Writing Assessment in the ESL Classroom: Teachers' Beliefs and Practices


Funding Program:

SSHRC Insight Grant

Funding Amount:


Assessment practices in the ESL classroom occupy a large portion of teachers' time and have a great impact on instruction and students' engagement and learning. Classroom assessment practices are strongly influenced by teachers' beliefs and the contexts in which they work. Teachers' beliefs about the nature and purposes of assessment influence what, how, and when teachers assess. Contextual constraints significantly influence the development, selection, and use of classroom assessments. Nevertheless, there is little research on teachers' beliefs and practices concerning assessment in general and the assessment of second language writing in adult language classrooms in particular, as well as whether and how these beliefs and practices vary across contexts and evolve over time.

This study starts to address this gap by investigating and comparing the writing assessment beliefs and practices of ESL teachers in three language teaching contexts for adults: immigrant settlement programs, university academic preparation programs, and undergraduate credit-bearing ESL programs. The roles and practices of writing assessment in these contexts are influenced by a range of factors unique to each context, including learner differences, program policies, and institutional culture. This mixed-methods study combines a cross-sectional and a retrospective longitudinal approach to address the following research questions:

  • What are the beliefs and practices of ESL teachers of adults in three instructional contexts in relation to writing assessment (including feedback and grading)?
  • How do these beliefs and practices relate to teachers' beliefs concerning writing development and teaching?
  • What individual and contextual factors shape and influence these beliefs and practices?
  • How do these beliefs and practices vary across instructional contexts?
  • Do ESL teachers' beliefs and practices evolve over time? If yes, how? What factors and experiences contribute to such change and development?

Case studies of teachers' assessment beliefs and practices will be constructed using data from classroom observations, in-depth interviews, stimulated recalls, and document analysis. The findings can enhance understanding of teachers' assessment practices and how they are influenced by teachers' beliefs and contextual constraints; provide important input for improving classroom assessment practices; and facilitate the design, implementation, and improvement of assessment policies and pre- and in-service teacher professional development programs. By situating the research in three different contexts, the outcomes may inform government agencies dealing with immigration policy and settlement services, private sector language teaching organizations as they continue to attract international students to Canada, and institutions of post-secondary education which serve an increasingly diverse, multilingual set of students.