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With Naplan testing just around the corner for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across Australia, it was interesting to read Jim Cummins (professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Canada and ESL guru!!) latest thoughts on standardised testing and the effects on education for ESL learners. He has always maintained that such testing has many negative ramifications, particularly for poorer students from a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE). His main criticism is while there remains an emphasis on standardised testing, teachers will feel compelled to “teach to the test” because schools literacy performance will often be judged by this one factor. Nothing new there!!

While his comments are situated within the North American educational context, his points certainly have relevance here in Australia. Cummins advocates a different approach for literacy attainment.

Such engagement requires participation, and effective participation requires that student identity is affirmed, which means first language learning should not be discouraged because “new understandings are constructed on a foundation of existing understandings and experiences.”

His alternative [to standardised testing] focuses on a four-element approach: scaffolding meaning, activating prior knowledge and building background knowledge, affirming student identity and extending language in a way that uses the students’ first language.

This correlates nicely with John Hattie’s research into what has the greatest effect on student achievement. Where does testing fit in? It’s way down the list. So what has the greatest effect? Teachers of course!

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ESL

There are lots of great links to ESL sites which I have tagged in my delicious account (see sidebar) but I think it is time to start an additional page for ESL. I have created a delicious monster! There are so many tags for ESL, it is getting out of control. So maybe this new page will help to calm the chaos!!!

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