Berry, Vivien, Sheehan, Susan and Munro, Sonia (2017) Mind the gap – bringing teachers into the language literacy debate. In: 39th Language Testing Research Colloquium, 19–21 July 2017, Universidad de los Andes, Las Aguas, Bogotá, Colombia. (Unpublished)

Teachers’ attitudes and beliefs are frequently cited as exerting a powerful role in shaping their decisions, judgements and behaviour (Borg, 2006; Kagan, 1992). Consequently, exploring teachers’ levels of assessment literacy may help teacher educators to better understand the factors which promote or prevent effective assessment, and thus contribute to more targeted teacher education. Much previous research into teachers’ assessment literacy has relied on survey data (Fulcher 2012, Plake & Impara 2002)). The research to be discussed in this presentation focuses on the sociocultural context in relation to actual assessment literacy practices in the language classroom, since an investigation into what is happening in classes may be of little value without exploring why it is happening. With the exception of a case study following three Chinese University teachers (Xu 2015), no teachers have been asked directly about their attitudes to assessment or their specific training needs. This project sought to bring teachers more directly into the assessment literacy debate in order to provide them with training materials which meet their actual stated needs.

The initial phase of the project consisted of a series of interviews and observations of experienced teachers, conducted at the international study centre of a British university. The interviews drew on Davies’ (2008) components of assessment literacy which, following Stiggins (1991, 1997) he defined as Skills + Knowledge but with the important addition of Principles. In the interviews, teachers were invited to estimate their understanding of the components of the assessment process and asked to indicate how much they would like to learn about each individual component. Observations were then conducted which focused on teachers’ assessment practices in the classroom. Post-observation interviews were subsequently conducted with the teachers, in which they were asked to reflect on their observed classroom practice. In the second phase of the project, focus group discussions were held with experienced teachers at teaching centres attached to a major international organisation in two European countries. These teachers taught a variety of different English language classes across a range of ages and proficiency, including kindergarten, elementary, secondary and tertiary level students, plus special-purpose classes for organisations. These discussions confirmed the findings from the initial phase of the project, culminating in the creation of a set of on-line training materials.

Four key findings from the project will be presented relating to the teachers’: 1) previous training in assessment; 2) attitudes to language testing and associated theory; 3) understanding of assessment in its broader sense; 4) understanding of ‘language assessment literacy’. From this research it would seem that the gap between teachers and those who research and write about language testing is considerable. This research project sought to narrow the gap by giving teachers a stronger voice in the debate, which, in turn, may have important implications for the development of future teacher training courses.

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