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Assessing English language learners in remote teaching-learning

 

Puskar Chaudhary

This paper aims to explore the techniques and tools used for assessing the English language learners in remote teaching-learning and to discuss the challenges and obstacles faced by the teachers while assessing the learners. Based on a collective study design, this paper presents a study on the assessment practices in remote teaching-learning. Data were collected from three English language teachers of basic education level using online interviews. The results showed that many English language teachers transitioned to remote teaching learning because of the  COVID -19 pandemic and whether it is a face to face class or remote teaching-learning, assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning to check the understanding of the subject matter and to evaluate whether the educational goals and standards of the lessons are being met. The assessments were taken more or less similar to the face-to-face mode via written or oral practices with the help of technologies and while assessing the learners, the teachers faced the Internet connection issues, investment of ample time for designing and organizing the assessment with the help of technologies. The teachers gained less support from the parents and students for conducting the effective assessment.

Keywords: Assessment, remote teaching-learning, techniques and tools, educational goals, integral

 Introduction

This study assessed the English language learners based on their mode of acquiring learning that is either through face-to-face or remote teaching-learning.  Remote Teaching -Learning (RTL) offers teaching learning beyond the physical classrooms. It is the learning process where the teachers are separated from the learners in time and distance. According to Graham (2019), RTL is the practice of teaching a language interactively via videoconferencing. He further describes that it differs from telecollaboration which mainly focuses on enabling language teaching and learning to take place rather than on intercultural collaboration. In remote language teaching, both students and teachers interact through two-way communication technologies. Similarly, in Belz and Thorne’s (2006) view, RLT supports learners’ interaction with the teachers and peers, encourages them to have more dialogue, debate, and intercultural exchange. Remote teaching is also referred to as live online language teaching to refer to synchronous (i.e. in real-time) computer-mediated communication for language teaching (Swertz et al., 2007). In RLT, teachers focus on both pedagogy and technology to provide huge opportunities for effective learning and collaboration beyond the physical classroom. They involve approaches and techniques that are more connected with the technologies. Whereas, Whyte and Gijsen (2016) argue that there is an ample burden for the teachers to conduct the classes remotely than for regular face-to-face classes. Teachers are committed to helping the learners with these different ways of working and teaching them in the most effective way possible. Teachers require and prepare designed and written materials to take advantage of the teaching and learning context and delivery method (i.e. video conferencing). Therefore, remote teaching is an innovative way of bridging cultural and geographical distances and enables the teaching and learning of languages to students who would otherwise not have the opportunity.

At present, most English language teachers had to opt for remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers had transition to remote learning with no advance notice or preparation earlier this year. Some are planning for remote learning in the fall when they return to school. It is important to remember that remote learning refers to a class that intends to meet face-to-face. The teachers have been practising to replicate remote learning as far as possible into the real face-to-face classes. It is not just enough with the engagement of teaching-learning activities. The learners should be assessed to check the understanding of the subject matter and to evaluate whether the educational goals and standards of the lessons are being met. The learners must be able to think critically, analyze, and make inferences. Hence, assessing them is the most challenging factor in RTL. Nitko and Broookhart (2013) opine that organizing assessment helps the teachers to collect the information about teaching-learning and well as the students’ performance to make the certain decision teaching. Assessment in English language teaching has been defined as “involving professional judgment based upon an image formed by the collection of information about student performance” (Stanley, 2019, p. 8). Similarly, Wolf (2020) states that assessments are a critical means of identifying learners and monitoring their achievements. Assessments also play a fundamental role in teaching and learning, since it helps to gather the important information about students’ needs, which helps teachers provide appropriate support and interpret their academic performance accurately. Assessment is one of the important aspects which is being treated as a teaching-learning process as well (Stiggins, 1991). Assessing learners is a very important and essential part of a teacher’s teaching (Nitko, 1996). It is an integrated process for determining the nature and extent of student’s learning and achievement (Linn & Gronland, 2005).

According to Stanley (2019), there are two types of assessment: formative and summative. Assessment can be formative when it is to improve learning and assessment is summative when it is for monitoring and certificating performance or achievement. During the year, formal and informal instances of the formative assessment provide information to Remote Teachers (RTs) and Classroom Teachers (CTs) about student learning so adjustments can be made to teaching.

Assessment is an important aspect of teaching-learning. It offers the teachers to go up to the next class and to figure out whether the students are included. It also helps to get the results of the teaching-learning activities. On the other hand, it makes the teachers ready to take a proficiency test and provide the students the grades.

Research Questions

This study sought to answer the following research questions:

  • How do English Language teachers assess students in remote teaching-learning?
  • What challenges do English language teachers face while assessing students in remote teaching-learning?
Methodology

This is a qualitative study that used a collective case study design to explore the questions. According to Stake (1995), a case study is the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case, coming to understand its activity within important circumstances. It helps to collect the information in detail and understand the problem in-depth with its real-life context. The case study design is an important tool for exploring and describing a phenomenon in context while refining theory and identifying areas for more exploration (Yin, 2018). Data were collected from three English Language Teachers of Basic Education Level who were assessing students by using different techniques and tools and while assessing them in remote teaching-learning in one of the schools of Kathmandu Valley. The teachers were a diverse group in terms of their ethnicity, gender, and grade level experiences. I collected data, which included notes of observation and interaction during online classes and interview with synchronous tools like Zoom Cloud Meeting (5 times in total); written reflections for each teacher related to assigned articles, email and Facebook messages correspondence with pupils, and transcriptions of semi-formal small group interviews. I conducted two rounds of interviews individually with teachers and three rounds of interviews in a group. Each interview lasted approximately 40 minutes. I followed them twice a week. The data occurred in two phases. First, I divided the data sets for coding purposes. In this initial phase, I examined individual cases, techniques, and the tools used for assessing the students in remote teaching-learning. Comparing the responses, I coded and analyzed them into the four themes: Observations, Discussion, Feedback, and Self-assessment.

