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Mentoring the supervising teachers for effective development of pre-service teachers’ assessment literacy

Cherry Zin Oo, Lecturer at Yangon University of Education, Myanmar Dennis Alonzo, Lecturer at University of New South Wales

The strong partnership between initial teacher education (ITE) providers and schools ensures that pre-service teachers (PSTs) can further develop practical skills during their practicum. One of the most important skills to acquire for pre-service teachers (PSTs) is assessment literacy; to develop the capacity to ‘make highly contextualised, fair, consistent and trustworthy assessment decisions to inform learning and teaching to support both students and teachers’ professional learning effectively’ (Alonzo, 2016, p. 58). While education courses offered by ITEs provide students with an avenue to acquire knowledge and skills, the practicum provides critical opportunities for them to develop further and refine this knowledge and these skills (Oo et al., 2022). Without actual classroom application, PSTs would not understand the realities of assessing and working with students. However, studies show that assessment practice in real classrooms during PSTs’ practicum is problematic due to hindering factors (Jiang, 2015), including: the support of mentors (Oo et al., 2021); school context (Xu & Harfitt, 2018); cultural factors (Jiang, 2015); and the PSTs’ knowledge, skills and dispositions (Hill & Eyers, 2016).

Supervising teachers (STs) are school teachers who support PSTs’ professional experience placements, and they are one of the main factors for PSTs’ successful implementation of their assessment knowledge. STs provide the enabling and supporting mechanisms for PSTs to apply their assessment literacy in the classroom and see how it works in the actual context. Both the mentoring skills and assessment literacy of STs are critical for PSTs’ acquisition of practical assessment skills. This is evident in our studies (Oo, 2020; Oo et al., 2021) exploring various factors influencing PSTs’ assessment literacy development.

Our study shows two kinds of supervising teachers: controlling and supporting. Controlling supervising teachers are associated with developing tensions and a poor relationship with PSTs. PSTs feel that they cannot implement assessment strategies that they think help students learn effectively. They are hesitant to use new assessment strategies as their STs are more likely to ask them to revert to the more traditional assessments, including tests and oral exams. These STs will not allow PSTs to use other assessment strategies other than what they recommend. For example, one of the PSTs commented that ‘my supervising teacher told me to teach what I need to teach, like focusing on lessons, not on extra assessment-based activities’. Although PSTs recognise the importance and effectiveness of using assessment-based activities, they are conflicted with their theoretical knowledge and what they are told to use in the classroom. This results in PSTs’ low motivation to explore other assessments to support learning.

With supportive supervising teachers, PSTs gain greater autonomy during their practicum and continuously engage in reflective practice to identify areas for improvement in their teaching and students’ learning. Their STs give them the freedom to design and implement new assessment strategies, and this autonomy motivates them to explore appropriate assessment strategies based on students’ context, prior knowledge and learning needs. In addition, these supervising teachers provide academic support such as sharing lesson plans, giving critical and constructive feedback, and suggesting other assessment strategies.

‘With supportive supervising teachers, PSTs gain greater autonomy during their practicum and continuously engage in reflective practice to identify areas for improvement in their teaching and students’ learning.’

According to the results of our study, supervising teachers have a significant influence on pre-service teachers’ assessment literacy development. It is important, therefore, for supervising teachers to have a high assessment literacy and mentoring skills to support PSTs. Many STs, however, might have significant gaps in their assessment literacy practices (Volante & Fazio, 2007), so there needs to be a strong collaboration between the university and schools not only on providing access for PSTs to schools for their practicum but also on ensuring the alignment between the theoretical assessment knowledge taught in the university and the practical assessment skills demonstrated by STs in schools (Ellis et al., 2020). The university, schools, STs and PSTs should work together to improve the link between the university’s initial teacher education assessment content so that schools’ practicum programme can be further improved.

References

Alonzo, D. (2016). Development and application of a teacher assessment for learning (AfL) literacy tool [PhD thesis, University of New South Wales]. https://doi.org/10.26190/unsworks/18809

Ellis, N. J., Alonzo, D., & Nguyen, H. T. M. (2020). Elements of a quality pre-service teacher mentor: A literature review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 92, 103072. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2020.103072

Hill, M. F., & Eyers, G. (2016). Moving from student to teacher. In G. T. L. Brown & L. R. Harris (Eds.), Handbook of human and social conditions in assessment. Routledge.

Jiang, H. (2015). Learning to teach with assessment: A student teaching experience in China. Springer.

Oo, C. Z. (2020). Assessment for learning literacy and pre-service teacher education: Perspectives from Myanmar [PhD thesis, University of New South Wales]. https://doi.org/10.26190/unsworks/2079 

Oo, C. Z., Alonzo, D., & Davison, C. (2021). Pre-service teachers’ decision-making and classroom assessment practices. Frontiers in Education, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2021.628100

Oo, C. Z., Alonzo, D., & Asih, R. (2022). Acquisition of teacher assessment literacy by pre-service teachers: A review of practices and program designs. Issues in Educational Research, 32(1), 352–373. http://www.iier.org.au/iier32/oo.pdf

Volante, L., & Fazio, X. (2007). Exploring teacher candidates’ assessment literacy: Implications for teacher education reform and professional development. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(3), 749–770. https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/2973

Xu, Y., & Harfitt, G. (2018). Is assessment for learning feasible in large classes? Challenges and coping strategies from three case studies. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 47(5), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2018.1555790

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