The Challenges of Formative Assessment in the Modern Language Classroom

Jo Lewkowicz

As the focus of language education has shifted from one that is input driven to an education that is output driven, so the question being asked by teachers while assessing their learners has also changed.  No longer do we simply ask ‘What has been learned from the body of knowledge presented to the class?’ Teachers are more concerned with the question ‘What can learners do with the language they know?’ Interaction with others is thus at the heart of such learning yet, in terms of assessing what learners can do with language, such an interactional perspective places considerable burden on classroom teachers.

This paper will consider some of the many challenges facing language teachers in assessing their students.  It will first review how our understanding of formative classroom assessment has changed in recent years from that of ongoing assessment for the forward planning of teaching and learning to that of Learner Oriented Assessment where the focus is primarily on assessment for learning.  It will view this change in light of our understanding of language learning as a situated, socio-cultural process involving numerous participants.  Drawing on classroom-based examples, the paper will then consider the difficulties of validly and reliably assessing an individual’s output as part of socially mediated interaction and will stress the need for greater teacher assessment literacy if our theoretical understanding of formative assessment is to be turned into classroom practice.