As we roll out this 35th but otherwise second issue of Fortell in its new avatar with many more research articles, and more voluminous than before, we continue to remain committed as always to matters that concern English teachers and pedagogy. Above all, we are focused on the contemporary debates that rage and enrage English academia at all levels. In the educational context, assessment is one such unease. The judgments made by teachers about what their students have learnt can be described using three different terms: evaluation, assessment and testing. Evaluation can happen in the look of an eye, a shift in body language or a variation in facial expression. Assessment is the attempt to get information about students’ language proficiency through graded assignments or projects. Testing is the use of an instrument (a test/examination paper) administered to students. The current special edition of Fortell on Assessment: Issues and Challenges deals with some of the contestations and experiments that surround this rubric and in many ways, is a significant intervention in this direction.
Teachers face many challenges when they attempt to appraise the proficiency of their students either by using calibrated fine-tuned instruments or assignments. The evaluation of such capability through observation or teacher reflection is even more problematic. When such assessment has to capture growth in students, the difficulties are multiplied. The assessment tools take into account the most intricate nuances of what their students have gained and also detect differences across students. The nature of feedback in formative assessment has to be learner centric and scaffolded to enable progression.
This ‘problematisation’ does not imply that teachers are not competent or do not have the resources to carry out such assessment. As passionately stated by Prof. Jacob Tharu in the lead article, “In Teachers’ Hands: Where Formative Assessment Comes to Life in Unforeseen Ways”, only teachers can carry out such formative assessment. He engages in a systematic review of policy documents to justify his stance. This standpoint is further echoed by Prof. Rama Mathew in her interview with Dr. Lina Mukhopadhyay. Both these entries in this issue will be well remembered by several practitioners engaged in the pedagogy of English for many years from now.
Ten other articles in this issue have attempted to confront this problem in three different ways. They make three thrust areas to be precise and are good examples of theory complemented by experiential research and field work. Anil and Ravindra have reflected on test creation practices, in “The Effect of Varied Task Prompts on Critically Reflective Argumentative Essays at the Tertiary Level” and “Question Words in Essay-Type Examinations and their Interpretations by Advanced Learners and their Teachers”, while Sajida has critiqued her own feedback methods in “Synchronous versus Asynchronous Computer Mediated Feedback: A Case Study”. In “Exploring Diversity in Knowledge Co-construction in Day-to-day Classroom Transactions”, Deepesh has examined student responses with very interesting data on the co-construction of knowledge, proving that teachers modify and individualise evaluation. Sruti, Vikas, and Ravinarayan have ventured into the area of alternative assessment practices; Ravinarayan has looped portfolio assessment as input into his teacher training course to enable teachers to learn through doing in his research article, “Monitoring Growth in Writing through Portfolios”, while Sruti and Vikas have forayed into ‘assessment as learning’ by getting their students to assess their own work thereby proving that such reflection can enable language growth in “Tracking Students’ Varied Growth Patterns in the Use of Linkers to Fine-tune Teacher Feedback” and “Effect of Self-assessment: Justifications for Students’ Subsequent Writing” respectively. The evaluation of speaking ability, particularly in group discussions is an under-researched area: Pankaj and Shravasti have used their own observations to show how nuanced progress in verbal and non-verbal use can be encapsulated, in their research, “Capturing Individual Growth in Group Discussions through Teacher Observations” and “Tapping Toes and Dancing Eyebrows: Providing Feedback on Non-Verbal Parameters in Group Discussions”. Assignments to be done every day in class or at home at the tertiary level are practically unheard of, but Malvika has been able to provide valuable documentation of one such implementation in her article, “Daily Home Assignments at the Tertiary Level of Education.” The last two articles in this issue do not deal with assessment directly, but in, “From a Monolingual to a Multilingual Approach in Language Teaching”, Susanna assesses monolingual language practices and argues for a multilingual approach, and Chhaaya uses data from student assignments to reflect on and expose the hidden imperialism in Indian education in her article, “Learning of English: There is a Hole in the Bucket”.
With a generous sprinkling of reports, book reviews and language activities, this issue of Fortell is no mean reading! The research articles make one reflect upon the teacher’s role as an assessor, her pedagogical strategies, students’ evolution and varied instruments of assessment. In all, this special issue of Fortell is indeed for that English teacher who considers teaching of English serious business indeed!
We hope that you not just enjoy reading this issue but also take away some assessment tools for use in your classrooms. We would like to acknowledge the help rendered by Deepesh C. for his careful proofreading.
Geetha and Prem
Geetha Durairajan is Professor, Department of Materials Development, Testing and Evaluation at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. She is the series editor for a set of teacher education books, written specifically for SAARC country teachers, All About Language Teaching published by Cambridge University Press.
Prem Kumari Srivastava is Associate Professor of English at Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi. Her research interests are Cultural Studies with a sharp focus on the Indigenous and the Popular, English language materials production and American Literature.