EFL teachers’ beliefs and practices about formative assessment: Case studies of Vietnamese university teachers




Pham, Hanh T M

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The effectiveness of formative assessment in student learning has been acknowledged and gained much attention since the series of publications of Black and Wiliam in early 2000. Since then, many educational institutions have initiated efforts to use formative assessment in the classroom to improve instruction and help students become independent learners and thoughtful evaluators of their own learning. However, this approach has not been well understood nor heartily embraced by many English as foreign language (EFL) teachers in post-secondary settings. This qualitative case study research, paired with a confessional ethnographic approach, investigated four EFL instructors’ beliefs about formative assessment and their instructional practices in a post-secondary English program in Vietnam. The overarching question of the study was “how do four Vietnamese university EFL teachers perceive ‘formative assessment’ and how is formative assessment implemented in their classrooms?” To this end, I used theoretical frameworks from sociocultural theories, the Constructive Alignment perspective (Biggs & Tang, 2007, 2011) and formative assessment, suggested by Black and Wiliam (2009), to collect and analyze the data from three sets of interviews, observation notes, and artifacts such as lesson plans, course outlines, and students’ work. Findings showed that the EFL instructors in the study had different perspectives on student learning, teaching, and assessment. These participants indicated two conflicting teaching philosophies: viewing learners as active collaborators in constructing knowledge and viewing instructors as knowledge providers in the student learning journey. However, they all shared the same articulated beliefs about assessment procedures and employing standardization for their teaching and student learning. Findings also showed that the EFL instructors’ beliefs were not always congruent with their actual practices. There was limited use of formative assessment, and the formative assessment principles were not implemented effectively in their actual practices. Findings also indicated that their stated beliefs and practices were affected by many internal and external factors, such as the mental model of learning, teaching experiences, testing culture, workload, and program requirements. Three key issues were discovered: First, there was a lack of understanding of learning theories informing pedagogy. Second, there was a lack of general formative assessment theories and limited use of formative assessment in the classroom. Third, cultural values and societal pressure affected instructors’ beliefs and instructional practices regarding formative assessment. This study makes significant contributions to our understanding of higher education instructors’ beliefs and formative assessment in terms of research and educational practice. Notably, it adds to the growing knowledge of teacher cognition and formative assessment. It also suggests solutions for re-educating instructors and school teachers, including EFL/ESL teachers, about formative assessment and what should be reconsidered when implementing formative strategies in the classroom to enhance student learning. This research offers the following elements: (a) equipping teachers with underpinning learning theories informing pedagogy and assessment; (b) providing assessment knowledge and improving assessment literacy for teachers; (c) making formative assessment principles and strategies explicit to teachers and students; (d) training and practicing in providing constructive feedback that promotes student learning; (e) personalizing students’ learning to enhance students’ autonomy, self-directed skills, and long-life learning skills; and (f) utilizing student learning evidence to make instructional adjustments to meet students’ needs.



formative assessment, post-secondary EFL program, higher education