Formative assessment: Helping students to Bloom

I have written that there is much more to formative assessment than “testing before the end of a course”. Again, here is Brown and Abeywickrama definition of formative assessment:

“evaluating students in the process of developing their competencies and skills with the goal of helping them continue that growth process”.1

The question is, how can we use formative assessment to foster our students’ language development? One very helpful tool for this purpose is Bloom’s taxonomy.

Originally introduced in 1956, it was revised in 20012 in a way that enables teachers to use it to develop a variety of tasks. The image shown below, with practical suggestions for teachers, is from The Digital Debate3

Practical application of Bloom's

So how can the taxonomy be applied in a way that allows learners to develop their language skills? Let us consider the topic of housing. Using this topic, we can develop a set of assessed tasks that can help our students “climb” to the top of the pyramid. For example:

Remembering: Review the terms for different types of dwellings in which people dwell. The Oxford Picture Dictionary is one possible source of language for such a task. This can serve as a pre-listening or pre-reading task to prepare students to listen to or read a passage relating to housing. The difficulty level of the task can be adjusted according to your students’ proficiency level, and the presentation according to your learners’ age range.

Understanding: Complete a task to show understanding of a recording or reading passage, with the difficulty depending on your students’ proficiency level and the presentation based on their ages.

Applying: Complete a form providing information about either their own dwelling or one they wish to find, again with the difficulty and presentation depending on your students’ proficiency level.

Analyzing/Evaluating: Analyze 3-4 advertisements for housing in town and evaluate the suitability of each for particular renters or for themselves, with the complexity depending on your students’ proficiency level.

Creating: Create an ad for their own dwelling or one of their imagination, with the linguistic requirements of the ad depending on your students’ proficiency level.

Such an approach works for a variety of topics, proficiency levels, and ages. It permits teachers to assess a variety of cognitive skills which require the use of language to complete each set of tasks successfully. Over the course of a semester or academic year, both cognitive and language skills can develop to help learners cope with a variety of real-world topics in preparation for communicating and understanding language in authentic situations.



1Brown, H. D., & Abeywickrama, P. (2010). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices (2ndEd.). White Plains, NY: Pearson ELT.


3The Digital Debate


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