Research Update on Language Acquisition and Formative Assessment

In previous communications from the Huili Institute of Learning (IoL), the importance of contextually relevant research was raised. It was argued that the relatively impoverished level of research in the bilingual and international education sector in China; and beyond, renders the journey to excellence in learning, teaching, curriculum and assessment enigmatic. Instead of following a well laid out path towards improving what pupils know and can do, schools, their leaders, teachers and parents must risk forging ahead on a road with insecure foundations.

To overcome these challenges, the IoL has established a range of strategically relevant research projects. These are primarily undertaken across the schools in the Wellington College China group in order to strengthen policy and practice. However, the IoL is committed to engaging with local education systems in China. This article provides a brief update on two critical projects:

1. Language Acquisition in a Huili nursery
2. Application of formative assessment practices in primary schools in Pudong


Language Acquisition in a Huili nursery

It is widely established that effective listening and speaking is an essential precursor, and indeed foundations of, successful reading and writing. This is especially important in acquiring an additional language. A Huili nursery identified that their pupils often began to read and mark-make in English in a mechanical way, but that speaking often lagged behind these skills. A similar observation has been made in a Wellington College China international school for pupils with English as an additional language.

A team of teachers, with input from a researcher at Durham University, developed a story talk programme specifically designed for pupils in the nursery. The programme uses a book-based approach to directly promote listening and speaking by linking it to concrete activities. The story talk programme was initiated in the 2018-19 academic year and impact evaluated using a comparative analysis to the preceding academic year.

Findings indicate that pupils experiencing story-talk in EY2 and 4 displayed significantly higher levels of communication and language. Indeed, statistical analysis with initial evidence revealed an effect size of 0.8*, which indicates that the improvements in communication and language were influenced by story-talk in a profound manner. Next steps include broadening the analysis within the comparative analysis. It is hopeful that these finding will be published in an international journal.

By upskilling teachers with the basics knowledge and skills required to lead research in a school context, a Huili nursery team of teachers are leading the strategic development of pedagogy and practice that has deep implications for learning across the Wellington College China group. This has been supported by the IoL.


Application of formative assessment practices in primary schools in Pudong

Assessment strongly underpins education in China. However, it is recognised that practices are predominantly summative in nature. The Wellington-Pudong Alliance for International Curriculum Alliance has been established to exchange ideas and practices between Chinese and international education systems. One project comprised introducing formative assessment practices to grade 4 mathematics classes across a wide range of primary schools in Pudong. The research was led by Dr Zhao from the Pudong institute of international curriculum exchange and research and supported by the IoL. The study intended to explore whether incorporating assessment practices typical in a successful international school have an impact on pupil learning in Pudong.

Interestingly, by training primary school mathematics teachers to employ a relatively narrow range of formative assessment practices for little over a semester is linked to significantly improved outcomes (<0.05 or less than 5% chance of the difference being accountable to something other than formative assessment) in district level tests. Importantly, however, a pupil questionnaire and structured interviews identified that the use of learning specific objectives and success criteria was very strongly associated (<0.01 or less than 1% chance of the difference being accountable to something other than formative assessment) with:

  • Elevated levels of motivation
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Higher levels of self-adjustment or self-regulation

These reflect inspiring findings of how bringing together strong practices from the Chinese and international approaches to assessment not only improves pupil outcomes but also promotes learning approaches that are widely viewed as underpinning current and future success for learners. Dr Zhao and the IoL are currently working on publishing this work in an international journal.

Whilst this work is undertaken in schools beyond the Wellington College China family of schools, it reinforces the importance of the Huili approach to assessment and how it can improve learning.

A further update includes the publication of a paper led by Suisui Yu in the IoL, in partnership with Shanghai Municipality Education Commission, that comprised a comparative analysis of leadership in Chinese, bilingual and international schools.

These findings described above and opportunities to acquire research methodology to lead school-based research are offered by the IoL through:

  1. The Inspiring Learning Forum
  2. Ongoing workshops

For further information scan the QR code below:

*Effect size is a statistical approach frequently used in educational research that measures the relative impact of an initiative using a continuum that includes:

· A negative value; i.e. the initiative actually had a negative impact, for instance resulted in decreased exam outcomes
· A very low effect size of 0 to approximately 0.2
· A high effective size from 0.4 and above
· An effect size >0.7 is recognised as a very high impact

Coe R. and Kime S. (2013) The DIY evaluation guide Education.
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