Using ELL Assessments to Identify Student Needs

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Assessments are a big part of school life for most students and teachers. In this lesson, teachers are provided advice on using ELL (English Language Learner) assessments to identify student needs.

The ELL Situation

As a teacher of ELLs (English Language Learners), it can sometimes be difficult to identify learning difficulties, design teaching strategies, and modify curriculum. One great way to mitigate these challenges is through the proper use of assessments. Ideally, assessments can be used by teachers to determine student ability level and track progress over time.

Students who are not native English speakers encounter a variety of language information that must be assessed, processed, and used to perform successfully in school and beyond. Assessments, both formal and informal, can be a valuable tool for teachers for several reasons. For instance, assessments can;

  • provide teachers with objective data,
  • allow students to understand their current English/subject level,
  • be used to determine appropriate student placement,
  • help teachers identify learning difficulties and modify curriculum accordingly, and
  • clearly demonstrate student progress over time.

When these benefits of assessments are combined well, teachers and learners can benefit greatly.

Using Assessments in Class

The types of assessments you use with ELLs can have a significant influence on the learning process. Also, how you condition your students to approach assessments can also greatly affect student performance. For instance, if students are aware that a large portion of their grades will come from assessment performance, students who don't test well can feel disadvantaged. To lessen this fear and to increase the diversity of the information you can draw on, try to use a variety of formative and summative assessments.

  • Formative Assessments
    • Classroom observations
    • Formal and informal class discussions
    • Homework assignments and in-class activities
  • Summative Assessments
    • Exams/tests
    • Research and term papers
    • Projects and presentations

How Formative Assessments Help

Formative assessments are a great tool for ELLs because these assessments allow teachers to incorporate observation, discussions, and a range of assignment types to design teaching strategies and modify curriculum. For instance, if students are consistently making the same language errors during class discussions, the curriculum can be designed to address and rectify these errors.

Additionally, close observation of student performance and behavior in class can help educators determine the language, academic, and social difficulties students encounter on a daily basis. Once these issues are identified, solutions can be developed with a focus on ELL specifics.

Another great advantage of using formative assessments with ELLs is that relatively little preparation time is needed. Observing students requires no prep time and if class discussions are student-led, there is no need for the teacher to take significant time preparing discussion questions. Classroom activities will require some preparation and guidance, but this process lends itself to more informed and in-depth observation.

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