More on Assessment – Hengameh

Hengameh Ghandehari

How Do You Honor the Process of Learning?
– Hengameh Ghandehari


Assessment is one of the most valuable sources of information about what is happening in a learning environment. Move beyond the attitude of using assessments to courier the end of an instructional zone. Let assessment discover new paths for exploration—for you and your pupils. Assessments are most useful when they focus on informing instruction, not marks. Involve your students in the process. Apply assessments as motivational tools, not confidence crushers. Clearly define the learning objectives… This is a snapshot of the chats surrounding today’s role of classroom assessments. What does assessment mean to you?

Roughly put, learning is just a growth in awareness. The transition from not knowing to knowing is part of it, but that’s indeed too naïve, because it misses nearly all the degrees of knowing and not knowing. One can hardly ever truly understand something any more than a shrub can stay trimmed. There’s always growth or decay, changing contexts or conditions: Understanding is the same way. It is not smooth.

Yes, this sounds silly and esoteric, but think about it. While pieces of information may not change, the context in which students use them do change, which in turn changes how we consider and use those pieces of information. In fact, so little of the learning process is unchanging. Even what we call facts like significant historical dates, labels for ethnic groups, causes and effects of cultural movements, all change endlessly, if not in form (how they’re discussed), then in meaning and connotation (what we think of them).

In the last decade, engineering, religion, media, literacy, human rights, geography, technology, science, and so on all have changed considerably both in form and connotation, with changes in one (i.e., technology) changing how we think of another (i.e., design), and thus changing how students use this skill or understanding and changing how we, as teachers, “teach it.”

However,the implications of awareness reach even farther than that. It is more than merely understanding or not as grasping the changing contexts for that understanding. It is also about becoming more aware of one’s own degree of knowing and not knowing.

But learning is as much about knowing what you do not know as it is about proving what you do. Assessment can offer an estimate of how much and how deeply a student understands, but that’s all it is – a guess based on a given assessment form, a quick snapshot of student understanding at any given moment, marred by reading level, academic vocabulary, student self-efficacy, the wording of the question, or even his or her mood that morning.

Since the above may sound like doubletalk for most teachers, here are my five precooked ideas for putting all this theory into practice.

1. Use Learning Taxonomies

Pursue various resources to guide your instructional design. This should include assessment. Move beyond “pass or fail,” or even “A-F,” to “can define and apply, but has trouble analyzing.”

2. Use Concept Maps

Have students map, chart, diagram or otherwise visually represent their own learning lanes and changes in their own understanding. Find ways for them to express what they do and don’t understand, where they started, where they are, and where they might be going.

3. Use a Variety of Assessment Forms

If this is the only way you personalize learning, give it a shot. Assess student performance, writing, concept maps, drawings, interviews, projects, Facebook status or comments, or maybe quick Instagram videos followed by short written responses. You can even allow pupils to choose their own assessment form as you challenge them to prove not just if they have grasped it, but how.

4. Foster thinking aloud

Prime the pump by assigning students quick writing prompts about their own thinking. Model what metacognition looks, sounds, and/or feels like. Have students share their thinking. Allow them to express themselves and their thinking away from the pressure of the classroom and the expectations of verbal expressions. Add it to the rubrics.

5. Connect Students to Networks

Draw students’ attention to communities and resources that can help them move towards knowing and understanding. As they connect to networks, the learning process will plug them in, not just to one teacher, or 30 classmates, or 10 texts, but to something much larger and more able to interact with students freely.

How do you honor the process of learning? Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments section below.


Connect with Hengameh and iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

The Whole Teacher – Hengameh

Understanding Teacher Effectiveness –  Hengameh Ghandehari

Hengameh Ghandehari

A great deal of literature and theory in ELT supports the worthiness of a set of core competencies that makes a teacher deserve the title of “one of the best”.  Despite the relatively opposing arguments coming out from a plethora of research findings on learners’ perception of an ideal effective teacher, there is still an overall consensus over what constitutes effective teaching in its modern EFL sense.

A broadly defined view of teacher effectiveness has been put forward by Hunt (2009: 1): The collection of characteristics, competencies, and behaviors of teachers at all educational levels that enable students to reach desired outcomes, which may include the attainment of specific learning objectives as well as broader goals such as being able to solve problems, think critically, work collaboratively, and become effective citizens.

