Thursday, August 10, 2017

Teens 6 Magazine Project

Making writing exciting

Whenever I get to a writing lesson, I picture my students complaining and moaning about having to write anything. It’s almost as if they had a radar that indicated “boring activity ahead”. These are, thus, the lessons that intrigue me the most just for the challenge of changing that regular pattern.

DSC06109.JPGTo do so, I am always reflecting on how relevant and interesting the writing can be for my young teenage students. The formula is not so hard: just take the genre of the piece of writing into account and think about how it could be applied to their realities. That is basically what I did for my Teens 6 group. Writing news reports was the goal, so I decided to take my students from the role of students to the role of reporters.

The students were obviously excited with the idea of becoming reporters and writing a story. The idea was that they would gather in pairs or trios and would each be assigned a certain page of our class magazine. Once I had a Google slide template of the magazine prepared and ready to be accessed through a shortened link (bit.ly/teens6magazine), I instructed my students and took them to the Resource Centre to make it happen.

DSC06129.JPGI had to do it in two classes. The first attempt wasn’t so good because some of my students messed around and interfered in other students’ slides. In the following class, I told them off and told them that they would be given a last chance to finish their reports. I also said that those who didn’t finish would have their pages taken out of the magazine. That gave them some encouragement. On the second day, then, they worked a lot better and behaved as expected.

After joining forces with the Resource Centre at the Main Branch, the magazine was printed out and the students were able to have their own copies. The gleam in my students’ eyes when they saw the magazines I had brought paid off all the effort and struggle I described in the previous paragraph.

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Maybe a magazine project cannot be carried out every semester, but something we can definitely do is plan our lessons every day wondering whether they will bore our students or excite them. Bearing that in mind and having some deal of willingness, we will be able to come up with many other ideas that can surprise our students and make a difference in their lives.

Lucas G. Silva

Monday, August 07, 2017

Online English Teaching: Tips and Advice

Andréa Guterres Câmara (Final Project for the course Writing for Teachers)


When we think about English teaching in the 21st century, we can’t ignore the impact of the Internet on our practice as teachers. Students of all ages can now access information 24/7. There’s YouTube, with an impressive library of millions of videos growing steadily, with about 300 hours of new content uploaded every minute. Students can watch videos, listen to different accents, and learn authentic language anytime and as many times they want, something unimaginable and unattainable not long ago. 

As our society advanced technologically, the demand for virtual classrooms was a natural consequence. To answer that, our first MOOCs, or massive open online courses, came to be in the 2000s. Since then, more and more people across the globe have been able to learn countless subjects without the need to commute to a brick-and-mortar school. This phenomenon hasn’t been different in regard to language learning.

We live in a fast-paced world; traffic can be daunting in big cities, and in some remote locations traveling to attend face-to-face classes can be quite impossible. Commuting to class used to be a chore for many, but now with a computer and a reliable Internet connection, anyone can have access to online courses and private tutors alike. As online teachers, we have the potential to reach students practically anywhere on the planet. More and more people are discovering this learning option and embracing it. “Due to a combination of factors (for example cost, convenience, learner expectations, developments in technology, and changing paradigms within education), it is clear that online learning is here to stay” (Hockly, 2015).

The challenge we online teachers face is to offer the same quality lessons to students who are miles away, as we’ve done in traditional in-person settings. Below I’ve included a few tips to address common problems and to circumvent issues we may have with technology and distance learning. They are intended for one-to-one lessons for adults, which is my niche, and with which I’m most experienced.

Start with a needs analysis and a placement test
Like with a regular course, you must know exactly what your student needs and wants to learn. It will be a partnership between your student and you. Both need to be aware of what is necessary to achieve their goal.

Choose your favorite communication platform and have a backup option
You can use Skype, which is probably the most popular platform, but there is also Zoom, a favorite of many teachers: “Zoom is excellent. It offers a wide range of annotation tools, recording facilities and great audio and video quality” (Nobre, 2017).
It is a good idea to have a backup plan. If Skype is not working, use Zoom or Google Hangout. As a last resort, you may also try FaceTime for Mac/iPhone users or WhatsApp Video Calling. The important tip is to be ready in case things don’t go as expected.

