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    Formative assessment

Promoting excellence in sign language instruction

Teacher competences
European Language Portfolio
Pro-sign reference
About the CEFR


Formative and Summative Assessment

Informal assessment

Informal assessment may include unplanned comments or responses (in classroom teaching) or “interviews, check-lists unsupported by data, [or] observations” (Bartram, 1990, p. 8). Formative assessment is carried out as an intervention to evaluate the learner’s process of acquiring new competencies and skills with the goal of encouraging the on-going process of future learning (Fulcher & Davidson, 2007). This requires support and guidance of the teacher/mentor by providing appropriate feedback. Almost all informal assessment is formative assessment, because the focus is on the development of the learner’s skills.

Classroom-based assessment

Introduction to the form of assessment

The assessment of sign language skills is based on so-called descriptors ("discretionary provisions") in the areas of reception, production, and interaction, adapted to language levels A1-C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). 

In this way, it is possible to assess the acquired skills of a learner and, therefore, to make transparent the language learning process as well as the associated development. The assessment can be divided into two areas: summative and formative assessment. 



In summative assessment, the language learning process of the learner is seen as a whole. The performance at a specific point in time is analysed and assessed. Here, the progress and development of the learner are not taken into account. It can be compared to a test at the end of a module and it is, therefore, a final assessment. 



Formative assessment, in contrast, reflects individual components of the language learning process. It analyses the learner's competences and skills as they are acquired step by step. From time to time, there are small assessments which make the development visible. In this way, the strengths and weaknesses of the learner can be identified. This gives learners and lecturers the opportunity to develop further learning objectives together. On the basis of the results obtained from the continuous assessment, the individual learning methods can be observed and changed if necessary. Formative assessment, therefore, facilitates the optimal elaboration of the various language learning processes.

Assessment of sign-language reception

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Assessment of sign-language production

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Assessment of sign-language interaction 

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Assessment structure

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International Sign version

Instructions for learners - Assessment

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Instructions for teachers - Assessment

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Feedback is defined as information that helps students to bridge the gap between what they already know or can do, and what they want to achieve (learning goals). 

Firstly, feedback provides students with information about what they are doing, and whether or not they have reached the learning goal yet (cognitive impact). Feedback can also support the development of a sense of control about learning (motivation impact) and enable the student to feel responsible for his/her learning process. This feeling of control is similar to the feeling of competence that contributes to intrinsic motivation. 

All feedback must be targeted, specific and timely, and when teacher feedback is good, it contributes greatly to the learning process. Self-evaluation or peer-feedback are also good practices, if facilitated in the right way. 

For instance, literature mentions seven principles for good feedback (in summary):

Feedback (Nicol & Macfarlane, 2006; and here):

  • clarifies what a good performance is (goals and criteria);
  • enables the development of self-reflection and self-direction in learning (see ELP) ;
  • provides information about their learning process to students;
  • stimulates dialogue between teacher and student about learning;
  • enables the student to bridge the gap between present performance and desired performance;
  • provides information to the teacher that can help them to regulate or adapt their teaching.