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The changing face of assessment in plurilingual classrooms – making the case for Playing beyond CLIL

by Do Coyle, University of Edinburgh

Catch up?

Whilst many educational institutions on a global scale are currently facing ‘unknowns’, the issue of formal national assessment has become increasingly political, deeply emotional and impactful as examination rooms were left empty and teacher assessments were critiqued and debated. Add to these chaotic times the educational mantra that our young people need to ‘catch up’ on what they have missed due to their absence from school, is both stressful for teachers and learners alike and misinformed. Catch up on what exactly? Does learning necessarily require bounded prescriptive curriculum formally assessed through so-called ‘rigorous’ criteria? The Bell Curve and its implications lives on. However, pertinent big questions raised about assessment bring related issues into the open and it is against this backdrop that I share some reflections about alternative assessments which are emerging from an Erasmus trans-European initiative – Playing beyond CLIL.

From ‘dreaded’ assessments to motivating, interactive events

Given that assessment is fundamental to learning and that in classrooms across the world teachers and learners are engaged in formative assessment on a daily basis, it is a given that assessment tasks should enable all learners whatever their age and stage to demonstrate what they have learned and what they need to do to enhance and deepen that learning. Investigating formative assessment experiences which are motivating, meaningful and scaffold further learning for any individual has been at the heart of pedagogic movements over the last few decades including Assessment is for Learning and Dynamic Assessment[i]. These movements all share key principles – that learners need to be enabled to express themselves and articulate their learning in different ways through regular systematic and supportive strategies by their peers, teachers and crucially themselves. Through engaging in interactive and reflective tasks and opportunities, all learners are encouraged to take ownership of their learning. Of course, this is challenging and even more so in classrooms where learners are working through a language which is not their first – as for example in CLIL classrooms – and where there may be a significant gap between conceptual understanding and the linguistic skills individuals may have to ‘language’ or articulate this learning.

Putting Show-What-You-Know centre stage of assessment for learning

In the Playing beyond CLIL initiative, finding ways of enabling learners to ‘show-what-you-know’ (SWYK) as a formative assessment tool is being experimented through using drama techniques developed in a previous Erasmus-funded initiative playingCLIL.[ii] Using SWYK as the demonstration of learning has the potential to transform classroom tasks into meaningful assessment opportunities or events. However – as with all good pedagogic ideas – there are no quick-fix solutions. Alternative approaches require a great deal of experimenting and reiterating by all those involved.

As a group we are now faced with an emerging list of challenges. In other words, realising SWYK potential as meaningful and formative assessment events will require careful crafting by teachers and learners working together. Identifying perceived demands brings to the fore familiar pedagogic issues. Integrating these into a coherent whole using alternative ways of exploring those challenges remains our goal, with a focus on:

Learners working meaningfully in groups: co-operating with each other, actively engaging and being supported in planning, creating, arguing, discussing and refining a collaborative sense of what has been understood, and finding ways of enacting this learning.

Clear rubrics: preferably created by learners with teachers – so that everyone is clear about their own role and fulfilment of the agreed assessment criteria.

Attention to the language needed: not only to operate effectively in groups and engage in meaningful discussion, but also to develop language needed to express concepts in increasingly sophisticated ways specific to the subject – e.g. the language of geography, the language of science. This is fundamental for pluriliteracies development.

Mentoring learning: to develop learner confidence and resilience not only for oral or written communication but also for kinaesthetic and creative experimentation.

Feedback and feedforward: so that the event serves not only to give learners a sense of achievement but also a sense of direction.

Very careful planning: with interconnected, multimodal component tasks spanning a period of time for progressing and deepening understanding.


In sum, SWYK as an assessment event is holistic. It requires teacher and learner willingness to step outside the box of familiar formative tests and quizzes to add some alternatives to the tried and tested toolkit. Alternatives can be a tonic, a readjustment, a catalyst, a challenge – why else would we be involved in encouraging our learners to create a flash mob[iii] in the classroom - or virtually of course!? Watch this space.

--------- [i] Several references have been made to pedagogic phenomena which are so well documented that I did not feel it within the remit of a blog to provide sources. For further details of any of the concepts presented here please access the PbC website [ii] [iii] Creating a Flash mob is a typical SWYK event


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