Make sure your student knows the basics about technology before you start your course
It may be straightforward to you, but many people are not familiar with all the technology available out there, let alone learn a language in a new environment. You can send them tutorials, links and schedule a call if they need extra help getting set up. Remember their success and commitment depend on a good start.

Choose your materials wisely
If you decide to use a textbook, look for one with a presentation tool. Most publishing companies nowadays offer that feature. You can install a program or download it, and have access to the student’s book on your computer screen. This way you can share your screen, make annotations during the lesson, play audio files, videos, and make your class more fun and interactive.

Create your own online lessons
You can create your own lessons using articles from blogs, news websites, or stories you saw on TV; the options are countless. There are many reasons to do this. Here I list a few: you will bring more contemporaneous issues to your lessons; you’ll be using authentic materials that can help students learn collocations, pronunciation and connected speech in a natural way; they can improve their listening and writing skills with examples taken from authentic texts; and you can also stimulate their critical thinking in the process.

Use other online teachers’ free lessons
If you are pressed for time and can’t produce your own lessons, you can also download free lessons from other teachers. My favorite ones are:

Rachel Robert’s at https://elt-resourceful.com
Luiz Otavio de Barros at http://www.luizotaviobarros.com
Cristina Cabal at http://www.cristinacabal.com/

Websites like the British Council and VOA (Voice of America), for instance, offer free lessons with authentic resources to make yours interesting and up-to-date on current world issues.

Use videos for storytelling
Videos can be a great resource, but don’t just show your students a video and use it as a listening skills lesson. You can use videos to tell a story.
“The traditional way to use video in the classroom is to watch the video first and talk about it later. In a Videotelling activity, the teacher communicates a video narrative through traditional interactive storytelling. In this way, the technology takes a back seat, and human communication comes to the front of the class” (Keddie, 2017, p.15).

Have your students participate actively
A challenge to teachers and more so to online tutors is to control their TTT, or Teacher Talking Time. You must prepare your lessons to be student-centered. Use Skype’s chat boxes to have your students write. Share your screen, and show them PowerPoint presentations to scaffold vocabulary and language. Engage their attention with nice visuals and videos. Ask them to record an audio at home about a topic you’ve agreed upon, and then give them feedback. These are simple and easy to do. The important thing is to create opportunities for the students to produce and not just sit and listen to you lecture them for 1 hour.

Final Considerations
Online teaching is not for everyone. Not all students will want to study online, and not all teachers will adapt to this new environment or enjoy it. “It might sound obvious, but some people simply don’t enjoy studying online, preferring face-to-face lessons” (Nobre, 2017).
As with anything relatively new and changing fast, it’s a matter of trying for yourself and seeing if you like it or not.
If you do decide to take the plunge, I recommend you create a databank of resources. The more lessons and content you have saved, the easier it will be for you to adapt your lessons and save time in the long run.


References:

Hockly, N. (2015). Developments in online language learning. ELT Journal Advance Access. Retrieved from https://theconsultants-e.academia.edu/NickyHockly

Keddie, J. (2017). Videotelling | YouTube Stories for the Classroom. (Introduction, page 15). Retrieved from Kindle, Amazon.com

Nobre, C. (2017). Challenges in ELT: Teaching online.

 The British Council, https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/

VOA (Voice of America), https://learningenglish.voanews.com/




      
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Friday, April 07, 2017

Thomas Innovation Mentors: Aligning views and probing into our teenage students' perceptions




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In our second innovation project session today we worked on investigating and aligning our views of our students’ classroom experiences. To that effect, we created our CSD Matrix (Matriz CSD in Portuguese), in which ‘C’ stands for certainties, ‘S’ for suppositions, and ‘D’ for doubts. We probed into our views and beliefs regarding the quality of the experience our students have in our classrooms. Individually, each team member wrote down their perceptions onto post-its (one perception per post-it) within a few minutes for each of the three categories. Once everyone was finished recording their views, it was time for us to process what we came up with. Going over everyone’s contributions generated some interesting conversations on our beliefs, and we concluded that we are pretty much aligned in our views of the kind of experience we think our students have in our classroom.


