Perceptions of ESL Teachers in Taiwan
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This study investigates ESL program teachers' experiences, perceptions, attitudes and use of classroom assessment in Taiwan. It is aimed to explore teachers' understanding of classroom assessment and their assessment strategies; moreover, to examine whether there are any relationships between teachers' experiences, perceptions and use of classroom assessment in private ESL schools in Taiwan.
Thirty teachers across three private ESL schools were surveyed using a questionnaire. Among 30 teachers, 4 teachers volunteered to participate in the semi-structured interviews. Data collected from questionnaire and interview provides the researcher with an insight into teachers' perceptions, attitudes and use of assessment methods in their classroom.
The results show that ESL program teachers were positive about the effectiveness of classroom assessment and formative assessment strategies and had a tendency to use positive feedback to encourage learners to improve their language ability. Most teachers had more than 3 years of teaching experience in teaching English and placed focus on formative assessment in order to meet schools policy, learners' needs, and parents' demands.
There is a need to do further research in such unique educational context, so-called 'ESL schools' in Taiwan, to explore teachers' difficulties and needs; moreover, to provide support, such as teachers' in-service training, which may lead to benefiting learners.
This mixed methods research is designed to investigate ESL private school teachers' perceptions, attitude and use of classroom assessment in Taiwan. Two instruments are used in this research, including a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews, to explore teachers' experiences, attitudes, and perceptions of classroom assessment and their own assessment strategies.
Rationale and context
This study has been motivated by two factors: first, in 2010, Dr. Rea-Dickins introduced the central characteristics of classroom assessment in Language Testing and Assessment (LTA) course, such as providing learning opportunities for learning or language awareness and nurturing language, which helped me to gain new knowledge about the concept of assessment for learning, in terms of formative assessment. After reading several research studies in relation to classroom-based assessment, I recognize the benefits of assessment, particular with formative assessment, and how teachers can monitor learner progress, inform teaching and support learning through using multiple assessment methods in the classroom. I have the desire to understand whether English teachers use various formative assessment methods, such as teacher and peer feedback, scaffolding and assessment to help learners enhance learning or they mainly focus on grading and recording learning progress.
The second factor is related to the fact that we have relatively little knowledge at ESL private school teachers' classroom assessment practice and their understanding and attitude toward assessment in Taiwan; moreover, this is an area in which it appears that may have an impact on young learners in learning English. Assessment plays a central and important role both in teaching and learning. Teachers use their own assessment practices, which may have the potential influence on their learners' learning, to assess and improve learners' language ability.
In addition, assessment is synonymous to exams and tests for most teachers, pupils, and parents In Taiwan where traditional paper-and â€“pencil assessment remained as the main source informing learners' learning (Yip, 2005). Edelenbos and Kubanek-German (2004) also point out the assumption that formal testing is generally referred to the only assessment methods a teacher uses. McNamara (2000) noted that traditional paper-and â€“pencil language assessment and performance assessment are two major forms of assessment. In other words, English teachers tend to use the latter to know how their learners use their existing language knowledge related in a given context and to measure learners' language ability at the end of a certain period of teaching and learning through the former. As can be seen, the notion of assessment is generally associated with testing and it seems to be under-developed in fields of applied linguistics and general education. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate how English teachers perceive the concept of classroom assessment and what assessment methods they use in their classroom in Taiwan.
1.2.1 English learning environment in Taiwan
In 1997, the Ministry of Education (MOE) implemented educational reform and introduced the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum (NYIC) which has greatly influenced the syllabus and materials design of elementary and high schools in Taiwan. One of the major changes is that pupils, who used to begin learning English in junior high schools (age 11), start to learn English as a Foreign Language in grade 3 (age 9) in elementary schools. English instructions were officially incorporated into elementary school education which brought more business opportunities on English learning and teaching due to the increasing demand for English learning. Such changing situation has also impact the age of learning English in Taiwan, where children now start to learn English at an early age.
In addition, according to The Guidelines of English Learning Area in Grade 1-9 Curriculum, the new English syllabus reflects a more communicative orientation and places focus on teacher-learners interactions. It also aims to create an enjoyable learning environment to motivate learners to speak English in English classroom. This appears to suggest that teachers should use more formative assessment methods, in terms of encouraging learners to improve learning and providing more language learning opportunities to them.
Furthermore, learners are expected to achieve three goals in Grade 1-9 Curriculum:
To equip with basic communicative competence and apply it into real-life situations.
To develop learning strategies and be able to learn language effectively and autonomously.
To gain knowledge about foreign cultures and be able to respect different cultures.
The adjustment in English curriculum is consistent with the current trend in research studies of English as an Additional Language (EAL). Teachers are acting as supporters to scaffold and motivate learners to enhance learning during the whole learning process. In addition, Taiwanese government empowers local schools and teachers to choose teaching materials, such as textbooks, to meet learners' needs; moreover, it begins to value pupils' individual differences. By doing so, teachers may be able to choose appropriate tasks and activities for their learners and focus on individual learning. As can be seen, teachers are now generally increasing the use of formative assessment strategies to assist learners learning in the classroom in Taiwan
1.2.2 Formative Assessment in language classrooms in Taiwan
Generally, English teachers in Taiwan are required to correct all the errors in all students' work, including worksheets, textbooks and practice books, due to the pressure from the schools and parents. Such demand from schools and parents is one of major sources of pressure for teachers in Taiwan. As can be seen, teacher feedback, particularly with written feedback, appears to be seen as one major part of teachers' routine work. Huang (2006) reports that in Taiwan most English teachers use teacher feedback, as a formative assessment method, on learners' grammatical errors in writing.
