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Assessing learning in online lessons

This step focuses on assessment in online learning, with a particular focus in assessing reading and listening skills.
© UCLES 2021

We’ve looked at teaching reading and listening skills in online lessons. Let’s now think about how we might assess these skills in the online context.

Task

Read the article below and answer the questions.

  • Why is there more of a focus on formative assessment than summative assessment in online lessons?
  • How might formative assessment take place?
  • How might summative assessment take place?
Assessing reading and listening skills
Online assessment will differ depending on your context, but with the majority of learners, there is a greater focus on formative assessment in online learning than summative assessment i.e. assessment through monitoring, observation and tasks designed to provide feedback that will help learners improve (formative) vs assessment in the form of tests designed to compare the learner’s performance against a standard (summative).
The reason for this is that summative testing online can be both challenging and a waste of synchronous time together. When learners, or their parents, are paying privately for lessons in particular, it’s unlikely they want to spend that time sitting in silence doing a test. So, the focus then is on monitoring learners’ progress throughout a lesson, and encouraging learners to monitor their own progress, so that they can recognise their strengths and weaknesses and understand how to make improvements.
Formative assessment involves the teacher listening carefully to learners, gathering answers from all learners where possible, monitoring breakout rooms, looking at quiz responses and out of class tasks, and setting short progress tests or quizzes that can be completed via the chat box, or a quiz tool like Kahoot. It involves learners looking carefully at their answers to a task and thinking about what they did well and where they went wrong, or reflecting on their performance in a speaking or writing task and assessing themselves.
Speaking and writing assessment will be dealt with further in week 3 of this course, so let’s focus now on assessing reading and listening. In class, when we set reading and listening tasks, we can ask learners to share their answers via the chat box. We can ask them to submit their answers privately to us, so that only we can see them and they can’t copy each other’s answers. We can ask them to type their answers into the chat box and press Enter only when we say ‘go’, so all answers appear at once. We can also ask learners to share their answers via a survey tool in the platform, or via another digital tool e.g. Mentimeter. By doing this, we can get a sense of how well all of our learners are doing, and recognise where we might need to replay part of a recording, or look more closely at part of a text to aid learners’ understanding.
We might want to set listening and reading tasks for out of class practice and ask learners to complete it as a summative test. In which case, we can use a tool such as Mentimeter to gather their answers again. One concern often expressed is about learners cheating. They may play a recording several times, or use a dictionary to look up a word. This significance of this will depend on your context, but in many contexts, we have to consider that in seeking help, learners are not necessarily cheating but instead learning.
There are paid-for tools which lock a learners’ device so that they’re unable to look at anything else except the screen where the recording will play and they need to submit their answers. Schools may wish to use these tools if summative assessment is an important part of the school curriculum.

Check your answers.

Reflect and share

How do you test your learners in a face-to-face context? Is this transferable to an online context? Share your ideas in the comments below.

© UCLES 2021
This article is from the free online

Teaching English Online

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