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Authentic Assessment of Language Teaching and Learning as
a Component of Whole-School Language Policy
Jim Cummins
The University of Toronto
Why Do We Need a Whole-School Approach?
What options do we have to reinforce plurilingualism and language awareness
across the curriculum?
Traditional approaches to language teaching where the target language (TL) is
taught as a subject and isolated from the rest of the curriculum have frequently
not been very successful for a large number of students (e.g., FSL in Canada;
Irish in Ireland); Better results are obtained in situations where there is
extremely high motivation to learn the language and/or significant exposure
outside school (e.g., these conditions are often met in bilingual contexts or when
English is the target language).
Content-based language teaching approaches (e.g., bilingual education, CLIL, L2
immersion) tend to achieve better outcomes;
Contexts for language teaching have become much more complex—increasing
diversity means that there may be many L1’s in the classroom—do students’
multilingual skills have any relevance for TL teaching?
Changes in technology are having major effects on all forms of learning—what
are the possibilities for TL teaching/learning?
Issues for Formative/Authentic Assessment
What is being assessed? What assumptions are being made about what constitutes
What is the impact of summative assessment on formative assessment? If the final
test or examination for a particular course focuses on written language (e.g., paper
and pencil tests of vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing), to what extent will
formative assessment pay attention to the development of speaking and listening skills?
Who is doing the assessing? Obviously the classroom teacher will play a dominant role
How does the pedagogical orientation operating in the language teaching classroom
affect the possibilities for formative assessment?
Formative assessment in transmission-oriented classrooms can only assess the
effectiveness with which students have learned the transmitted content; however, in
classrooms oriented to social constructivist or transformative pedagogies, formative
assessment can focus on performance assessment—for example, the quality of inquiry
in student projects using the target language, etc.
“language proficiency”? How are these assumptions reflected in the emphasis placed on
different language skills (e.g., speaking, listening, reading, and writing) in the
curriculum and in the sequence in which these skills are taught?
in most forms of formative assessment, but should students also be involved actively as
partners in the assessment process? How can self-assessment by students be
integrated into a broader pedagogical philosophy of self-regulated learning?
Nested Pedagogical Orientations
Nested Pedagogical Orientations
Transmission-oriented pedagogy is represented in the inner
circle with the narrowest focus. The goal is to transmit
information and skills articulated in the curriculum directly
to students.
Social constructivist pedagogy, occupying the middle
pedagogical space, incorporates the curriculum focus of
transmitting information and skills but broadens it to
include the development among students of higher-order
thinking abilities based on teachers and students coconstructing knowledge and understanding.
Finally, transformative approaches to pedagogy broaden
the focus still further by emphasizing the relevance not
only of transmitting the curriculum and constructing
knowledge but also of enabling students to gain insight into
how knowledge intersects with social realities and power
relations. The goal is to promote critical literacy among
New Contexts: New Reserch and Theory
• Growth of bilingual/CLIL approaches—should we be teaching
explicitly for L1-L2 transfer or keeping the two (or more)
languages completely separate?
• Increasing diversity of student populations—
bilingual/multilingual students no longer the exception in many
• What do content teachers and administrators need to know and
do in order to implement effective content-based teaching and
• How can technology be harnessed effectively for instruction and
assessment in plurilingual contexts?
Enabling Literacy Engagement across the Curriculum
L1 and L2 Literacy Attainment
Literacy Engagement
(input and output)
Activate prior
background knowledge
↔ Affirm
↔ Extend
Competencies for Content-based Language Teaching
TL Attainment
Active Engagement with the TL
(input and output – listening, viewing, reading + speaking,
emailing, texting, and writing)
(input and output)
Activate prior
background knowledge
↔ Affirm
↔ Extend
Scaffold Language
Graphic organizers
Visuals in texts
L1 transfer
Hands-on experiences
Collaborative group work
Learning strategies (planning tasks, visualisation,
grouping/classifying, note-taking/summarising,
questioning for clarification, making use of multiple
resources fortask completion)
• Language clarification (explanation, dictionary use,
Prior Knowledge and L2 Learning
“Nowhere is the role of prior knowledge more
important than in second language
educational contexts. Students who can
access their prior knowledge through the
language and culture most familiar to them
can call on a rich array of schemata, whereas
students who believe they can only use that
knowledge they have explicitly learned in the
second language are limited in their access”
(Chamot, 1998, p. 197).