Next, I collectively asked the participants what challenges they were facing while assessing the students in the remote teaching-learning. The responses were kept under different themes in which the individual cases were combined and compared to create a collective case study. After collecting data by qualitative technique, the data were analyzed and interpreted qualitatively. The following sections represent the results obtained from data analysis.

Results and discussion

This study aimed to explore the techniques and tools adopted by English Language teachers for assessing students in remote teaching-learning and to find out the challenges English language teachers face while assessing students in remote teaching-learning. Therefore, the results gained via the interview data were put into two sub-sections: Assessment for learning techniques and Challenges.

Techniques and tools for assessing in remote teaching-learning

This section presents the data derived by observing the English Language Teaching (ELT) class to answer the first research question, exploring the techniques and tools adopted by English Language teachers for assessing students in remote teaching-learning.

Observations

Informal teacher observations: In remote teaching-learning, the teachers were found observing different things in their classes. They observed how well the students managed to focus when doing the tasks. Furthermore, how much time do the students need to do certain tasks? And whether the students were willing to volunteer or respond when called on. The teachers in the interview also added that they observed the students if they were prepared for the task or provide help.

Student-led observations: Teachers assessing English language learners using remote methods checked the students’ autonomy and responsibility in their learning. They were asked to follow the netiquettes as it was remote teaching. They were given responsibilities where they took attendance and gave their opinions on what was happening in the class. Furthermore, they were asked to provide the class report either to the class teacher or the subject teacher.

Discussions

Teacher participants in the interview shared that they assessed the students in remote teaching-learning by giving different learning situations. They assessed through the discussions in the live classes. Discussions were done on the usages of techniques and digital tools by the teachers, about the language usage L1 or L2. In addition to this, the discussion where the students did share in a peer, small group, or the whole class was also assessed. Lastly, the assessment was made when the students were provided with options during controlled practice.

Feedback

Students in remote teaching-learning were assessed based on the feedback given by them. Following things were taken into considerations when assessing the feedback given by them. Students were asked to give feedback when their peers participated or did any work. They would give feedback on their friends’ thinking process, presentation, content, gestures, etc. They were asked to provide positive and critical feedback which could motivate their friends to perform better and which would help to create a healthy atmosphere.

Self-assessment

Self-assessment is another technique used by the teachers to assess English language students in remote teaching. They explained that they used active recall questions to check the students’ progress. The students were asked to do the self-assessments by preparing PowerPoint presentations, using digital tools to do their project works, encouraging them to write journals, blogs, etc. They were also asked to take objective tests with the help of google forms and other online platforms. Furthermore, they were asked to appear for the written subjective tests. Recording the voice or video on any academic topic was promoted which they had to send to the teachers. Finally, some teachers asked them to attend the class on time.

Challenges in assessing students in remote teaching-learning

This section presents the data derived by observing the ELT class to answer the second research question, exploring the challenges and the obstacles faced by the teachers assessing the learners in remote teaching-learning.

Students with the internet issues

The teachers have found that most of the learners had the Internet with low bandwidth. There were also the chances of power cuts and disconnection while taking the synchronous class. The teachers responded that because of low connectivity they had to turn off their camera and be connected with mobile data.

Students with not enough support

The teachers revealed that the students were getting less support from their parents and seniors regarding the use of laptops and digital tools while taking the classes. The children were also less supervised by the parents while taking the classes. There were more chances of getting distracted and being engaged in playing online games.

Widening gaps between students’ proficiency

The teachers explained that there was an individual difference in remote teaching-learning. All the students did not have the same digital literacy and level of competency. The children faced problems while submitting the assignments, communicating with the teachers, and handling the tools.

Difficulty in supporting individuals

It was very time-consuming for the teachers to prepare the lessons and spending more on screen. The teachers had to spend more time preparing PowerPoint presentations and giving feedback to the students because of the technical issues the teachers were unable to give the class and communicate with the learners properly.

Conclusion

The present study investigated the assessment techniques and tools used by the English language teachers for assessing the learning in the remote teaching-learning and the challenges and obstacles faced by the teachers while assessing them in the remote teaching-learning. Results of the study showed that assessment was an integral part of teaching-learning to check the understanding of the subject matter and to evaluate whether the learning goals were achieved or not. The teachers did the planning, implementing, and organizing of the lesson by using digital and printed materials to assess the learners. The teachers engaged the learners in the discussion in the remote learning, observation of the lesson, engaging them in the feedback and self-assessment. While following those techniques, the teachers also encountered challenges related to the technologies and with the students’ well-being.

About the author

Mr. Puskar Chaudhary is an MPhil practitioner at Kathmandu University. He works as a full-time faculty and coordinates with the Digital Literacies Programme at Triyog High School, Tokha, Kathmandu. He is also a life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) and International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL). His current interests include digital pedagogy, digital literacies programme, and teachers’ networking, and professional development.

References

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Can be cited as:

Chaudhary, P. (2021, May). Assessing English language learners in remote teaching-learning [Blog article].  ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2021/04/assessing-english-language-learners-in-remote-teaching-learning/