Grade 9 learners’ experiences of formative assessment for language development in Afrikaans Home Language

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Abstract

In this article, grade 9 learners’ view of their experiences of formative assessment for language development in Afrikaans Home Language is put under the spotlight. We gained valuable insight into how learners understood formative assessment, and the conclusion could be made that the learners were positive towards formative assessment. Not only does formative assessment provide opportunities for learners’ language development to be improved, but it also serves as a compass that can be utilised by teachers to make important future decisions about assessment. Formative assessment has the potential to activate lifelong learning among learners because the interpretation of learners’ assessment outcomes directs their future learning through strategic planning and monitoring of their learning. At the same time, formative assessment informs the planning of future lessons. Although the terms continuous assessment and formative assessment are often used interchangeably, a distinction can be made between the two types of assessment. The article illustrates that the focus of formative assessment is related to learners’ comprehension and language development, while continuous assessment tends to monitor learner progression. This study attempted to answer the following central question: How is the role of formative assessment for language development experienced by grade 9 Afrikaans Home Language learners?

Although six learners were approached to participate in the study, only four responded positively to our invitation. The article discusses the narratives of four grade 9 Afrikaans Home Language learners at a high school in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The learners were afforded the opportunity to freely tell stories about their experiences of formative assessment for language development in the grade 9 Afrikaans Home Language class.

The article was based on a narrative methodology that was used as a channel through which the grade 9 learners could make sense of their experiences of formative assessment for language development in the Afrikaans Home Language class. Data were generated by means of focus group discussions to ensure that the learners would be in a position to freely share their personal experiences and perceptions of formative assessment. Through introspection and reflection, the learners were able to relive their experiences and provide meaningful information regarding formative assessment for language development in the grade 9 Afrikaans Home Language class. They individually expressed their experiences of formative assessment and how it had contributed to their language development. The grade 9 learners’ narratives provided sufficient descriptions of their actual experiences of formative assessment, while they simultaneously used the opportunity to make their voices heard. In doing so, meaningful information could be derived from their narratives.

The data were analysed by means of thematic analysis. We organised the raw data, coded the data and developed themes that we regarded as suitable for analysis. The themes identified were as follows: support as a basis for language development; flexibility during language development; and self-directed learning as a contributor to language development. The learners’ experiences of the completion of language exercises at home inspired them to test their language skills in an informal environment. As a result, they became more excited to work independently and use the homework exercises to improve their language abilities. By using feedback for support and planning in relation to their learning, the learners’ confidence was boosted and they became inspired to make deliberate efforts to improve their language abilities. Positive motivation through feedback also cultivated trust and autonomy, ensuring that the learners developed a positive understanding of themselves and the importance of language development. As a result of effective homework exercises and constructive feedback, their language use improved. This resulted in the learners using their acquired language abilities as a foundation to communicate their ideas.

In addition, the learners’ narratives illustrated that they had enjoyed the teacher’s efforts to expose them to various aspects of language. Different kinds of activities, such as using their imagination, free interpretation of poems and applying a free style in the way they communicated with one another, assisted them in obtaining a deeper understanding of what they had learnt. Moreover, having experienced the flexible ways in which formative assessment was conducted, the learners’ ability to reason, thinking skills and communication skills showed significant improvement. This flexibility furthermore resulted in their developing the capacity to construct new ideas while they acted on the freedom of language use that was brought forward by the flexibility during their language development.

The learners’ responses regarding self-directed learning as contributing to language development showed that they had been afforded opportunities to think critically about language development. Self-directed learning offered them opportunities to interact with their teacher and fellow learners through discussion. Thus, the learners developed from passive individuals to active participants during formative assessment in that they learnt to take charge of planning and evaluating their own learning experiences. Consequently, having been afforded the opportunity to be in charge of their own learning, they learnt the value of being responsible for the construction of meaningful language outcomes. It is evident from the learners’ responses that self-directed learning for language development can be successful when learners are granted opportunities to engage themselves in learning activities that will enable them to understand how they can learn.

This article illustrates that the effective implementation of formative assessment can indeed contribute to learners’ language development. Formative assessment for language development can be strengthened through:

  • opportunities for learners to express their understanding of language structures and conventions
  • dialogues that focus on exploring understanding
  • feedback that includes opportunities to improve language abilities.

Moreover, the article shows that the strength of formative assessment lies in the critical information it provides about learners’ understanding throughout the learning process. Formative assessment for language development also gives teachers opportunities to provide their learners with timely support to change their behaviour towards language learning, ensuring that every learner has opportunities to learn and to relearn.

The article highlights that it is critical to have insight into learners’ experience of formative assessment. Gaining an understanding of grade 9 Afrikaans Home Language learners’ experiences of formative assessment indicates how it contributes to their language development and has the potential to strengthen future formative assessment practices in schools.

Keywords: assessment decisions; formative assessment; learning; narrative methodology; social constructivist paradigm

 

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

’n Blik op graad 9- Afrikaans Huistaalleerders se ervaringe rakende formatiewe assessering vir taalontwikkeling

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