Team members were now ready to process a set of students’ responses to a brief questionnaire, a google form containing the following questions: 1. Tell us about a memorable English class you had at Thomas. Why was it a memorable experience?; 2. Considering all your trajectory at Thomas, in different levels with different teachers, what is it that you like the most about our classes?; 3. What is it that you like the least about our classes?; and 4. Write a word that represents your experience in your classes at Thomas. We managed to get responses from a mix of teenage students from different levels. We worked in two trios, and each trio looked at the responses to questions 1 and 2. What we did was go over students’ responses, which had been compiled into post-its, and try to identify patterns, tendencies or even categories that would emerge from their responses. The idea was to reach a more synthetic understanding of students’ perceptions and see if any insights would spring up in the process. As we shared our findings, we were able to make connections and identify some ideas which we felt were in the core of students’ responses. We took notes of those core findings so that they can inform actions ahead.


We wrapped up the session with some analysis and discussion around how our findings regarding students’ responses aligned with or somehow validated our own perceptions in our CSD Matrix, and we concluded that perceptions were quite aligned and coherent. As a result of this session, we were able to see a teenage student persona taking shape. A persona who has very specific perceptions of the classroom experience, who has particular needs and desires. The next step is to deepen the insights and prototype solutions to be tested in the classroom. This was quite a productive and inspiring session, and it feels like each one of us is gradually gaining a new sense that we go beyond being teachers, we are learning experience designers.

Would you like to know more about this project? Check out our site: bit.ly/thomasinnovationmentors


Friday, March 17, 2017

Thomas Innovation Mentors: Project Kick-off

Last Friday, March 10th, we launched the Thomas Innovation Mentors Project. We are a team of eight highly motivated and curious teachers eager to reflect on our students’ classroom experience. The idea is to look at everything that takes place within the classroom from the student’s perspective. We want to tap into the perceptions and emotions that our students experience during their time with us in order to gain new insights into possible paths to innovation.


We are adopting a Design Thinking (DT) approach, since its very definition reflects how we want to go about the project: DT is a human-centered design process. Therefore, in our first face-to-face session we facilitated a DT crash course put together by Stanford’s d.school. Throughout the session, team members worked with a partner to redesign a gift-giving experience. In the process, they were able to go through the DT cycle and apply the ‘mindfulnesses’ necessary to successfully engage in the co-creation process.



The 5-stage DT cycle  (Image by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford)


The DT ‘mindfulnesses’  (Image by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford)

Team members worked together to understand their partner’s profile and needs in order to design a new and impactful gift-giving experience for their partners. Massive interaction and dynamic collaboration naturally took place, and the energy level was high up throughout the session. Each team member then prototyped their ideas in order to see how their partners interacted with it. Every stage of the DT cycle was timed, which made the creative process challenging and quite fruitful.

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It was a very successful kick-off session! We reached our goal of getting primed for applying the DT process, both in practical terms as well as in mindful terms. We are now engaging in understanding the challenge ahead of us. The next step will be to empathize with our “user” - our students - in order to more clearly define the direction we are headed. We are certain that this is going to be a very rich (and fun!) learning experience for all our project collaborators - teachers and students.


Team members proudly exhibiting their prototypes.



Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Learning Cycle
The human brain is designed for learning, but how do we learn? In the book The art of changing the brain: enriching teaching by exploring the biology of learning James E. Zull defines learning as “change, growth, and pruning of our neu­rons, connections–called synapses– and neu­ronal networks, through expe­ri­ence. There are four stages of the Learning Cycle:
1) We have Con­crete expe­ri­ence,
2) We develop Reflec­tive Obser­va­tion and Con­nec­tions,
3) We gen­er­ate Abstract hypoth­e­sis,
4) We then do Active test­ing of those hypothe­ses, and there­fore have a new Con­crete expe­ri­ence, and a new Learn­ing Cycle ensues”.
In an interview with Alvaro Fernandez, James E. Zull summaries the learning cycle  as such: “… we 1) get infor­ma­tion (sen­sory cor­tex), 2) make mean­ing of that infor­ma­tion (back inte­gra­tive cor­tex), 3) cre­ate new ideas from these mean­ings (front inte­gra­tive cor­tex) and 4) act on those ideas (motor cor­tex). From this I propose that there are four pillars of learn­ing: gath­er­ing, ana­lyz­ing, cre­at­ing, and acting” ( http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/10/12/an-ape-can-do-this-can-we-not/).
Thus, the cycle is based on the idea that knowledge cannot be acquired from zero; learning originates in concrete experience which Zull calls experiential learning. But experience isn’t everything. Zull informs that “learning also requires reflection, developing abstractions, and active testing of our abstractions” (p. 18). According to Zull, learning also requires effort and get­ting out of our com­fort zones.  Learners must be motivated and self-driven and maintain a sense of ownership.  Zull further states that in order for the Learning Cycle to self-perpetuate,  the learner must feel in control (ownership) of the process and that progress is being made.

Transforming
The process of changing data into knowing is what Kolb calls “transformation of experience.” (See David Kolb, Experiential Learning, Experience as the Source of Learning and Development New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983). Zull divides this process of transforming into three parts: 1st – transformation from past to future (connect from our memory); 2nd – transformation of the source of knowledge from outside ourselves to inside ourselves; and 3rd – transformation of power (from weakness and dependence to strength and independence). “If we bring our entire brain into the process of learning, we will find control passing from others to ourselves.” (Zull, p. 33)  Learning is about power and control.  If you want your students to learn, you must give them control of learning. Students choose to learn. If students are not engaged in the process, literally doing something with their brains (i.e. using their frontal lobes to analyze data, producing, having fun, etc.), and if they don’t have power, they won’t learn. Teachers must try to identify what’s already motiving students to learn, and then guarantee that students believe in their ability to learn.

Set the stage
Teaching is about creating conditions that lead to change in a learner’s brain. Teachers need to find and create con­nec­tions between the new infor­ma­tion and chal­lenges, and that which learners already know and care about. Set the stage for neural pathways to be changed! Teachers need to create a positive, comfortable atmosphere and environment. We must engage our students so that their brains decide to cooperate and take in the information we are teaching through the sensory pathways, and make sense of that information through the integrative processes by the neurons transmitting messages to one another. If we want to create long-term memory, we must create new synaptic connections which are made as a result of experience and learning. According to Piaget, the brain can change as a combination of nature and nurture. They are not separate processes. Therefore, at a cellular level, one realizes that the brain can change because of experience. Long term memory alters the gene expression in nerve cells. Consequentially, a genetic disease, for example, can be changed, perhaps by eating differently or doing different things.

