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PD Corner

Feedback That Fuels Growth: Effective Assessment Strategies

by Vanessa Mernies |

Let's talk about something we all know is important but that can often cause English language teachers a lot of stress: designing effective feedback and assessment strategies. I am referring to those little gems that can either make or break a professional development journey, especially in English language teaching (ELT). So, buckle up as we dive into the art and science of feedback and assessment that truly fuel growth.

Female teacher sits next to young student's desk giving feedback on her homework

The Power of Feedback and Assessment

First, let's get one thing straight: Feedback and assessment are not just one-off events or mere afterthoughts. They are continuous processes that play pivotal roles in shaping our teaching practices, methodologies, and overall professional development—and they serve to boost the learning outcomes of our multilingual learners of English (MLEs). As researcher John Hattie puts it, "Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement" (Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars, 2022). 

Now, you might be thinking, "Tell me something I don't know." Fair point! However, not all feedback is created equal. In fact, ineffective or poorly delivered feedback can do more harm than good to our students, particularly in the ELT context, where supporting the affective domain is paramount for successful learning and acquisition. So, how do we ensure that the feedback we provide to our students is not only constructive but also fosters growth and improvement in their proficiency levels?

Understanding Assessment: Formative vs Summative

Before diving into specific strategies, it's essential to differentiate between formative and summative assessments. Formative assessment is an ongoing, informal process used during the learning experience to provide real-time feedback to students and teachers. This type of assessment is typically not graded but is designed to identify students' strengths and areas for improvement, guide instructional decisions, and enhance learning. Techniques like quizzes, observations, and peer assessments fall under this category. The primary goal is to inform teaching and support students' learning processes and language acquisition.

In contrast, summative assessment is used to evaluate student learning and language proficiency at the end of an instructional unit or set of units by comparing it against some standard scale or rubric. Summative assessments are usually graded and include exams, final projects, and standardized tests. The purpose is to measure the extent of student learning and proficiency after a period of instruction.

Instructors or language programs may also design their own tailored summative assessments. In addition at the end of a course or program, students might be evaluated with one of a few standardized assessments, such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines, or the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale. 

Though each assessment offers a different perspective and level of detail, they all aim to provide a structured framework for gauging linguistic ability. Depending on your needs and context, one scale may be more appropriate than the others. 

Practical Ideas for Formative Assessment
      • Quizzes and Polls: Use platforms like Kahoot!, Quizlet, or Google Forms to create interactive and fun quizzes and polls. These tools provide instant feedback to students and can highlight areas where they need more practice.
          • Example: Create a vocabulary quiz using Kahoot! to review new words learned during the week.
      • Exit Tickets: At the end of a lesson, ask students to write down one thing they learned and one question they still have. This activity helps gauge student understanding and informs future instruction and lesson planning.
          • Example: After a grammar lesson, students submit a slip of paper or digital response with their key takeaway and any lingering questions.
Practical Ideas for Summative Assessment
      • Unit Tests: Create comprehensive tests that cover the material taught during a specific unit. These tests should include a variety of question types (multiple choice, short answer, essays) to assess different levels of understanding.
          • Ensure the test follows the principles of assessment: reliability, fairness, flexibility, and validity.
      • Final Projects: Assign projects that require students to demonstrate their language proficiency level through presentations, essays, or creative tasks. These projects can integrate multiple language skills and content areas.
          • Example: Students can create a multimedia presentation on a topic related to the course content, incorporating research, writing, and speaking skills.
      • Portfolios: Have students compile a portfolio of their work throughout the course, showcasing their progress and achievements. Portfolios provide a holistic view of students' learning processes and reflections.
          • Example: Throughout the semester, students collect their best work, reflections, and teacher feedback in a digital or physical portfolio. They may also include any content they consider a reflection of their learning. 
Practical Ideas for Self- and Peer Assessment

Encouraging students to evaluate their work and that of their peers promotes the development of metacognitive skills and fosters a collaborative learning environment. This type of assessment also empowers students to take ownership of their learning.

      • Learning Journals: Ask students to maintain learning journals where they reflect on their understanding, achievements, challenges, and goals in their language learning process. Periodically review these journals to assess students' self-awareness and metacognitive skills.

      • Peer Review: Organize sessions where students review and provide feedback on each other's assignments, projects, or presentations. Provide clear guidelines and criteria to ensure constructive and focused feedback.

      • Self-Evaluation Forms: Provide students with self-evaluation forms to assess their performance, effort, understanding, and areas for improvement. Based on their self-assessment, students should set personal goals for improvement for each language skill or subskill.
Practical Ideas for Authentic Assessment

This kind of assessment involves real-world tasks that require students to apply their knowledge and skills in meaningful contexts. It provides a more holistic view of students' abilities and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving (Wiggins, 1993). You can implement authentic assessment in your classroom in the following ways.

      • Real-World Projects: Assign projects that require students to apply their knowledge and language skills in real-world contexts and situations. Examples include community service projects, research projects, cultural exchange projects, multimedia presentations, or travel planning projects.

