CLIL – The question of assessment
by Richard Kiely
Leung and Mohan, writing about similar classrooms in Britain and Canada describe a similar process, illustrating the extent to which assessment for learning IS teaching:
Assessment for learning should be part of effective planning of teaching and learning. A teacher’s planning should provide opportunities for both learner and teacher to obtain and use information about progress towards learning goals…. Assessment for learning should be recognised as central to classroom practice. Much of what teachers and learners do in classrooms can be described as assessment. That is tasks and questions prompt learners to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. What learners say and do in then observed and interpreted and judgements are made about how learning can be improved. These assessment processes are an essential part of everyday classroom practice and involve both teachers and learners in reflection, dialogue and decision-making.
(Leung and Mohan 2004: 335-359)
The particular challenge for teachers in CLIL contexts is engaging with assessment in two fields, the subject and the language. And they have to do it in the context of innovative practice: for many teachers where CLIL is new, there is little local situated knowledge of how this can be done. A description I received recently from one such pioneering teacher implementing CLIL in a German primary school illustrates some ways in which teachers do such assessment through observation in the classroom:
I noticed that doing CLIL modules now for more than a year the pupils want to speak. They want to write already in year 2 (which they should not do in Germany). They want to read. I feel there is a difference to the years before.
Email from CLIL teacher
Here the teacher is describing her class as a group, referring broadly to behaviours which represent confidence and willingness to engage. Within this overview she has much more finely-tuned information on the attainment and progress in both English (the CLIL language) and Art. In her lessons, for example, she uses both English and bilingual worksheets, and directs individual children towards these, according to her assessment of what they are ready for. In her interactions with and feedback to children, she encourages and supports language use according to their individual capabilities.
In this context as elsewhere, because CLIL is new, many people want evidence of effectiveness, evidence that CLIL is a good way to for children to learn both subject and foreign language. The question of effectiveness takes us back to the first type of assessment: assessment as measurement of learning achievements. The CLIL teacher in Germany illustrates clearly the issue here:
I need to show whether the pupils made any progress for the Comenius Project. […] In the subjects I teach in German my pupils have to write "traditional" tests. At the end of the CLIL-units I often let the pupils draw or write or talk about the topic – this is the way I assess. But this is not assessing the progress. […] The problem how to find out where my pupils stand. What do they know? How to measure it?
Email from CLIL teacher
This teacher is skilled at doing assessment for her own purposes as a teacher. She accumulates valuable information on the way pupils make progress through the curriculum. She identifies achievements and difficulties of individual children, and uses differentiation to set appropriate tasks and recycle learning opportunities as required. She relates information gathered in these processes to normative requirements and achievements (traditional tests) for reporting to parents and school colleagues. What is lacking is evidence to demonstrate the overall value of CLIL as a teaching strategy and policy. There are two gaps in our understanding of assessment in CLIL which still need to be addressed.
First there is the accountability question: how can those remote stakeholders in CLIL – education officials, school leaders, prospective parents, teachers thinking about implementing CLIL understand it as an appropriate strategy for this context? Second, how do we use assessment to manage an appropriate balance in CLIL practice between content and language, such that there is no fear that children achieve less where the learning is in L2? In the sections below I explore these questions further.
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