Instruction and Assessment of ESL Learners

Instruction and Assessment of ESL Learners: Promoting Success in Your Classroom
By Faye Brownlie, Catherine Feniak, and Vicki McCarthy

Assessment and the ESL Learner

What teachers really want to know is how well their students can think, read and respond, problem solve, and express their ideas orally and in writing. (Brownlie, Feniak, McCarthy, p. 25).

Before beginning any assessment with ESL students, school teaching and learning teams can better support students by asking themselves a fundamental question: What is the purpose of the assessment? In other words, what do we need to know and why?

In Instruction and Assessment of ESL Learners, classroom teachers, resource teachers, ESL teachers, and administrators collaborate to assess ESL students in three areas:

1) learning about students new to a school or a classroom
2) meeting data collection demands related to issues of funding
3) supporting teaching by providing valuable information about how successfully students are learning

1) Learning about students new to a school or a classroom

Once new students have been oriented to the school/classroom and are no longer crippled by culture shock as new immigrants or refugees, it is time to learn more about them to help plan for learning and instruction.

A collaborative school team can administer quick, informal assessments of proficiency that will give information about the new student’s oral language (listening and speaking), written language, and reading comprehension. The purpose here is to provide a starting point for planning lessons and activities – an initial informal assessment. Over time, the team can better monitor the progress of ESL students through curriculum-based assessments within the context of authentic classroom activities, meaningfully adjusting instruction as appropriate.

Completed results are often kept in student files for further reference. They are updated as needed to monitor progress and used to revise the instructional focus to support learning once more is known about what the students can do.

2) Meeting data collection demands related to issues of funding

Where data collection is deemed necessary to meet funding obligations, school teams will benefit from working together to make this data collection as efficient as possible. Here the purpose is to follow the criteria established by the funding source, while reducing the labour intensity of the task as much as possible for staff. Generally, this assessment involves monitoring the ESL students’ reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Often, data collected over time must show both student improvement, as well as a demonstration of the need for continuing student support. Sometimes connections are made to reporting.

Ideally, data collection for funding purposes could be better tied to learning and instruction in more authentic situations, designed to take away as little teaching time as possible and to focus more on process than on product.

3) Supporting teaching by providing valuable information about how successfully students are learning

Assessment tied more closely to learning focuses on the process, directly linking assessment to what is going on in the classroom. The purpose here is to promote and enhance learning, not to measure a product. Teachers and ESL students work collaboratively to inform and support both teaching and learning in authentic situations (via jonathan at This assessment is generally less formal and is curriculum and/or project based. It is less time consuming and gives assessment a positive use and focus in the classroom. It involves a few, very specific, planned instructional goals chosen as most significant by the teacher or the team, for student mastery. Often students are involved in learning what they can do to learn more effectively, and this engagement helps move them toward mastery.

Developed and used thoughtfully, this assessment creates a sensitive and powerful process for both teachers and students; teachers give specific, ongoing descriptive feedback to students, and students develop self-awareness as they come to understand over time what it is that is required of them to master content and be effective learners.

In Instruction and Assessment of ESL Learners, practical examples of each of these three areas of focus are provided to demonstrate ways of assessing ESL learners. As stated in the book, “Our purpose is to fuel learning, not to arrest it.”

Guest Contributor
Vicki McCarthy, PhD., Author

For more information about this book or to purchase a copy, please visit

Tags: , , , ,

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>