Monday, November 05, 2012

Aligning learning outcomes, instructional strategies and assessment – an example using mLearning and Digital Images by Vinícius Lemos

In the October 2012 special issue of the ELT Journal – The Janus Papers – Stephen Stoynoff looks back at the changes in language assessment and analyzes the transitions under way. With the emerging dominance of a sociocultural paradigm in which learning is seen as a developmental, socially-constructed, interactive, and reflective process, classroom-based assessment will (pp. 527-528):

- integrate the teacher fully into the assessment process including planning assessment, evaluating performance, and making decisions based on the results of assessment
 - be conducted by and under the direction of the learners' teacher (as opposed to an  external   assessor); 
- yield multiple samples of learner performance that are collected over time and by means of multiple assessment procedures and activities; 
- be applied and adapted to meet the teaching and learning objectives of different classes and students;
-  integrate learners into the assessment process and utilize self- and peer-assessment in addition to teacher-assessment of learning; 
- foster opportunities for learners to engage in self-initiated enquiry; 
- offer learners immediate and constructive feedback; 
- monitor, evaluate, and modify procedures to optimize teaching and learning.

Likewise, the National Capital Learning Resource Center (2004) enumerates the following distinguishing features of alternative assessment:

1) Are built around topics or issues of interest to the students;
2) replicate real-world communication contexts and situations;
3) involve multi-stage tasks and real problems that require creative use of language rather than simple repetition;
4) require learners to produce a quality product or performance;
5) include evaluation criteria and standards which are known to the student;
6) involve interaction between assessor (instructor, peers, self) and person assessed;
7) allow for self-evaluation and self-correction as they proceed.

Hence, there’s been a growing interest in integrating classroom teaching, learning, and assessment. According to the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University, assessments, learning objectives, and instructional strategies need to be aligned so that they reinforce one another, as the image below shows.

Jon Mueller has a frequently updated webiste entitled Authentic Assessment Toolbox  that not only provides solid theoretical background on authentic assessment, but also offers a variety of tools in which the assessments are perfectly aligned with the learning objectives and the instructional activities. Cecília Lemos has also written inspiring posts on alternative asssessment in her popular blog Box of Chocolates.

Burger (2008) proposes the use of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), in which the first step in planning teaching is identifying the learning outcomes; these outcomes then determine the teaching and assessment that follow so that the learning can be easily assessed via performance. Aligning learning objectives and instructional activities is not hard at all. The difficult part of the triangle is the assessment part, especially when it comes to oral performance.

How can the teacher possibly assess every student’s performance on an oral task designed to assess the attainment of a learning outcome that was developed by way of perfectly aligned instructional activities? 

How can learners be integrated into the assessment process?

 I’m going to propose an example based on an earlier post on this blog by my colleague Vinicius Lemos – mLearning and Digital images. What he describes in his post is an instructional strategy resulting from previous strategies in which students were taught the clothing vocabulary and the present continuous to talk about what one is wearing. I will attempt here to close the triangle above by spelling out the learning objectives that are implicit in the task and suggest a way of assessing students’ resulting performance.

  Learning outcome 1: Given a specific event, students will select and photograph the appropriate pieces of clothing to wear and describe their picture to their classmates using the present continuous and the correct indefinite article before each piece of clothing.

  Learning outcome 2: Given a picture with pieces of clothing that suggest a specific event, students will be able to ask questions using “Are you going to…” and vocabulary to talk about specific events.

 I suggest having students work in pairs rather than in groups to perform the activity, according to the outcomes above: Student A shows and describes his picture using the required language; student B asks questions to guess the event. Then they switch roles.

 Students can practice this exchange with two or three different pairs, as the teacher walks around and monitors their performance. The third or fourth time around, they are asked to record their exchanges, using their smartphones or, if available, the computer lab or a set of iPads. After they finish, they listen to their performance and engage in self-assessment of their part of the recording, according to a can-do checklist that can contain items such as:

 - I can name all the pieces of clothing. 
 - I can use the correct article for pieces of clothing in the singular starting with a vowel or consonant sound and no article for plural. 
- I can describe what I’m wearing using the present continuous. 
- I can name events such as school, work, picnic, wedding, etc. 
- I can ask questions about where a person is going based on their outfit. 
 - I can produce the language described above in a natural way, without too much hesitation or many long pauses to think. 

