Assessment and language education with (very) young learners

Critical Language Education

Assessment for Learning

         When we think of assessment and language education with very young learners and young learners, a range of questions come to our mind. The first one is the concept of assessment itself, since we tend to limit this term and accept – in a more traditional perspective – only some forms of assessment tools, such as tests and essays, as valid ways to “measure” one’s performance.

         Although we recognize these traditional assessment tools as a relevant means of evaluation, we should develop other possibilities nowadays, especially when it comes to language education with (very) young learners, mainly considering a critical perspective regarding the languages, the educational process, the educators’ expectations, and the children’ potentialities.

         Besides, from the critical perspective, we are concerned with linguistic features, like vocabulary, grammar, listening and speaking skills, and so on, but not only with them. We also know that we must involve non linguistic features, as social behavior, emotional skills, and learning strategies, in the language education process and, consequently, in the assessment.

         In addition to having assessment literacy in order to understand the types of assessment that could be relevant for each context, it is significant for educators to think of assessing children to improve their learning processes. That is what we call Assessment for Learning, in contrast to what we call Assessment of Learning.

         When assessing for learning, the educator intends to check children’s processes in order to make decisions regarding their progress throughout the language education process, helping them to improve specific points or giving them more challenging activities. Also, from this point of view, educators can help children to recognize themselves as learners – through self-assessment activities, for example –, as individuals, and, as a consequence, to constitute their role in society.

         Quevedo-Camargo  (2014,  p.  77) explains that “evaluation is present in the life of every human being”, so we cannot simply ignore this part of the educational process, especially, as we have aforementioned, when we consider the complete development of the children we are working with.

         On the other hand, the assessment of learning measures, in a positivist way, focuses on what is believed the learner should have achieved after being exposed to some language content. It usually involves mostly linguistic features, tending to disconsider other aspects related to individual characteristics.

         That being said, we would  say that, in order to think of children’s complete development through language education, assessment for learning would be an interesting option. Thus , using assessment tools in a critical way to orient both educators and learners throughout the educational process, offering possibilities of actions and taking individual processes into account would help (very) young learners and educators to construct together their classes.

         Moreover, educators should also have the opportunity to think of their contexts from a critical perspective in order to select – or create! – assessment tools, to decide the best moment to develop and register activities with this purpose, to explain to children’s families what is being evaluated and the form they are doing so, to raise children’s awareness regarding the importance of being evaluated and to improve their capability of evaluating their teachers too.

         As Moraes & Batista (2020, p.19) affirm, “We need to have an in-depth and conscious understanding of why we assess, what we should assess and how it will be assessed, so that we are able to make informed and conscious decisions regarding student outcomes”. . Thus, it is important to know what we are doing to assess (very) young learners and to involve children so that they can understand the value of this part of their process of language education.

         Consequently, understanding assessment as a possibility of teaching and building knowledge, not of judging or punishing, might also lead educators to reflect on their own contexts, practices and theories, contributing to their teacher education process as well. For this reason, we might suggest that we can not only bring other views of assessment with children to educators but to children themselves, who are going to have the possibility to understand assessment tools as friends and helpers, not as villains.

1 PhD student / researcher in the field of Critical Language Education with children. E-mail: liliane.malta@edu.ufes.br

2 PostDoc researcher and PhD researcher / advisor in the field of Critical Language Education with children. E-mail: claudia.furlan@ufes.br

MORAES, I. T.; BATISTA, E. G. Letramento em avaliação para professores de línguas estrangeiras para crianças: orientações teórico-práticas. Revista Horizontes De Linguística Aplicada, 19(2), 15–42. 2020.

QUEVEDO-CAMARGO, G. Efeito retroativo da avaliação na aprendizagem de línguas estrangeiras: que fenômeno é esse? In: MULIK, K. B.; RETORTA, M. S. (Org.). Avaliação no ensino-aprendizagem de línguas estrangeiras: diálogos, pesquisas e reflexões. 1. ed. Campinas: Pontes Editores, 2014. p. 77-94.

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