Such attempts to define effective teaching, though quite ambitious, seems to have failed to contribute to EFL practitioners’ clear understanding of what exactly creates effective teaching in practice. The modern EFL teaching/learning context brings with itself a set of different cultural, affective, pedagogical opportunities as well as limitations which require teachers to show higher levels of dynamism and efficiency in order to respond timely and effectively to their learners. This simply means that a sharpened conscious understanding of such effective qualities is strongly demanded by both teachers and policy makers in the EFL industry.

In search for a deeper understanding, a number of studies regarding the characteristics of effective English language teachers have been carried out in a variety of EFL contexts. For instance, in one study, Shishavan and Sadeghi (2009), investigated the opinions of English language teachers and learners.  They figured that English language teachers believed that preparing lessons well, using appropriate lesson plans and assessing what students have achieved in a reasonable manner are the most important. On the other hand, the students who took part in the study assumed that the ability to teach English using the learners’ mother tongue was the leading quality of an effective language teacher. In addition, while proficiency in the target language, a sound pedagogical knowledge, and the use of the most efficient techniques and methods were important for the teachers, the students voted primarily for a teacher’s positive personality.

In a similar study carried out in Iran, Ghasemi and Hashemi (2011) probed students’ views of the characteristics of effective English language teachers under three main categories — subject matter knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and socio-affective skills. According to their findings, certain teacher characteristics such as reading and speaking proficiency, ability to arouse students’ interest in learning English, and building students’ self-confidence and motivation were seen as universally desirable. Moreover, many of their participants emphasized listening ability and grammatical proficiency as especially important.

In other studies, Wichadee (2010), priority was given to organization and communication skills as favored by students. Teachers’ personality and teacher-student relationships were considered to be playing a more vital role than instructional competence in a study done by Chen and Lin (2009); the teachers surveyed similarly believed that enthusiasm, friendliness, openness, respectfulness, and responsiveness were the leading qualities of effective English language teachers.

Considering the competing qualities reviewed and scrutinized in different contexts, it seems that more can be said about what makes a mediocre teacher rather than what specifically characterizes an effective one.  However, given the cultural, socio economic and affective factors and the continuing interplay among these, teachers might need to show higher flexibility to downplay or highlight certain characteristics and teaching behaviors according to the changing levels of learners, their age range and the expectations students bring to a language class.

With all this in mind, practitioners and classroom researchers seem to reach this agreement through intuition and practice that the modern EFL learner values certain non linguistic attributes more than others when forming her general assessment of a teacher’s performance. It can be grasped cautiously from the existing literature and anecdotal evidence that creating a positive learning attitude that results in students’ confidence counts as a key element in a teacher’s success. Such qualities are far more likely to result in a perceived level of success and satisfaction than having just a native like accent or a sound pedagogical knowledge.

Pedagogically speaking, students have seemed to favor special qualities over others in the teaching practices of their EFL instructors. Within an EFL context, based on students’ reports, a great deal of a teachers’ effectiveness has been usually attributed to clarity of instructions and directions for practices and drills in a class. Clarity in assessment criteria as an indicator of fairness is frequently reported to be a determining factor in characterizing levels of effectiveness by learners across different levels.

Given the above, EFL teachers and learners have developed a keener sense about the concept of teaching effectiveness in the 21st century. Broader frameworks now seek to not only to look at students’ surveys but also to probe into teachers’ reflections of their own effectiveness and inadequacies. A teacher’s view of her own effectiveness can be refined and adjusted only when we heighten our awareness of the fact that effectiveness is a relative concept. Such understanding helps us view effective teaching as a journey towards professional growth; and thus, teacher effectiveness should be perceived as a fluid dynamic rather than a fixed stage.



Hunt, B.C. (2009). Teacher Effectiveness: A Review of the International Literature and its Relevance for Improving Education in Latin America (Working Paper No. 43). Washington, DC: Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas.

Shishavan, H.B. and Sadeghi, K. (2009) “Characteristics of an effective English language teacher as perceived by Iranian teachers and learners of English”, in English Language Teaching, 2, 4: 130-143.

Chen, Y.-J. and Lin, S.-C. (2009). “Exploring characteristics for effective EFL teachers from the perceptions of junior high school students in Tainan”, in STUT Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2: 219-249.


Connect with Hengameh and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.