Learning from this project
From this project, our knowledge claim is that a vocationally relevant initial assessment will provide a sound starting point for assessing a learner’s English skills.
We have also learned the benefit of asking critical questions to guide our thinking. This has led to specific findings including the following:
What went well?
Learner engagement: our biggest success from the project was how engaged the learners were in it. All identified participants took part in the sessions without complaint, and gave useful and detailed feedback on what they liked, and what they would change, about the project.
Collaboration across departments: through working with the IT department, we now have a much stronger link in our college between English and IT. This has enabled us to monitor and motivate current GCSE English students on Level 2 and Level 3 IT much more effectively, as those students know our departments work closely together to ensure they are attending and working to the best of their ability.
Development of the initial assessment document: although it has been challenging to strike a balance between being IT-relevant and still testing English skills, we have developed an initial assessment tool which we can use in future IT and/or English lessons (with IT learners) to establish starting points, while avoiding discouraging the learners because of its heavily English content.
In one researcher’s personal teaching practice, they are going to try to make formative assessment a more collaborative exercise with the learners. This project has shown them that learners want to be in control of their assessment, and respond well to assessment tasks when they have had some input into their creation. This could be put into practice through allowing learners to choose when the assessment will be done, if it will be done in one go or split into segments, or the topic of the assessment.
Even better if…
Starting earlier: on reflection, the project would have run more smoothly had we completed the initial assessment document before it started, so that it could have been trialled with the participants at the beginning and at the end of the project.
More sessions: there would be a richer amount of data if we had more than four sessions with the learners, especially if we had been able to trial all the activities in the initial assessment tool. This way, we would have feedback on all of them, and be able to use or adapt them accordingly. Two of the case study learners also provided feedback that they would have liked more sessions, and to be able to cover more topics from the initial self-assessment, rather than just the most frequently occurring three ‘weak points’ discovered in the first session.
In summary, going forward, we would ideally like to publish the initial assessment in an online format, so it could be available both paper-based and digitally, making it accessible to a larger group of people. A digital format could allow for different activities, such as embedding videos and submitting quizzes.
We also feel we can say that we have succeeded in achieving our aims of helping learners to improve their English skills in a contextualised manner.