Beyond Transmission: Opening Up the Classroom
Space for Student Creativity
• Tomer arrived from Israel in Grade 6 with no English;
• Madiha arrived from Pakistan in Grade 7 with no
• In a “normal” classroom their English oral and written
production would be severely limited for 1-2 years
while they are acquiring basic English skills. Their
literacy engagement (in English) would also be very
restricted because of the gap between their English
language skills and both the curriculum and books in
English that they might want to read.
Classroom Consequences of Shifting from Monolingual to
Bilingual Instructional Strategies
Tomer’s Identity Text
I think using your first language
is so helpful because when you
don’t understand something
after you’ve just come here it is
like beginning as a baby. You
don’t know English and you need
to learn it all from the
beginning; but if you already
have it in another language then
it is easier, you can translate it,
and you can do it in your
language too, then it is easier to
understand the second language.
The first time I couldn’t
understand what she [Lisa] was
saying except the word Hebrew,
but I think it’s very smart that
she said for us to do it in our
language because we can’t just
sit on our hands doing nothing.
Kanta’s Perspective
And how it helped me was when I came
here in grade 4 the teachers didn’t know
what I was capable of.
I was given a pack of crayons and a
coloring book and told to get on coloring
with it. And after I felt so bad about
that--I’m capable of doing much more
than just that. I have my own inner skills
to show the world than just coloring and
I felt that those skills of mine are
important also. So when we started
writing the book [The New Country], I
could actually show the world that I am
something instead of just coloring.
And that's how it helped me and it made
me so proud of myself that I am actually
capable of doing something, and here
today [at the Ontario TESL conference] I
am actually doing something. I’m not just
a coloring person—I can show you that I
am something.
Lisa Leoni
What I love about using identity texts as a teaching strategy
is that it validates students’ cultural and linguistic identities.
They also help connect what students are learning in the
class to their prior lived experiences and when these
connections happen, learning becomes real for them
because they are using their language and culture for
purposes that have relevance for them. Most importantly,
they end up owning the work that they produce. The book
The New Country was written by Kanta, Sulmana and
Madiha when we were studying a unit on migration. It
represents the immigration story of all three girls.
Bilingual Instructional Strategies
• If cross-lingual transfer is occurring naturally, then it makes
sense to give it a helping hand and teach explicitly for transfer;
• A bilingual instructional approach might include the following
--where cognates exist, draw students’ attention to them;
--encourage students to create and web-publish bilingual
books and projects;
--engage in sister-class projects where both languages
might be used for knowledge generation (e.g. Chinese [L1]
might be used to carry out Internet research on a topic but
output would be in English [TL]).
The Cognate Connection
Sister Class Projects
• Pre-cursors: The work of Celestin Freinet in
France and Mario Lodi in Italy; Both Freinet and
Lodi used the printing press to create texts and
newsletters for sharing with sister classes (and
community members) while Lodi also used
audiotapes (“spoken letters”) that resulted in
students becoming aware of and analysing regional
varieties of Italian;
• The DiaLogos Project: Grades 5/6 students in
Rhodes/Kassos (Greece) and Toronto (Canada)
(Kourtis-Kazoullis, 2001).
DiaLogos: Focus on Meaning
• Greek students carried out extensive research in both English
(e.g. on the web) and Greek (e.g. local museums) on topics
such as ancient Greece;
• As a result of this research, students wrote to the editors
of Dr. Dig magazine (a web-based archaeological magazine
intended for students) to complain about their use of the
term “Elgin Marbles” (marble statues taken from the
Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s whose ownership
is currently under dispute between Greece and the UK);
DiaLogos: Focus on Language
[Student from Canada]
Katerina – I didn’t have much of a Christmas this year because I
was moviong and we didn’t put up a tree and stuff like that but it
was fun moving and stuff.
On Christmas eve we went to my aunt’s house and had
a big feast and me and cousin Maria were chilling out.
On New Years eve we went to my moms friends house
and clebrated it there and we brought in 1999 we [with]
a really big bang!!
Expressions in the letters from Canadian students such as
stuff like that, and stuff, chilling out, with a really big bang,
we had a blast and whaz up, fueled the students’ curiosity and
resulted in critical analysis of language forms.
DiaLogos: Focus on Use
• Students collaboratively completed a short story
begun by Evgenios Trivizas (a well-known Greek
children’s writer) called The Dance of the
• 80 different stories were written. 59 stories were
written by the students in Greece (35 stories in
Greek and 24 in English) and 21 stories were
written by students in Canada (9 in Greek and 12
in English). Some texts included both languages,
reflecting students’ attempt to use the target
Pedagogies of Choice: School-based Auditing and Improvement of L2 Teaching and
Plurilingual Development
Instructional Options
How do we adapt curriculum materials to link with students’ prior
knowledge and cultural background (e.g. purchase dual language
books) and also to promote critical thinking about texts and issues
(e.g. whose perspectives are represented in a text)?
