Assessing for learning in middle school English language classrooms in China

Song, Jingwei (2023) Assessing for learning in middle school English language classrooms in China. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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As a growing economy and a fast-changing society, China has recognised the important role that education and the learner journey must play in that transformation. Assessment is a significant part of a student’s learning journey. It has the potential to engage students in the development of clear learning goals, to engage them in reflecting on their progress and performance, and to provide a basis for constructive feedback on how further progress can be made. In China, educational reforms featuring policies advocating formative assessment have sought to improve assessment practices in English language classrooms. Previous studies have explored teachers’ assessment practices and understandings in tertiary English education. However, assessment in Chinese secondary English classrooms, particularly those in middle schools, receives little attention. Local responses to the national assessment policies also receive inadequate investigations. This study addresses these issues.

The study adopts a multiple-case study approach and investigates four English teachers and their classes in two middle schools in Shenzhen, China, in the context of the new ‘Zhongkao’ (senior high school entrance examination) reform in Shenzhen. Three research methods are chosen and findings triangulated. First, materials including textbook, teacher guidebook, and English Zhongkao exam paper are analysed using content analysis approach to understand the assessment content teachers work with. Second, each teacher’s assessment activities are explored through classroom observations over a unit of teaching. Third, teachers’ understanding of assessment and assessment policies is investigated through before- and after-observation interviews and analysed using thematic analysis approach.

The data analysis reveals that the teachers adopt three types of assessment activities – oral assessment activities, written assessment activities, and student-assessed activities – with oral assessment activities being conducted the most frequently and student-assessed activities the least often. The teachers implement these assessment activities for various purposes, including assessing for instruction, learning, and maintaining discipline. Analysis of the assessment context demonstrates a wide range of factors inside and outside of classrooms influencing the teachers’ assessment activities and understandings. These include, first, teachers’ limited past academic and professional education regarding assessment, which poses a barrier for them in carrying out formative assessment practices; second, stakeholders’ test-result-oriented expectations, which provide a basis for teachers’ test-oriented aspirations for the future; third, teachers’ working environment, which has exerted an impact on teachers’ actions from three levels: the classroom level involves class size and students’ language level, the school level involves accountability pressure and available assessment support, and the policy level involves the Zhongkao and mandated textbook.

The significance of the study is threefold. First, it contributes to the understanding of Chinese middle school English teachers’ assessment activities and understanding. Second, it has rich implications for the Zhongkao reform in Shenzhen regarding test design and washback on teachers. Third, it proposes a framework for understanding classroom assessment activities and teachers’ assessment beliefs from a contextual perspective, which may be adopted and adapted for assessment research in other contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by funding from the China Scholarship Council and the University of Glasgow.
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
P Language and Literature > PE English
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Funder's Name: China Scholarship Council
Supervisor's Name: Hayward, Professor Louise and Zacharias, Dr. Sally
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83632
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2023 14:18
Last Modified: 05 Apr 2024 15:14
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83632

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