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Benefits of Using Summative and Formative Assessments in ESL Classrooms

Assessing ESL students


The terms summative and formative assessments may be words typically associated with traditional schooling. However, they don’t need to stay in traditional subject classrooms. Summative and formative assessments can be used to facilitate English language acquisition. They offer benefits to both English language students and teachers toward accomplishing language goals. We’ll explain how in today’s blog.


Summative Assessments


Summative assessments are those typical end-of-course, end-of-semester, end-of-term tests we encounter in elementary and high school. These tests tell teachers, administrators, educational authorities, and parents whether learners achieved educational objectives during the term or course of study.


They’re typically used at the end of a course of instruction to determine if the goals of a curriculum were achieved. They can be anything from the end of term assessments, research papers, standardized tests, and the like. As such, they measure longer periods of time and cover multiple learning objectives.


So, how can we, as ESOL teachers use summative assessments to our advantage in ESOL classrooms? One way is using them to determine how well learners acquired the language within a course. If, for example, the goal of a six-week English language program is for learners to be able to use English in six everyday activities (e.g., shopping at the mall, going to the dentist, flight travel, going to the doctor, eating out, and taking public transportation), they can be used to measure if learners have met this course goal.


Along those lines, summative assessments can also be used to measure learning for each element of the same course. The bottom line is, summative assessments are formal tests used to understand and quantify learner achievement of objectives. Summative assessments provide those grades and or percentages we see after student names. And, they’re often cause for stress in these same students. But it doesn’t have to be that way if we’re aware of and can convey the benefits.

Read: Writing Effective Tests for ESL Students


Benefits for Students


1) Summative assessments offer an opportunity to refresh students’ memories of what they previously learned.
2) Summative assessments reinforce the overall learning objectives of the course.
3) Summative assessments provide a snapshot for class members to see if they know the collective language points or not.
4) Summative assessments can tell learners if they should proceed to the next level.
By helping learners understand these points, we may be able to reduce their apprehension. Then, class members may be more apt to look forward to these times. As they prepare, remind learners of areas they may have forgotten or that need a little more focus.


Benefits for Teachers


1) Teachers and academic managers can use the results of summative assessments to guide their decisions for future curriculum development.
2) Summative assessments can help indicate overall progress and show if moving forward is practical.
3) Use summative assessments to demonstrate if learning has been achieved quantitatively. Use those measurable numbers to provide facts and figures to anyone who may want to inquire as to the effectiveness of a course of instruction.

Read: Assessment and Evaluation in the ESL Classroom


Formative Assessments


Formative assessments, on the other hand, are tools that we can use to check how well students learned the material. They can be in the form of quizzes or assignments, games, group activities, projects, reports, presentations, progress checks, simple question and answer sessions, and so on. They help teachers measure in micro terms whether individual lessons, modules, goals, or short-term objectives have been met.


As English language teachers, we can use formative assessments like surgical instruments in language learning. They help us keep learners on the path toward language acquisition goals of the curriculum. We can also use results from formative assessments to make adjustments.
Finally, we can use formative assessments to enhance language acquisition by helping learners check individual progress within individual lessons.


Benefits for Students


1) Use formative assessments with regularity (e.g., a quiz every Friday). This way you can use them to provide an element of stability for learners.
2) Since formative assessments can take many forms, they can also break up the monotony of traditional classroom environments where the teach-test-teach system prevails.
3) Formative assessments do not require traditional numbered or lettered grades. They can simply be pass or fail, or even labeled with colors, stars, or other indicators. This takes some of the stress from learners and allows them to simply focus on language acquisition instead of grades.
4) Formative assessments reinforce language acquisition.

Read: Evaluating Speaking Skills


Benefits for ESOL Teachers


1) We can use formative assessments to adjust our teaching methods or strategies.
2) Formative assessments can help us recognize weak areas. Since classrooms are groups, not all learners are at the same place. And, a private class is only one of many. So, we cannot put every learner into a one-size-fits-all approach. Formative assessments help identify those individual weak areas.
3) Formative assessments can help us identify problem areas more immediately than summative assessments — before it’s too late to adjust.
4) Formative assessments can take any form. As such, they allow a great amount of flexibility for you, the teacher.
5) Formative tests help paint pictures of learning in a course of instruction. This allows you to make adjustments. And, they are different than summative tests which are more like taking photographs – it’s too late to change anything once the photo’s been taken.
6) Formative assessments help us see patterns in instruction that may need to be adjusted.
7) Formative assessments can help us decide whether to move forward or stay a little longer on a particular language point.


Parting Thoughts


As ESOL teachers, we don’t always need to shy away from traditional classroom methods of assessment. We can put them to good use. English language learners could benefit more from strategically utilizing formative assessments. On the other hand, summative assessments are quite useful in determining if language acquisition has indeed taken place over the course of instruction.


We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here. There’s much more to learn. So, we invite you to have a look at our internationally recognized TESOL training. Reach out to us to help you to determine the best course of instruction for your professional English language teaching career.


And, as always, feel free to share your thoughts about today’s blog. We’d enjoy hearing from you.

Sources used for today’s blog:


Formative vs. Summative Assessments: What Do They Mean?
Formative vs. Summative Assessment: Which Is Better?
What Is the Difference Between Formative and Summative Assessment?

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