How can we modify instruction to evoke higher levels of literacy
engagement and critical thinking?
How can we use tools such as computers, digital cameras,
camcorders, web pages, etc?
How can we complement mandated standardized assessments in
order to present to students, parents, and administrators a more valid
account of student progress? (e.g. a role for portfolio assessment?)
What messages are we giving students and parents about home
language and culture? How can we enable students to use their L1 as
a powerful tool for learning? Can we increase students’ identity
investment by means of bilingual instructional strategies (teaching for
Parental Involvement
How can we engage parents as co-educators in such a way that their
linguistic and cultural expertise is harnessed as fuel for their
Where Are We?
Vision for the
Where Do We Want
To Be?
Getting it Done
How Do We Get
Types of Cross-Lingual Transfer
• Transfer of concepts (e.g. understanding the concept of photosynthesis);
• Transfer of cognitive and linguistic strategies (e.g. strategies of visualizing,
use of graphic organizers, mnemonic devices, vocabulary acquisition
strategies, etc.);
• Transfer of specific linguistic elements (knowledge of the meaning of photo
in photosynthesis);
• Transfer of phonological awareness;
Rethinking Traditional Language Teaching
Teaching L2 as a subject typically yields disappointing results for a large majority of students
except in situations where there is extremely high motivation to learn the language and/or
significant exposure outside school (e.g., these conditions are often met when English is the
target language).
Committee on Irish Language Attitudes Research (1975):
Those who received Irish-medium instruction in their school years were ten times more likely
to be now using Irish intensively than those who had studied Irish as a subject only.
Evans (1976) on Welsh:
“To state the matter bluntly, this policy, at least until quite recently, has been a disastrous
failure. Even minority Welsh speaking elements in these second language schools [i.e.,
English-medium with Welsh taught for 30 minutes per day] frequently failed to retain their
natural bilingualism and lapsed into becoming monoglot English-speakers.” (pp. 54-55)
The major problematic assumption in teaching languages as subjects is the misconception that we first
have to learn the language and only then can we think about using it. Under these circumstances
students frequently never cross the threshold to using the target language in a way that is identityaffirming.
The Potential of Bilingual/Trilingual Programmes
L2 immersion and bilingual education can contribute very significantly to
revitalization of threatened languages.
Basque Autonomous Community (Cenoz, 2008)
– Steady increase in Basque proficiency (over 16-year olds) from 24.1% in 1991 to 30.1%
in 2006;
– >90% of primary students are now in bilingual (30%) or full Basque-medium (60%)
programmes. Less than 9% are in Spanish-medium programmes with Basque taught as
a subject; at the secondary level, more than 80% of students are in bilingual or
Basque-medium programmes;
– Evaluations have consistently shown over the past 20 years that students in Basquemedium (Model D) schools are more proficient in Basque than students in bilingual
(Model B) schools who, in turn, are more proficient than students in Spanish-medium
(Model A) schools; Minimal, if any differences exist in Spanish between the three
What Is English Language Proficiency?
Conversational Fluency
• The ability to carry on a conversation in familiar face-toface situations;
• Developed by the vast majority of native speakers by the
time they enter school at age 5;
• Involves use of high frequency words and simple
grammatical constructions;
• ELL students typically require 1-2 years to attain peerappropriate levels.
What Is English Language Proficiency?
Discrete Language Skills
• Refers to the rule-governed aspects of language (e.g., phonics, spelling,
grammar, punctuation, etc.);
• Can be developed in two independent ways:
(a) by explicit instruction, and
(b) through active and extended engagement with literacy;
• ELL students can learn these specific language skills concurrently with
their development of basic vocabulary and conversational fluency.
However, there is little direct transference to academic language
proficiency (e.g., vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension).
What Is English Language Proficiency?
Academic Language Proficiency
• Includes knowledge of the less frequent vocabulary of English as well
as the ability to interpret and produce increasingly complex written
• ELL students typically require at least 5 years to attain grade
expectations in language and literacy skills;
• In order to catch up to grade norms within 6 years, ELL students must
make 15 months gain in every 10-month school year;
• Because academic language is found primarily in books, extensive
reading is crucial in enabling students to catch up;
• Frequent writing, across genres, is also crucial in developing academic
writing skills.
