August 2021
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Phuong Thi Hong Cao, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and Hanoi National University of Education, Vietnam

Gu, P. (2021). Classroom-based formative assessment. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.


The critical role that formative assessment plays in improving educational outcomes and language learners’ competence is widely recognized in language research and pedagogy. However, insights gained from classroom-based research are not always available to language practitioners in a practical format. As a result, language teachers might not benefit from these significant findings. Classroom-Based Formative Assessment by Peter Gu, an Associate Professor at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand is a timely book to bridge this gap. Gu’s book addresses important topics related to classroom-based language assessment.

Before considering the merits and limitations of the book, it is important to look at its title, Classroom-based Formative Assessment. Whereas other books have sub-titles to specify their coverage, this simple title hints at the comprehensiveness and practicality of the book. The book deals with the most fundamental theoretical concepts, principles, and relevant topics of classroom-based formative assessment in separate chapters. It begins with a comprehensive framework for operationalising theoretical concepts (Chapter 1). It is followed by a coherent and easy-to-understand discussion of classroom-based assessment, as well as the significance of effective implementation of formative assessment (Chapter 2). Some critical components are thoroughly discussed in terms of what is assessed in the English language classroom, how it is assessed, how the results of the assessment are interpreted, what feedback is given to the learners, and what follow-up steps should be implemented (Chapter 3). Useful suggestions for choosing and designing multiple types of assessment tools to gather learning evidence and elicit student learning are given (Chapter 4). In addition, the use of assessment for its formative purpose is also addressed (Chapter 5). A set of materials for classroom-based assessment is provided for emerging researchers and practitioners (Chapter 6).

From a language teacher’s and researcher’s perspective, the main contribution of the book is that it operationalises the framework “spiralling cycles of formative assessment” (p.15). Gu emphasizes that a successful cycle of formative assessment can only be achieved when an assessment practice covers all these elements: classification of goals, elicitation of evidence, interpreting the evidence, providing feedback, and student/teacher take-up and action (p. 15). Although each component of this framework is visualized, some may find the spiralling cycles puzzling when they first look at the chart given its multiple elements. The inclusion of more detailed illustrations of how each cycle of formative assessment can be completed would have been more useful and enriching. At the same time, the constructs of formative assessment outlined by Gu can serve as a platform for “teacher-initiated classroom research” (p.98).

The strength of this book is its comprehensive and practical orientation. I find it comprehensive because it covers a broad range of the most relevant topics in a systematic manner. Such topics include qualities of formative assessment, validation of formative assessment, choosing and designing assessment tools for formative purposes, and researching classroom-based assessment. In every topic, Gu not only discusses the issues in theoretical formative assessment but also encourages the readers to link these issues with their own classroom teaching experiences. This scaffolding approach supports the reader to better understand the theoretical ideas behind formative assessment.

The book is not only comprehensive but also practical. Occasionally, Gu invites readers to reflect on their teaching and assessment practices. The presentation of pre-reading questions at the beginning of every chapter is commendable. Before introducing the theoretical underpinnings of formative assessment, Gu encourages readers to take a step back from the more global issues of assessment to look at more practical steps of what teachers can do inside classrooms to enhance teaching and learning. Although the book deals with both theoretical and practical issues, it might particularly appeal more to practitioners who are teachers. This is because the book offers much in a way of what teachers should do in their classrooms. For example, how they could conduct empirical research of classroom-based assessment by using sets of data available from their teaching. Chapter 6 includes a sample of a lesson transcript with illustrations and recommendations of feasible research questions and research instruments. Gu offers words of encouragement, affirming that teachers can improve student learning through classroom-based research. Readers who are language teachers may find it useful when the book offers specific examples of what teachers should do to make language assessment practice purposeful for their teaching targets.

Phuong Thi Hong Cao (Cao Thị Hồng Phương) is a PhD candidate at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand where she earned her M.A in TESOL. Previously, Phuong was a full-time teacher trainer at the faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education, Vietnam. Her current research interests include language assessment, textbook evaluation, and teacher professional development. Her work has appeared in the journals of Asian Englishes, Routledge, Asia TEFL, and the Asian Journal of Applied Linguistics.
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