Neurons and  synapse
Learning means making connections from existing neural information to new information. Synapses is a structure that  regulates intercellular communication in the nervous system and provides information flow within neural networks. Neurons are nerve cells which make connections in the brain. There are three basic parts of a neuron: the dendrites, the cell body and the axon. Neurons are specialized to transmit information throughout the body, and they communicate information both in chemical and electrical forms.  According to Kendra Cherry “There are also several different types of neurons responsible for different tasks in the human body. Sensory neurons carry information from the sensory receptor cells throughout the body to the brain. Motor neurons transmit information from the brain to the muscles of the body. Interneurons are responsible for communicating information between different neurons in the body”. (Kendra Cherry in The Structure of a Neuron. (http://psychology.about.com/od/biopsychology/f/neuron01.htm).
Either existing connections between neurons get stronger, or new connections appear between existing neurons.  Neurons have specialized projections called dendrites and  axons. Dendrites are the extensions of the cells with many branches, like a tree. These fibers transmit impulses to the neuron cell body.  So, dendrites bring information to the cell body. There’s only one axon that projects from each cell body. It is usually elongated and carries information away from the cell body. (To see this in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUGuWh2UeMk)
Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. “The synapse contains a small gap separating neurons. For communication between neurons to occur, an electrical impulse must travel down an axon to the synaptic terminal. The synapse consists of:
  1. a presynaptic ending that contains neurotransmitters, mitochondria and other cell organelles
  2. a postsynaptic ending that contains receptor sites for neurotransmitters
  3. a synaptic cleft or space between the presynaptic and postsynaptic endings”.  (https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html)
syn
Neurons firing ideas and images.
To give you an idea of the grandiosity and intensity of the neuronal network and the brain’s capacity for growth and change, I would like to share information I came across which forms a  comparison of a neuron in the brain to a webpage in the internet. The information below is a summary of this fascinating comparison which can be watched on From Neurons to Networks ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLp-edwiGUU).  The video explains that a human at about any age has about 100 billion neurons in the brain. The internet has 10 times that: 1 trillion web pages. So, with this analogy the internet is bigger. But, which is more complex? According to the video, we could say a synapse in the brain, a connection point in the brain between two neurons is like a hyperlink, a connection point between two webpages.  The internet has 1 trillion links, and an adult brain has three hundred trillion links, or 10 times the connections of the internet.  These human connections are the framework for the foundation of the  building blocks of the development of the brain.

Magic Middle
Both Piaget and Vygotsky most likely would teach from the “magic middle”, which is the zone of proximal development , ZPD, where, according to Zull,  students are neither bored nor frustrated; where they need to actually work to learn, but have the support system there to guide them, be it the teacher and/or other peers.   Perhaps Vygotsky’s best known concept, the ZPD describes the learner’s level of independent performance (what he/she can do alone) and the learner’s level of assisted performance (what he/she can do with support). Once the student, with the benefit of scaffolding, masters the task, the scaffolding can then be removed and the student will then be able to complete the task again on their own. Vygotsky believed in the importance of keeping students interested and thinking by themselves; therefore, students are challenged, but  not threatened.

Engaging and creating memory
Similarly, teachers must be careful to engage students without bringing in anxiety or trauma. The brain hones in on two fundamental survival  goals: safety and happiness.  The amygdala is involved in processing emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure and is responsible for storing emotional memories.  The amygdala like the hippocampus helps in transforming our short term memories into long term ones, but the amygdala focuses on the emotional based memories. The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of flesh located deep inside the brain, which, via electrical impulses triggers our fear system of survival to freeze, flee or flight.  Because the brain is an organ of thought and emotions, we as teachers must ensure that students are in control of their learning in the classroom,  and that they don’t  panic and become fearful under our tutelage. Stress interferes with neurotransmitter function. We want to make sure that the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area of neurons adjacent to the amygdala and that is the part of the brain involved in memory forming, organizing and storing memories, works in together with the amygdala: Human emotion linked and acting with memory.  
On the other hand, to enact the learning process, we need to turn on our students’  pleasure system by making learning fun and engaging. Students must want to learn if they are to learn. People learn what is important to them. So, part of teaching is learning the motivating factor that brought your student into your classroom. What is it that he/she wants to learn?  Ultimately learning must be meaningful in order to engage the diversity of learners. You must connect with what students already know (knowledge cannot be acquired from zero). The more personalized the better for material related to real life activates student’s neural networks and therefore adds to existing knowledge.  Thus, teachers need to find ways of teaching that connect to prior knowledge and build on that data. Therefore, as teachers we must help our students make connections to prior experiences, knowledge, and learning—and associations to other areas of their experiences and life. 

