FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT OF WRITING IN ENGLISH: A school-based study of perceptions, practices and transformations
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This dissertation explores teacher and student perceptions and practices of formative assessment in English as a foreign language writing classes. The setting is a school in the eastern region of Norway, where formative assessment or assessment for learning has been a priority for the school leaders and the teachers for years. Four EFL teachers and their students (N=100) took part in this study. The researcher spent 18 months at the school. First, the situation was analyzed using mixed methods: student questionnaires, teacher and student interviews, informal talks with the teachers, and classroom observations of writing assessment. Then a plan for intervention cycles was made continuously throughout a school year together with the teachers. The aim of the interventions was to make use of assessment situations to enhance student learning. The interventions were guided by principles from portfolio assessment. Data were collected before, during and after the intervention period. The theoretical framework of the study is based on Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky’s ideas on learning and development (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), particularly the concept of mediation, and others’ interpretations of his ideas. The research can be defined as school-based formative intervention research, focusing on a limited purposive sample for the sake of understanding the assessment culture and being able to do an in-depth analysis. The formative interventions draw on Yrjö Engeström’s activity theory (Engeström, 1987). His activity system was used to find the contradictions that laid the foundation for interventions. The substantive theories that have been used to understand and interpret the data, and upon which the formative interventions have been built, revolve around formative assessment, writing assessment, and portfolio assessment. The dissertation consists of three journal articles. Article 1 is a review of the formative tool used in the interventions, i.e. the writing portfolio. The review was restricted to the period 1998- 2013. Three search methods were used: database, citation, and manual search. The findings show that the writing portfolio has several formative potentials for second and foreign language learners. However, too little research has been conducted in primary and secondary education, and too few studies have used observation as a method of validating findings to see how portfolio can change assessment to become more formative. In Article 2, forming the start-up phase of the study, the focus was how teachers and students perceive and act on formative assessment of writing. The findings show that, despite the school’s long tradition of working with formative assessment, there were significant contradictions both within the student group and between the students and their teachers regarding how they perceive and act on formative assessment of writing. One of the main implications is that there is a need for more time and space to discuss, try out and follow up formative assessment in writing classes. The contradictions laid the foundation for interventions, using the writing portfolio as a mediating artifact. Three classes (N=70) completed a year’s intervention period, using portfolio as an assessment tool. Article 3 reports the results from this period. The findings indicate that the assessment transformed to become more formative in some respects, but there were exceptions and there were some student differentiation and computer technical issues. Notably, the writing portfolio seemed to be most beneficial for the high performing students, but it created writing time and space for all students. The study provides an example of how a formative tool can contribute to bridge the gap between perceptions and practices, and theory and practice of formative assessment. However, it also indicates how challenging it is to conduct interventions at one end with teachers and expect results at the other end with students. The contribution of this dissertation is increased knowledge about the relationships between portfolio assessment and formative assessment in second/foreign language learning contexts, and how teachers and students perceive and act on formative assessment in writing classes. It suggests a possible framework to study the formative activities involved in writing assessment in the juxtaposition of teacher and student perspectives, theory and practice.
Has partsArticle 1: Burner, T. (2014). The potential formative benefits of portfolio assessment in second and foreign language writing contexts: A review of the literature. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 43(4), 139-149. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2014.03.002
Article 2: Burner, T. (2016) Formative assessment of writing in English as a foreign language. ‘The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research Volume 60, 2016 - Issue 6, Pages: 626-648 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2015.1066430
Article 3: Burner, T. (2015). Processes of change when using portfolio to enhance formative assessment of writing. Assessment Matters, 9(2), 53-79. http://dx.doi.org/10.18296/am.0011