Sample of Most Frequent 150 Academic Words
Impressive Evidence for the Effects of Extensive
Reading in L2 Acquisition
From Krashen The Power of Reading (2nd edition, 2004, pp. 4-5):
“Elley (1991) also showed that free reading had a profound effect on
second language acquirers in Singapore. In three studies involving a total
of approximately 3,000 children, ages six through nine, and lasting from
one to three years, children who followed the ‘Reading and English
Acquisition Program,’ a combination of shared book experience, language
experience, and free reading (‘book flood’), outperformed traditionally
taught students on tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, oral
language, grammar, listening comprehension, and writing.”
The Centrality of Literacy Engagement
• Amount and range of reading and writing;
• Use of effective strategies for deep understanding of text;
• Positive affect and identity investment in reading and writing;
Guthrie notes that in all spheres of life (e.g. driving a car, doing surgery,
playing golf, gourmet cooking, etc.) participation is key to the
development of proficiency. He notes that “certainly some initial
lessons are valuable for driving a car or typing on a keyboard, but
expertise spirals upward mainly with engaged participation” (2004, p.
PISA: Reading Engagement
• For example, data on the reading attainment
of 15-year olds in almost 30 countries showed
that “the level of a student’s reading
engagement is a better predictor of literacy
performance than his or her socioeconomic
background, indicating that cultivating a
student’s interest in reading can help
overcome home disadvantages” (OECD, 2004,
p. 8)
Empirical Support for the Role of Engaged Reading
Drawing on both the 1998 NAEP data from the United States and the
results of the PISA study of reading achievement in international contexts,
Guthrie (2004, p. 5) notes that students
“…whose family background was characterized by low income and low
education, but who were highly engaged readers, substantially outscored
students who came from backgrounds with higher education and higher
income, but who themselves were less engaged readers. Based on a
massive sample, this finding suggests the stunning conclusion that
engaged reading can overcome traditional barriers to reading
achievement, including gender, parental education, and income.”
Rethinking Language Teaching Methods and Assumptions
Historical Trends
Exposure and input are clearly important (e.g., John Carroll’s work on time-ontask in the 1960s) – necessary but not sufficient condition for L2 learning;
counter-evidence of a linear relationship is provided by Clare Burstall’s research
in the UK in the 1970s, early vs. late French immersion comparisons, and bilingual
education evaluations;
Grammar-translation method replaced by the direct method in late 19th century.
The direct method embodied the “monolingual principle” (Howatt, 1984). Later
audiolingual and audiovisual approaches also emphasized instructional use of the
TL to the exclusion of students’ L1, with the goal of enabling learners to think in
the TL with minimal interference from L1. The monolingual principle is also
incorporated explicitly or implicitly in many “communicative language teaching”
(CLT) programs.
Current Assumptions in CLT
Policy and practice operate as though the “monolingual principle” had
been established as axiomatic and essentially “common sense”.
Cook (2001), for example, points out that most teaching manuals
consider the avoidance of L1 “as so obvious that no classroom use of the
L1 is ever mentioned” (p. 404).
“Recent methods do not so much forbid the L1 as ignore its existence
altogether. Communicative language teaching and task-based learning methods
have no necessary relationship with the L1, yet ... the only times the L1 is
mentioned is when advice is given on how to minimize its use. The main
theoretical treatments of task-based learning do not, for example, have any
locatable mentions of the classroom use of the L1. ... Most descriptions of
methods portray the ideal classroom as having as little of the L1 as possible,
essentially by omitting reference to it. “
(p. 404)
Three Monolingual Instructional Assumptions
In second or foreign language teaching, instruction should be carried
out exclusively in the target language without recourse to students’
All recourse to L1 by teachers or students (e.g., bilingual dictionary use) is
(= direct method assumption);
Translation between L1 and L2 has no place in the teaching of
language or literacy
In L2 teaching, use of translation by teachers or students represents a
regression to the discredited grammar/translation method;
In bilingual programs, use of translation is assumed to equal the discredited
concurrent translation method;
Within bilingual and dual language programs, the two languages
should be kept rigidly separate (= two solitudes assumption);
Teacher – Student
Focus on Use
Using language to:
Focus on Meaning
 Making input
 Developing
critical literacy
Focus on Language
 Awareness of language forms and uses
 Critical analysis of language forms
and uses
 Generate new
 Create literature and
 Act on social realities