Developing a Lesson Plan based on the Learning Cycle
As a concrete example of the learning cycle in action, I have attached  a 50 minute lesson plan where I have incorporated “blue bullets” to signalize the use of elements of the learning cycle and process in each component of my lesson. The objective of my lesson is that by the end of the class, my students  learn to use go phrases by talking about places they go to and when or what day(s) of the week they do so. I am focusing on three new chunks of information (go, places and days of week), so as not to overwhelm learners cognitive capacity, which recent neuroscientific findings have determined is actually just three to four new  items of information at a time.
My  lesson begins by reviewing information from the last class and ensuring that their brains were rewired and made the necessary connections.  I am also engaging the students and activating their  experiences  and knowledge of the topic of the new vocabulary (activities and days of the week). I’m doing this by incorporating associations of places that my students  already know in my lesson plan. Thus,  I am  helping students make the connection with prior knowledge. What is happening, however, is I am  physically altering my students' brains by creating and strengthening neural pathways. The know the types of places, but not their names in the new language. According to Wendi Pillars in Teachers as Brain-Changers: Neuroscience and Learning, by engaging a range of sensory pathways, I am providing my students with opportunites for implicit and explicit opportunities to recognize and make connections.
Furthermore, we all learn differently because everybody owns a variety of reception models. Therefore, during the 50  minute lesson, I’ve tried to incorporate diverse sensory perceptions (PPTs with pictures, slips of paper, pictures in book, audio for listening, music). And, I am consistently and constantly bridging old and new information in my Lesson so that they can keep making connections and keep their neural pathways clear.  
I make a considerable effort to teach in the magic middle, the “zone of proximal development” so as to interest my students, while at the same time finding a common denominator to build their confidence and knowledge. By doing this, I am activating  their schemata and building the thinking process and putting learning in their own hands; as they are consistently talking about personal things, experiences and life. I know not only what the learners developmental level is at each time of my lesson, but also what skills and concepts will develop next. By working in the  ZPD and scaffolding, I am ensuring and engaging, albeit in a non-threatening environment and format where students feel comfortable, in control and in power. This will help them  get out of their comfort zones and try  new things without the fear of failure. I have set the stage. My students work individually, in pairs and in  small groups, where they’re more comfortable and whereupon I hope they  feel safer, can take risks, speak , share thoughts, ask questions.  Throughout my lesson, I am giving them pieces of a puzzle, but they themselves are putting it together by discovery patterns and putting them into practice via production, oral and written. Within the lesson, I have built up and built upon the four architectural pillars of learn­ing: gath­er­ing, ana­lyz­ing, cre­at­ing, and acting.
Learning involves making connections: teachers must “fire until you wire”. If you don’t use the brain, the tissue dies. The brain needs to be exercised to keep “fit” just as other parts of our physical body. And, learning takes effort.  The old adage: “Use it or lose it” applies to memory. People who  are engaged in mentally stimulating activities make more synaptic connections in the brain. Just as we’re concerned for our physical well-being, and therefore eat properly, get enough exercise and sleep, maintaining a healthy brain is equally fundamental and rewarding. Exercise oxygenates the brain which is important for synaptic formation and growth . “Fire until you wire”. Drill until you’ve built the neuronal networks that made the connection and “learned”. Repeating and reviewing so that you, Dear Reader, create the neuronal network necessary to grasp this concept: Make connections: fire until you wire.



 Betsey W. Neal

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Are You Doing Too Much Teaching?

                    


You are the model provider. You have studied every aspect of your lesson; you've anticipated every doubt that might arise, every aspect that might cause curiosity or confusion. Are there points that might need additional information, areas that could require more extensive orientation? You've got it covered. 

In the classroom, you are energy exemplified. You're at the board, making lists; you're at the computer, running a succession of pertinent slides; you’re a windmill of demonstration and personal illustration. You willingly contribute to the interpretation of the listening exercise; you want to guarantee comfortable comprehension every step of the way. 

Your students are raptly attentive, obviously following those steps that have been programmed for them. They enjoy the performance that brings the lesson to life and, a real investment bonus, that lets them in on your personal life and habits. They absolutely love your (endless) English and your vivacious competence in the language which they are there to learn. 