In addition, portfolio assessment is a common assessment tool used by English teachers in Taiwan. Tsai (2004) and Wang (2002) both indicate that teachers use portfolio assessment as an instrument to assess learners' achievement rather than improving learning; moreover, Wu (2007) points out that instead of using portfolios assessment in a formative way most teachers use it for summative purposes, in terms of recording each learner's achievement. Furthermore, Yip (2005) reports that traditional standardized tests remain the main source of informing and measuring learners' learning for most English teachers in Taiwan. As can be seen, the potential of classroom assessment may not have been identified in the language assessment literature and assessment has not reached its full potential in English classrooms in Taiwan.
Organization of this research
In the next chapter, literature on relevant issues involves definition and functions of classroom assessment and assessment of young learners are reviewed. Methodology of data collection and analysis and a discussion of ethical, validity and reliability issues are introduced in Chapter 3, followed by the presentation of the findings and discussion derived from the results of both questionnaire and interview data. Chapter 5 summaries the research findings and provides limitations and future research.
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION
This research has explored teachers' attitudes, perceptions, and use of assessment in classrooms. In this chapter, limitations of the study will first be discussed, followed by Implications for pedagogy and this study.
5.2 Limitations of the study
There are several limitations and problematic aspects in the methodology. First, one limitation in this research is the small size sample (N=30) which may influence the reliability of the result in relation to the correlationship between teachers' years of teaching experience and their assessment methods. Size of the sample is vitalÂ for an accurate estimate of the relationship between variables. In addition, without classroom observation, it is difficult to examine teachers' day-to-day assessment practice and the whole process of assessment. Observation plays a significant role in confirming teachers' interview responses with their actual assessment practice in the classroom. Follow-up interviews are also important in gaining some insight into the behavioural patterns and assessment practice of teachers during the assessment process by providing explanations of their instructional and diagnostic behavior and assessment strategies. The involvement of a larger questionnaire sample size, classroom observation and follow-up interviews may lead to increase reliability of the data and a better and completed understanding of teachers' assessment practice in classrooms.
5.3 Implications for pedagogy and teacher training
All 5 interviewed teachers indicate that they gain new information about assessment through meeting with teachers from the same grade, for instance, all grade 1 teachers have a meeting to discuss teaching ideas and lesson plans once a week. However, there seems to be an insufficiency level of in-service training activities for meeting the needs of ESL program teachers. Teachers recognize the importance of developing knowledge, competence, capacities and classroom assessment strategies in order to improve teaching and learners' learning. This may suggest that there is a need to provide continuing professional development (CPD) and training courses to update new knowledge and information, in relation to planning for teaching, practical approaches and assessment, and more importantly to reflect on their own teaching.
5.3 Implications for further research
There is a critical need for more studies to investigate ESL program teachers' difficulty in implementing classroom assessment strategies in schools and their diagnostic competence, in terms of their observational and interpretative ability, during classroom teaching. Due to teachers' decision-making, 'assessment cognition network' (Yin 2005) and 'teacher diagnostic competence' (Edelenbos and Kubanek-German 2004) are key elements in supporting and assessing learners in classrooms. Moreover, their capacities, knowledge and beliefs may have an impact on how they assess learner performance during the teaching and their diagnostic competence, including the skills they use to guess what learners want to say and the abilities to provide language samples of learners' language growth, may influence the amount of language learning opportunities they provide for individual learner during the teaching and learning.
Furthermore, further research is needed in exploring teachers' representation and implementation of classroom assessment to reveal factors which influence teachers' perceptions and interpretation of assessment. In addition, ESL program teachers' use of the materials, which involve standardized and teacher made tests and a set of assessment instruments, should also be examined, in terms of the reliability and validity of teacher assessment. Finally, the scope of so-called 'ESL' school teachers' classroom assessment perceptions and strategies research should be expanded to include other Asia countries, such as Korea and China.
The focus of this research is to investigate so-called 'ESL' school teachers' perceptions, attitudes and use of classroom assessment in Taiwan, an EFL context. A mixed methods approach is used to collect and analyze both quantitative and qualitative data, including questionnaire and interview data. This study provides a window to reveal how teachers , who aim to enhance Taiwanese learners' English ability through adopting ESL curriculum and teaching materials to teach learners in an EFL context, perceive the construct of classroom assessment, their attitudes toward assessment and use of assessment methods. The results show a strong emphasis on formative, as opposed to summative, assessment practice among 30 teachers across 3 private ESL schools; moreover, the data suggests a need for CPD courses to improve teaching and learning and to prevent teachers from suffering burnout and emotional exhaustion.
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