However, if they are to offer helpful feedback, students must have a clear understanding of what they are to look for in their peers' work. The instructor must explain expectations clearly to them before they begin.
One way to make sure students understand this type of evaluation is to give students a practice session with it. The instructor provides a sample writing or speaking assignment. As a group, students determine what should be assessed and how criteria for successful completion of the communication task should be defined. Then the instructor gives students a sample completed assignment. Students assess this using the criteria they have developed and determine how to convey feedback clearly to the fictitious student.
Students can also benefit from using rubrics or checklists to guide their assessments. At first, these can be provided by the instructor; once the students have more experience, they can develop them themselves. An example of a peer editing checklist for a writing assignment is given in the popup window. Notice that the checklist asks the peer evaluator to comment primarily on the content and organization of the essay. It helps the peer evaluator focus on these areas by asking questions about specific points, such as the presence of examples to support the ideas discussed.
For peer evaluation to work effectively, the learning environment in the classroom must be supportive. Students must feel comfortable and trust one another in order to provide honest and constructive feedback. Instructors who use group work and peer assessment frequently can help students develop trust by forming them into small groups early in the semester and having them work in the same groups throughout the term. This allows them to become more comfortable with each other and leads to better peer feedback.
Students can become better language learners when they engage in deliberate thought about what they are learning and how they are learning it. In this kind of reflection, students step back from the learning process to think about their language learning strategies and their progress as language learners. Such self-assessment
encourages students to become independent learners and can increase their motivation.
The successful use of student self-assessment depends on three key elements:
- Goal setting
- Guided practice with assessment tools
Goal setting is essential because students can evaluate their progress more clearly when they have targets against which to measure their performance. In addition, students' motivation to learn increases when they have self-defined, and therefore relevant, learning goals.
At first, students tend to create lofty long-range goals ("to speak Russian)" that do not lend themselves to self assessment. To help students develop realistic, short-term, attainable goals, instructors can use a framework like SMART goals outline shown in the popup window.
One way to begin the process of introducing students to self-assessment is to create student-teacher contracts. Contracts are written agreements between students and instructors, which commonly involve determining the number and type of assignments that are required for particular grades. For example, a student may agree to work toward the grade of "B" by completing a specific number of assignments at a level of quality described by the instructor. Contracts can serve as a good way of helping students to begin to consider establishing goals for themselves as language learners.
Guided practice with assessment tools
Students do not learn to monitor or assess their learning on their own; they need to be taught strategies for self monitoring and self assessment. Techniques for teaching students these strategies are parallel to those used for teaching learning strategies (see Motivating Learners). The instructor models the technique (use of a checklist or rubric, for example); students then try the technique themselves; finally, students discuss whether and how well the technique worked and what to do differently next time.
In addition to checklists and rubrics for specific communication tasks, students can also use broader self-assessment tools to reflect on topics they have studied, skills they have learned, their study habits, and their sense of their overall strengths and weaknesses. An example of such a tool appears in the popup window.
Students can share their self-assessments with a peer or in a small group, with instructions that they compare their impressions with other criteria such as test scores, teacher evaluations, and peers' opinions. This kind of practice helps students to be aware of their learning. It also informs the teacher about students' thoughts on their progress and gives the teacher feedback about course content and instruction.
Portfolios are purposeful, organized, systematic collections of student work that tell the story of a student's efforts, progress, and achievement in specific areas. The student participates in the selection of portfolio content, the development of guidelines for selection, and the definition of criteria for judging merit. Portfolio assessment is a joint process for instructor and student.
Portfolio assessment emphasizes the evaluation of students' progress, processes, and performance over time. There are two basic types of portfolios:
- A process portfolio serves the purpose of classroom-level assessment on the part of both the instructor and the student. It most often reflects a formative assessment, although it may be assigned a grade at the end of the semester or academic year. It may also include summative types of assignments that were awarded grades.
- A product portfolio is more summative in nature. It is intended for a major evaluation of some sort and is often accompanied by an oral presentation of its contents. For example, it may be used as an evaluation tool for graduation from a program or for the purpose of seeking employment.
In both types of portfolios, the emphasis is placed on including a variety of tasks that elicit spontaneously as well as planned language performance for a variety of purposes and audiences, using rubrics to assess performance, and demonstrating reflection about learning, including goal setting and self and peer assessment.
Represent an emphasis on language use and cultural understanding
Represent a collaborative approach to assessment
Represent a student's range of performance in reading, writing, speaking, and listening as well as cultural understanding
Emphasize what students can do rather than what they cannot do
Represent a student's progress over time
Engage students in establishing ongoing learning goals and assessing their progress towards those goals
Measure each student's achievement while allowing for individual differences between students in a class
Address improvement, effort, and achievement
Allow for assessment of process and product
Link teaching and assessment to learning