection and arrangement of different text elements (caption, quotes, questions, phrases, metaphors, etc.) offer the reader a variety of entry points.
  • Can students comment on how captions and other text elements on the photo impact on the minds of viewers/readers as they construct meaning from them, as they link what they see and read to their prior knowledge of Sāmoa and, perhaps, other Pacific islands?

2. Interacting

Formative assessment focuses on how students create, communicate, and reflect on linguistic and cultural meaning as they interact with other speakers in social contexts. Two examples:

Example 1: Informal conversational exchange (oral) in Cook Islands Māori

Josh is talking to Tino about his recent holiday in the Cook Islands. He uses the plural pronoun "mātou" (we, us) to show that he is including his family: 

  • Tino! Nō nana ʻi mātou i ʻoki mai ei nō Rarotonga mai. (Tino, we have just come back from Rarotonga).

Tino responds with the same inclusiveness, using the plural pronoun "kōtou" (you: more than two) to refer to both Josh and his family.

  • What connections can students make to corresponding linguistic and cultural practices in English and their own languages(s) and culture(s)?
  • What examples can they provide?
  • How can such understandings help them convey cultural meanings in their own interactions?

Example 2: Semi-formal conversational exchange (oral) in French

Damien finds himself in an intercultural space when a French speaker asks him to name some typical New Zealand foods.

As he reflects on his own culture in relation to French culture, he concludes that New Zealand doesn’t have typical dishes in the sense that France does:

  • “Je ne connais pas de plats typiques en Nouvelle-Zélande comme en France.”

In the process, Damien is challenged to consider his own identity and assumptions:

  • “Peut-être les desserts comme la pavlova …” (Perhaps desserts like pavlova); “Le hangi, c’est un plat Māori” (Hangi is a Māori “dish”).

How might your students respond in a situation like this?

Would they choose similar items?

What other foods might they think of to answer the French speaker’s question?

How would their responses challenge their assumptions and possibly make them think about their identities?

3. Productive skills

Formative assessment focuses on how students create linguistic and cultural meanings and how they communicate these meanings via different texts to the appropriate audiences.

Example 1: Yearbook entry (written) in Japanese

Sarah uses the expression お世話になりました, which is more commonly used in letters of thanks to individuals, and therefore less appropriate in a yearbook entry.

  • Would Sarah still manage to communicate her meaning to speakers of Japanese?
  • Can your students use the language forms that are appropriate for the audiences of the texts they create?
  • What comparisons and connections can they make with comparable texts and practices in their own cultures?
  • How do such understandings help them use language to convey appropriate cultural meanings?

Example 2: Letter to the editor (written) in lea faka-Tonga

When writing her letter to the editor expressing her concern about children’s TV viewing habits, Rebekah chooses to use "lea tavale", the everyday, neutral level of language: for example, "sio" (look, watch) and "toonga" (behaviour).

She also uses some words that are customarily associated with "lea fakamatāpule", the polite level of language: for example, "mamata" (view).

  • How might students comment on this mix of levels and its appropriateness in the context?
  • Can they use the language forms that are appropriate for the audiences of the texts they create?
  • What comparisons and connections can they make with comparable texts and practices in their own cultures?
  • How do such understandings help them use language to convey appropriate cultural meanings?

Learn more:

  • Evidence from TPDL shows a fit between learning languages and the vision of The New Zealand Curriculum for young New Zealanders.

Last updated September 12, 2017



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