In the process of provision and performance (enthusiastically, even lovingly offered), how much are the students participating? Do you take their single-syllable responses as sufficient indication that they fully understand the concept and content of the lesson you have designed for their benefit? Does minimal verbalization actually constitute “practice”, or “communication” when it is the hesitant result of so-called “pair work”? 

In every class, there must be a realistic measurement of the proportion of “teaching” and the actual amount of “learning” that is, in fact, taking place. If your show consists primarily of production and corresponding audience appreciation, then you need to reassess your objectives and the means you are taking to reach them. Regardless of the skill in question, learning is usually the result of doing, the frequently rehearsed mind-mapping of procedures or strategies ….. and you are the only one who can program that kind of acquisition with any assurance of a productive outcome. 

After all, would you want your heart surgeon to have acquired his knowhow by faithfully watching the medical practitioners on “House”, “E.R.”, and “Grey's Anatomy”?








Katy Cox

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fundamentals of Assessment


http://www.riseresearchproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Assessment.jpgAssessing is an integral part of our job. It can be be informal such as when we assess students’ understanding of the subject explained and evaluate/adjust our teaching or formal as in written or oral tests when a specific day and length of time is allotted for students to take it.  Either way, there is no questioning that assessing is of utmost importance for it connects the learning and teaching processes providing feedback on next moves for teachers and students as well.  

Due to the effects tests have on teaching and learning, also known as washback effect, what is taught and what is tested should always be aligned. Moreover, tests should drive learning. Consequently, there is more to designing a test than just picking up an exercise and grading it. Knowing the foundations to design a solid assessment gives us a broader perspective of all that is involved in designing tests, assessments or even graded exercises. The literature lists seven cornerstones:

1    1.    Usefulness and purpose are considered the most important cornerstones. They have to do with the purpose of the assessment and how aligned it is to the course being taught, the students being tested and the language use you want to evaluate. Let`s say you want to test your students` ability to order food in a restaurant, then you would need to have a reading that reflects that specific situation in terms of language and text style. A passage from a newspaper would not meet the purpose of the test or be useful for that group of students.

2    2.  Reliability is related to the consistency of test conditions and score. If a student takes the same test at another time, under the same conditions, results have to be the same. To be reliable a test should be neither too difficult nor too easy, questions should not be tricky or ambitious, directions should be clear, the right amount of time should be allotted for most students to finish and there should be scoring rubrics to guide teacher correct all tests using the same criteria.

3   3. Validity checks if the item really measures what it is supposed to measure. If the test is about listening, for example, students’ ability in spelling and grammar cannot be evaluated. Besides, the vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar usage cannot be beyond the level of the students. Otherwise, you will be testing them on more than just their listening comprehension skills and thus decreasing the validity of the test as a measure for listening.

4    4.  Practicality is how teacher-friendly the test is. If the correction requires a great amount of time, there will be a practicality issue. Ideally, tests should be corrected, graded and returned to the students promptly so they can benefit from the feedback.

5    5. Washback concerns the effect of testing on students, teachers and the program. For a test to have positive washback, “teachers should link teaching and testing with instructional objective and provide feedback in a timely manner so that students learn and benefit from the assessment process.

6    6. Authenticity refers to relevant use of real-life contexts which motivate students to perform well in the test. This way, a course designed to develop students’ ability to answer phones in English asks for an oral exam which mimics a telephone call format.

     7. Transparency has to do with the availability of information to students. Students should know what they will learn, how this will be assessed and graded. When students have the chance to practice question types beforehand, anxiety is reduced and they focus on the completion of the exercise and not on the directions.

In a nutshell, not only do these cornerstones allow us a more comprehensive look, but also help us make more effective choices when designing or analyzing assessments.


Cláudia Furtado


Based on the article written by Dawn Rogier named Assessment Literacy: Building a Base for a Better Teaching and Learning in English (Teaching Forum – number 3, p. 4).