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Active Assessment: Thinking, Learning and Assessment across the Curriculum

On 15 February 2008 Stuart Naylor of Millgate House Education gave a professional development presentation entitled Active Assessment: Thinking, Learning and Assessment across the Curriculum. Much of the presentation content overlapped with the information and advice given to teachers in the ESL workshop units on Helping ESL students achieve academic success. The areas of overlap are summarized in the paragraphs below, which contain links to more further reading on the same topics elsewhere on this ESL website or on the web.

Introduction: Probably the most important thing that a subject teacher can do to help ESL students achieve academic success (and at the same time improve their English) is to make the content of the lesson comprehensible. If what the teacher says to the students or gives them to read is not accessible to students, then learning will not take place.

Of course, written and spoken text can be made more accessible by changing the nature of that text itself (for example, by the avoidance of idiom or long, complex sentences). However, simplifying the language of content is not the only way to make that content comprehensible. Another, very effective, way to achieve comprehensibility is to prime the students for the difficult language and concepts that they are about to be exposed to. The key strategies in this are activating background knowledge, cooperative activities and visual scaffolding.

Further areas of overlap: One of Naylor's slides, number 7 on page 2 of the handout, was not subject to much discussion during the presentation. It is worthy of mention here, however, because of the 3-way overlap involving the points Naylor was making, the advice to mainstream teachers with ESL students in their classes, and the information we received from Dr. Greenleaf in his workshop on Brain-Based Learning. Specifically, the slide lists 3 points under the title "Generic advice on assessment for learning ..":

An analysis of the importance of these 3 factors for ESL student learning can be read on my page summarizing Greenleaf's workshop. The final factor, a supportive climate, is of prime importance for language learning, as well as the learning of subject content. Krashen, the most eminent researcher in second language acquisition, hypothesises that comprehensible input is a sufficient condition for language learning to take place, but only if there is no affective filter. By this Krashen means that the input is not blocked by stress or anxiety.

Naylor neatly demonstrated the stress that arises when students (and teachers) believe that they will have their ignorance broadcast to the rest of the group. ESL students are in a particularly vulnerable position and cannot be expected make good progress if they often experience stress or anxiety in the classroom. [More on Krashen's theory of language learning.]

Johnson, D. W., G. Mariyama, R. Johnson, D. Nelson, and L. Skon. "The Effects of Cooperative, Competitive and Individualistic Goal Structures on Achievement: A Meta-Analysis." Psychological Bulletin 89 (1981): 47-62.

Link to Naylor's website.

Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)