      • Role-Play Scenarios: Create role-play activities based on real-life situations relevant to the lesson's content. This encourages students to apply their language skills, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. Set up a role-play where students have to navigate a doctor’s appointment or a travel scenario using English.

      • Case Studies: Present students with real-world case studies or scenarios related to the lesson's content. Ask students to analyze the case, identify problems or challenges, and propose solutions or recommendations. As this type of interaction can be linguistically demanding, be sure to target both the case study materials and the required student output to the appropriate proficiency level for your students.

By implementing these practical ideas, educators can create a more engaging, inclusive, and student-centered learning environment. These assessment techniques not only provide valuable insights into students' learning experiences and processes but also empower students to take ownership of their learning, develop metacognitive skills, and apply their knowledge and skills in meaningful and relevant contexts.

Now, back to feedback!

Understanding Feedback

Keep It Specific and Actionable

When it comes to giving feedback, specificity is your best friend. Instead of vague statements like "Great job!" or "You need to improve," try to be more targeted and actionable. This works well whether giving feedback to your students or your colleagues. Here are two examples of this technique for responding to student work:

Feedback Sample 1
General: "Your presentation was engaging."
Specific: "You did an excellent job incorporating new vocabulary and grammatical structures. By doing this, you upgraded the content of your presentation."

Feedback Sample 2
General: "Your writing needs work."
Specific: "Your essay is well-organized, but you could improve its register by incorporating more academic vocabulary and structures."

The Sandwich Approach: A Classic, But Use With Caution

The classic sandwich approach involves starting with a positive, slipping in the constructive criticism, and wrapping it up with another positive. Though this method can be effective in maintaining a positive rapport with students, it's essential to use it judiciously. Overusing the sandwich approach can dilute the impact of your feedback and come across as insincere.

Porath suggests in her article "Nine Tips for Giving Better Feedback at Work" (2022) to avoid the "feedback sandwich" approach. This method, where you start with praise, insert criticism in the middle, and end with more praise, can diminish the impact of your critique. The criticism might be overshadowed because people often remember the first and last parts of a conversation better than the middle, causing the critical feedback to be overlooked.

Foster a Growth Mindset

One of the most transformative aspects of effective feedback is its potential to cultivate a growth mindset. According to Dweck (2014), individuals with a growth mindset believe that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work.

As educators, our feedback should aim to instill this belief in our students. Instead of labeling a student as good or bad at different language skills, focus on the effort, strategies, and perseverance they exhibit. For example, instead of saying, "You're not great at expressing your ideas in an organized way," you could say, "Have you considered putting into practice some of the strategies and techniques for speech organization that we saw during the course?"

Embrace Technology: Use Digital Tools for Feedback

In this digital age, we have access to a variety of tools and platforms that can streamline the feedback process and make it more interactive and engaging. Here are some free apps that you can use to give feedback, whether you're an educator, manager, or anyone else in need of providing constructive feedback:

      • Google Forms: This tool allows you to create custom feedback forms with various question types, including multiple-choice, short-answer, and more. You can easily share the form link with students and collect responses in real time.

      • Mentimeter: The tool allows teachers to include polls, multiple-choice and open-ended questions, quizzes, and scales that students can interact with live.

      • FeedbackFruits: Though they have paid plans, FeedbackFruits also offers a free version that includes peer feedback and interactive learning activities. It's designed specifically for educational settings and can be integrated with various learning management systems.

      • Peergrade: This platform is ideal for educators who want to facilitate peer reviews among students. It allows you to create assignments, distribute them to students, and collect peer feedback, fostering a collaborative learning environment.

Remember, technology is just a tool—it's the teacher’s touch, empathy, and understanding behind the feedback that truly makes a difference. So, leverage these digital tools to enhance your feedback practices, but don't let them replace the personal connection and rapport that are crucial for meaningful feedback.

Wrapping Up

So, there you have it: a whirlwind tour of assessment and feedback strategies that can change your professional development journey in ELT. Remember, feedback is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it's a dynamic and evolving process that requires empathy, understanding, and a genuine desire to support and uplift students.

Happy teaching, learning, and growing!



Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars. (2022, June 8). The power of feedback: John Hattie. [Video]. YouTube. 

Wiggins, G. P. (1993). Assessing student performance: Exploring the purpose and limits of testing. Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Dweck, C. (2014, November). The power of believing that you can improve [Video]. TED Conferences. 

OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (3.5) [Large language model]. (used for correcting accuracy and style)

Porath, C. (2022, March 26). Nine tips for giving better feedback at work. Greater Good Magazine. 


Recommended Resources: 

Feedback is a Gift: Simon Sinek

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine.

About the author

Vanessa Mernies

Vanessa Mernies is an academic coordinator at Alianza Cultural Uruguay-Estados Unidos. She holds a TEFL degree from the Alianza in collaboration with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Vanessa is a teacher educator, teacher mentor, and materials designer with more than 20 years of experience. She participated in the Teacher-in-Residence Exchange Program in Minnesota in 2019 through Partners of the Americas, and graduated as a Neuropsicoeducador at Asociación Educar, Argentina in 2020.

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