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Assessing Young Learners

Young language learners are those who are learning a foreign or second
language and who are doing so during the first six or seven years of formal
schooling. In the education systems of most countries, young learners are children
who are in primary or elementary school. In terms of age, young learners are
between the ages of approximately five and twelve (Penny : 2008, p.1).

There are several kinds of assessing characteristics of young learners,

which are :

1. Assessing cognitive characteristic

Cognitive growth characteristics present clear differences between young

learners and adult. The attention spent of young learners in the early years of
schooling is short, as little as 10 to 15 minutes; they are easily diverted and
distracted by others pupils.

At first there seems to be too much to concentrate on at once and if we focus on one part, we
lost control of another. But once we have mastered it, everything seems to fit together
smoothly, we can perform efficiently and flexibly. The skills become more and more
automatic and as this happens, progressively more of our attention becomes freed so we can
begin to focus on new information, for example other aspects of the task. (Shorrocks,

Assessment should take place in a quiet, calm setting that helps children to
concentrate and not be distracted but noise or movement. There are just some
of the kinds of actions and decisions in language assessment that teachers and
assessors make when they take account of the nature of their young learners
cognitive development.

2. Assessing social and emotional characteristic

a. Social

Most children are gaining in confidence and reducing dependency as their

progress through from 5 to 12 years of age. They learn to interact with
peers, to deal with hostility and dominants, to relate to a leader, to lead
others, to deal with social problems and to develop a concept of self.

Between 5 and 7, they are learning to cooperate and share and take turns
with others, which mean that they are developing the ability to take part in
small group task.

b. Emotional
In emotional characteristics, they are beginning to develop feeling of
independence but may become anxious when separated from familiar
people and places. By the time, they are around 11 years of age, children
have become sociable, spending time with friends of the same sex.

They are continuing to develop the ability to work and play with others.
They may a peer relatively calm, with short-lived moments of anger,
sadness or depressions. And this age, they are defining themselves in terms
of their physical characteristics and their likes and dislikes.

Some children are traumatized by terrible events in their past or by the

changes caused by migration to a new country and/or transition to a new
language and culture.

Assessment should therefore, wherever possible, be familiar and involve

familiar adult, rather than strangers. The environment should be
“psychologically safe” for the learner. Texts used in assessment tasks
should deal with familiar contents – with harm and family and school and
with familiar, simple genres like children’s stories and folktales.

Assessment situation permits, interlocutor support should be available to

encourage the children, remind them, keep them on track as they complete
the task. Immediate feedback is valuable – thus computer assessment tasks
that give immediate responses (with sounds and visual effects) and teacher
responding kindly to the child’s efforts, are ideal for young learners. Such
feedback maintains attention and confidence. As children grow they are
able to work more independently and for long spans of times without on
going feedback.

3. Assessing physical growth

Children’s physical growth is characterized by continuing and rapid

development of gross and fine-motor skills. From 5 to 7 years of age, children
are developing in their ability to move around (climb, balance, run and jump)
and are increasing their fine-motor skills (handling writing tools, using
scissors), which involved developments in hand-eye coordination.

At this age they are still very active, tiring easily and recovering quickly.
Important for many schools activities, children tire more easily from sitting
than from running. They usually love physical activities, which they often
anticipate in noisily and sometimes aggressively.

Physical development needs to be taken into account in language assessment

tasks, perhaps particularly with regards to tiredness, ability to sit still and
hand-eye coordination. Assessment tasks that involved physical activity to
accompany the language-related response – moving, pointing, circling or
coloring in a picture – are helpful to encourage young learners to complete
the task, especially for children in the early grades. Teachers and assessors
therefore need deep knowledge of children’s development – their cognitive,
social and emotional and physical growth – in other to be able to select and
construct the most appropriate assessment tasks and to give appropriate

The power of assessment on young learners lives

The effect of assessment may be positive or negative, depending on a number of

factors, ranging from the way the assessment procedure or test is constructed, to
the way it is used. Effective assessment procedures (which this book aims to help
teacher and assessors to produce) are assessments that have been designed to
ensure, as far as possible, valid and fair information on the students abilities and

A. Valid assessment : are those that measure what they are supposed to
B. Fair assessment : are those that provide meaningful and appropriate
information about a child’s language use ability and avoid bias against any
child because of that of that child’s characteristics (first language and
cultural background, age, gender, etc).

Effective assessment gives students knowledge of their own progress, giving

them feedback on what they have done well or perhaps misunderstood and from
time to time providing some ‘creative tension’ to motivate them to study harder.
Assessment is able to establish power relationships (between teachers and
students; between administrators and principals) that become established and
habitual (Foucault, 1979)

Teachers and assessors of young learners need to examine the assessment tasks
and procedures they construct, to work to become aware of and if possible to
redress, institutionalized power of this kind in assessment and to ensure that the
impact on the child, the community, the teachers and school and the learning
programmed is positive

Assessment terms and purposes

There are many reasons why young learners might be assessed and there are a
variety of different people interested in the results of their assessment. The
stakeholders in the assessment procedures, that is , anyone affected a by the
assessment procedure itself or by the decisions made that are based on results of
the assessment procedure – parents, students themselves, teachers, principals,
administrators – may require different kinds of information depending on who
they are and on what their interest is.

Some decisions made on the basis of assessment results are low stakes decisions.
Low stakes decisions are relatively minor and are relatively easy to correct. High
stakes decisions, on the other hand, are likely to affect students lives and decisions
are difficult to correct. Assessment might the informal or formal, though these
terms are not concise in their meaning. Informal assessment usually refers to
classroom assessment carried out during the course of the teaching and learning
process. Formal assessment usually refers to assessment that is planned and
carried out following formal procedures.

Assessment procedures may also be classroom – based or external. Classroom

assessment is prepared and conducted by teachers in classroom, whereas external
assessment is prepared by those outside the classroom. Sometimes classroom
assessment result are used to report to others who are interested in the children’s
result, than, external assessment is prepared by those in a central education office
and administered by schools.

Formative assessment

Formative assessment is ongoing, usually informal, assessment during in teaching

learning. Formative assessment gives teachers information about how well the
student is doing. The teachers make constant decisions about how to respond,
based on the student’s response or the student’s work so far. Formative
assessment are divided into three types:

1. Diagnostic assessment
Formative assessment often involves diagnostic, when teachers analyze
learner’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Diagnostic assessment can
also be planned and carried out though a special diagnostic procedures.
2. On – the – run assessment
Involves teachers in observation and immediate feedback, usually of
individual learners, as they teach.
3. Planned assessment
Helping the teacher to target specific observations or plan language use
tasks check if children have achieved the objective along the way.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment may be based on result of internal or external test or on a

teacher’s summative decision after observation of the child’s performance made
during the year.