A good teacher never ceases to assess students, whether those assessments are incidental or intended. 

Douglas Brown.

Ask yourself..

How do you assess your students?

How do your  assessment  methods improve student learning ?

What is  assessment?

Assessment is often associated with testing; however, it’s much broader than that. It’s an umbrella term that includes both classroom activities and formal tests (Clapham, C. 2000).

Not only does assessment  help students to monitor their learning but it also allows teachers to measure their own effectiveness  (Baxter, 1997). 

Formative Assessment

As Brown says, most of our classroom assessment is (hopefully!) formative. Formative assessment (FA)consists of regular/daily classroom tasks that monitor learners’ progress during the course and may “alter the process while still going” (Baxter, 1997:33). Provided that the teacher gives meaningful feedback on performance, FA helps learners continuously grow and improve.

Helen Chapman talks about using dialogic feedback as a  FA tool in this post.

In this  Macmillan webinar, Karolina Kotorowicz  explains that FA is remedial, encouraging, individual, ongoing, informal and motivational. Some of her brilliant ideas for FA were:

  • using exit tickets
  • always starting lessons  with a review.
  • always ending with a round-up activity.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is macmillan.jpg


..refers to students’ evaluating their learning autonomously and is a valuable tool for a learner-centred curriculum (Nunan 1998). This can be usually done through checklists or reflection sheets. Here’s an example of a template I use in B2 writing classes. 

essay writing checklist

Summative assessment

..measures success of completed process or what has been achieved, usually at the end of the course (Hughes, 2013), e.g. final exams.

Authentic assessment

..is any method or technique for assessing that does not focus on just tests but a variety of samples of students work. It promotes learning and development  rather than testing and passing tests . As Esther from Edutopia says:

 We’re trying to give work that either mirrors what they might be doing later in life, or will prepare them for those kind of tasks, or is simply meaningful to them.

Why use portfolios?

Portfolios are a powerful tool, as they combine all the above-mentioned types of assessment.

They are collaborative (Hamp-Lyons and Condon, 2000) and can  involve the teacher, students and even  parents, who can give formative feedback on the quality of the portfolio through portfolio checkpoints.

Managing portfolios promotes self-assessment and engages students in the learning process. Learners reflect on the quality of their work and select or edit the pieces they want to include, thus having responsibility and freedom to shape their portfolios.

Portfolios can also be summatively assessed  at the end of the course. The teacher can assess the pieces of work submitted and help the learner set goals for the next academic year. Enhance summative assessment by promoting  an atmosphere of dialogue and give learners the chance to discuss their strengths and weakness at the end of the course.

What can students include in their (e-)portfolios?

It’s up to you but here are some ideas:

  1. Audio/video recordings, e.g. speaking homework. Watch Hugh Dellar talk about the importance of speaking homework here.
  2. Written work, e.g. classwork, homework or  extra work.
  3. Journals, reflections on their learning experience, or on strengths / weaknesses.
  4. Early and later test scores.
  5. Teacher/ peer feedback.
  6. An error log.
  7. Behaviour reflection sheets. I loved this idea! See example below:
Becoming reflective students and teachers with portfolios and authentic assessment, Paris, S.G and Ayres, L.R

Which tool can I use?

Seesaw is a free web tool that allows you to create online student portfolios. You can download the app (which I recommend) or use the web version. Here’s what you can do:

Create a class and add students by sending them a code.
Create folders and organize assignments by folder-  see example below.
When you create assignments, students can respond by writing a note, uploading a recording, a photo of their written work or a link.
You can comment on students’ work.

If you enable class blog, you can add students’ materials there and create a virtual gallery walk. Learners can see and comment on each other’s work; the perfect way to encourage peer feedback!

At the end of trimester/ year, students select their best work (e.g. 5 items) and complete a table like this one for each piece of work:
Becoming reflective students and teachers with portfolios and authentic assessment, Paris, S.G and Ayres, L.R
To assess the portfolio, you can use a template like this one:

What about tests?

I’m not suggesting we should not give students any tests at all. Our employers, our students and their parents expect us to administer tests at least annually. However, we should ask ourselves how we can use them effectively.

I agree with Brown’s great statement that commenting generously and specifically on test performance enhances washback. Don’t just give a numerical score; praise the good stuff and answer any questions. Give learners the chance to ask for clarification. Then, why not repeat the same test to get them to notice their progress? That will definitely reduce anxiety and increase motivation.


  • It might be difficult to guide/motivate young learners to create and manage (e) portfolios.
  • Portfolios might not appeal to learners who are used to teacher-centred instruction and expect the teacher to only measure their ability through progress tests and final exams.
  • Some teachers may feel using portfolios is a lot of work. Others may not be willing to relinquish/ share control in the classroom.
  • Seesaw is designed with young learners in mind and perhaps isn’t very adult-friendly! Google sites might be more appropriate.

Over to you!

What are your thoughts on using (digital) portfolios?

Have you ever used e-portfolios to assess students’ learning and evaluate their own teaching effectiveness? What other web tool would you recommend for creating and managing portfolios? Any templates/sheets you would like to share?

Download all the templates here. Feel free to edit them and make any changes you want.
Special thanks to Vicky Margari, Romina Sarchi and Bosede Ajayi who volunteered to be “my Seesaw students” and helped me explore its features!


An ELT Glossary: Backwash/washback

Authentic assessment toolbox

What is authentic assessment

Dialogic Feedback with teenagers

Hugh Dellar on teaching speaking

Karolina Kotorowicz on formative assessment- Macmillan webinar

Baxter A. (1997) Evaluating your students. London: Richmond Publishing.

Brown, D. (2003). Language Assessment. Principles and Classroom Practices. California: Longman

Clapham, C. (2000). ‘Assessment and testing’. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 20: 147–61

Hamp-Lyons, L. and Condon, W. (2000). Assessing the portfolio. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press.

Hughes, A. (2003) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, .

Nunan, D. (1988). The learner-centred curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paris, S. and Ayres, L., (1999). Becoming Reflective Students And Teachers. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.