They judge their performance and if they think it needs improvement, they can record the conversation again, making the necessary adjustments. Then they send the recording to the teacher, who will use rubrics to assess students’ attainment of the two outcomes above. The teacher’s rubrics need to be similar to the students’, but should contain at least three levels of performance with appropriate descriptions.

Suppose each unit in the language program’s assessment cycle consists of five learning outcomes. Then each outcome can be worth 20 points. If the teacher conducts these types of assessments right after the instructional strategy, in such a way that the strategy is the assessment and vice-versa, at the end the student will have a grade on a 0-100 scale for oral performance.

Who needs a midterm or end-of-term oral test after that?

 The proposed assessment system here is in keeping with Stoyoff's (2012) list of characteristics of contemporary classroom-based assessment: it integrates the teacher fully into the process; it is conducted by the teacher; it can be one of a variety of samples of learnt performance collected over time, using multiple procedures; it meets the learning objectives, it integrates learners into the assessment process; it offers immediate and constructive feedback; and it allows the teacher to monitor, evaluate, and modify procedures to optimize teaching and learning.


Burger, M. (2008). The alignment of teaching, learning and assessment in English home language grade 10 in District 9, Johannesburg (Dissertation). University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa.
National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC). (2004) Assessing learning: Alternative assessment. In The essentials of language teaching. Retrieved from

Stoynoff, S. (2012). Looking backward and forward at classroom-based language assessment. In ELT Journal, V. 66/4 – Special Issue: The Janurs Papers, pp. 523-532.

This post is cross-posted in my blog
If you want to read more about assessment and other TEFL issues, pay me a visit there.


  1. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Classroom-based assessment is the way to go.
    We should all give it a try!

  2. Thanks for your feedback, my friend. I agree!

  3. Thank you for this post, Isabela. Some questions occurred to me: how does the student's self-assessment affect the teacher's assessment? Is it taken into consideration in the teacher's rubrics in some way or is it an instrument of self-reflection for the student to assess his can-dos and improve before being assessed by the teacher only? I believe the student's self-assessment is important to raise awareness of his learning, but I also think about each student having his/her own level of demand. How can we help students know whether they can or cannot perform all the can-dos? Just some thinking.

  4. Hi, Cláudio. Thank you for your comments. The issues you raise are all very pertinent. I don't have all the answers, but I'll attempt to address some of them. The idea of the self-assessment is for students to decide whether they want to redo the assignment or not. I believe they have to be trained to engage in this assessment, perhaps with some models and practice. Nevertheless, the teacher can choose to consider the student's assessment in his/her rubrics. Peer and self-assessment are processes that take time to develop with students and we have to be prepared to face the initial frustrations they generate.

    Would you use the self-assessment in your teacher assessment?

    1. Well, I might take into consideration how students assessed their learning, probably as a part/an item of the rubrics. I think self-assessments are important tools for learning, and give students a sense of accomplishment. I agree with you when you mentioned the self-assessment is helpful for the student to decide whether their assignment is satisfactory; nevertheless, my concern is what students consider satisfactory or not - and that really does depend on the student's drive to learn, in my opinion. Again, a great post to start a discussion about how to assess this new generation of students, and maybe break some ground in assessing them.

  5. Hi Isabela, I really enjoyed reading your post and realizing how many things are involved and can derive from the activity I had previously proposed. The term "classroom-based assessment" is new to me but I can clearly understand why it is a trending topic nowadays. I personally believe we are living the era of a significant shift in the classroom, teachers are no longer the center of the process. It`s all about the students being in the spotlight and the teachers working as facilitators. This shift requires the students to take roles they are not used to and, like every great change ,it takes time for everyone (students, teachers, parents and schools) to absorb new approaches. It is paramount that students become more active and involved in their own learning process, they need to learn how to reflect upon their performance properly. I supposed that in the near future alternative assessments will be more common in the classroom.As the old saying suggests, practice makes perfect, so only by trying out suggestions like yours and discussing , will we develop new ways to assess students` learning effectively.

    1. Hi, Vinicius. Thank you for your thoughtful and rich comments. Classroom-based assessment and alternative assessment are based on the assumption and teaching and assessing are intricately related and that we don't need to wait for a "formal moment" to assess the learning that we can observe taking place every day in our classrooms. I attempted to suggest a way to do it based on something that was already available in this blog. I'm taking the E-teacher course on Assessment and am exploring these types of assessments.


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