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CLIL – The question of assessment
by Richard Kiely
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3. Assessment and CLIL

There are two major types of language assessment. First, there is language assessment as measurement, where the goal is to determine either the level of a student, or the extent to which specific language content has been learned. The former is typically used to for programme admissions purposes (Is the language level right for entry to a specific programme?), or placement purposes (Which level class is suitable for a student?). Measures of attainment usually take place at the end of a course, and relate to the specific content and skills taught. Second, there is assessment for learning, a focus of research and development in recent years, which sees assessment practices as integrated into teaching, and oriented, not towards a statement of level, but towards enhanced learning. Assessment is thus viewed as an integral part of the process of teaching and the development of learning opportunities. In Ross’ characterisation of this type of assessment - Formative Assessment – the focus is on the role of the student and on interaction as characteristics of this form of assessment.

The key appeal formative assessment provides for language educators is the autonomy given to learners. […] Assessment episodes are not considered punctual summations of learning success or failure as much as ongoing formation of the cumulative confidence, awareness, and self-realisation learners may gain in their collaborative engagement with tasks.
(Ross 2005:319)

The basic concept of assessment here has resonated across all subjects and contexts of learning. The term Assessment for Learning (AfL) has been used by Black and Wiliam in a broad-based initiative to enhance teaching and learning in all subject areas in British schools and beyond:

[Assessment for learning is] all those activities undertaken by teachers and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.

Innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often, substantial, learning gains. These studies range over ages (from five year olds to university graduates) across several school subjects, and over several countries.
(Black and Wiliam 1998)

Writing about the experience of children learning language (English) and subject content in British primary classrooms (known as English as an Additional Language (EAL)), Rea-Dickins shows how assessment practice encompasses all teacher work:

Teaching involves assessment. In making decisions about lesson content and sequencing, about materials, learning tasks and so forth, teachers have to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the alternatives available to them. They make selections based on their experience, on their understandings of learning, language development and of language proficiency itself, together with what they consider to be most appropriate and in the best interests of those they teach. Equally, as part of their professional practice, they are always involved in the observation of their learners, which leads to the development of insights about learner progress and judgements about specific learning outcomes and overall performance.
(Rea-Dickins 2004:1)

The practices particular to assessment are clear here: teachers observe children as they do activities in the classroom, and they draw conclusions about i) their language and subject learning over time, and ii) the ways the performance of each child maps onto curricular frameworks and assessment bands.

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