August 2021



Dear HEIS Community,

Welcome to our July issue of HEIS News, a newsletter for our Higher Education Interest Section (HEIS) members, other TESOL members, and all professionals who work in the field. I hope you are all doing well, having time to do the things you enjoy.

This issue has two articles and three book reviews. The first article is, “On Second Language Writing Anxiety: Triggers and Solutions,” written by Rana A. Alnufaie and Fabiana F. Stalnaker, both who are Ph.D. students in the Culture, Literacy, and Language program at the University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA. The second article is, “Perceptions of Online L2 Learning Experiences: An Exploration Among Sri Lankan Undergraduates,” by Buddhima Karunarathna from the University of Vocational Technology, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka. For book reviews, we begin with Dr. Anna M. Burnley of Flagler College, Tallahassee, Florida, USA, who writes about the book 50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners. The second book review is from Bill Nelson, American University of Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq, and he gives us a review for the book Teaching and Researching Motivation. The last review is about the book Classroom-Based Formative Assessment, with the review written by Phuong Thi Hong Cao, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and Hanoi National University of Education, Vietnam. We hope you enjoy these articles and book reviews.

TESOL Elevate, the event for new and emerging English Language Professionals, will be held virtually July 26-30, 2021. According to the TESOL Elevate webpage, some of the features of this virtual event include: a week of learning and networking; participating in sessions and discussions; networking with peers, experts, and employers; learning best practices and new skills; and finding out about new resources and products. This is an opportunity for you to explore and learn about different areas of TESOL that may support you in professional and personal ways.

When you have time, I hope you all will take some time to post questions, news, or comments about current happenings in the TESOL world to our HEIS community board in MyTESOL. We enjoy seeing your postings, especially when it starts an important discussion that gets others talking, thinking, and moving.

We hope to improve member engagement through HEIS News, our HEIS community board in MyTESOL, and HEIS webinars. We welcome your involvement in any of these areas.

Best regards,

Maria Ammar

Past Chair, TESOL Higher Education Interest Section

Maria Ammar is associate dean of ESL at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.



Rana Alnufaie 

Fabiana Stalnaker

Writing is an important skill for language development and is essential to academic success. However, it is considered a difficult skill to master, especially for second language learners because it requires control over various factors such as L2 vocabulary, syntax, spelling, and higher order thinking skills. Those higher cognitive activities are especially essential for enabling learners to decode ideas in comprehensible academic texts. Recent research has shown that learners could be negatively impacted by writing anxiety when they engage in the L2 writing process and this negative impact of L2 writing anxiety (L2WA) can have a long-lasting effect. For example, Daly and Wilson (1983) found that high-anxious learners tend to choose majors, courses, and even careers that do not require much writing. L2WA is the worry or fear feelings that learners experience toward a writing task that could occur throughout the writing process. It is a unique type of anxiety because it is situation-specific and can impact students who are not typically anxious in other situations. This short article intends to present the potential sources of L2WA among adult L2 learners and provide pedagogical strategies that can help our adult learners reduce their L2WA.

Sources of Second Language Writing Anxiety

There are different sources of second language writing anxiety and some of the sources are caused by the differences between learners’ L1 and L2 writing. For example, the transfer of L1 writing into L2 may present various levels of difficulty depending on how similar the L1 to the L2 writing systems. Additionally, learners who come from monolingual backgrounds are more likely to feel anxious compared to those who come from bilingual or multicultural backgrounds or those who have been exposed to writing activities in more than one language. Kara (2013) found that students who had not developed writing abilities and were not used to writing and expressing themselves in writing in their L1 were more anxious to organize their ideas and enjoy writing in L2. For those reasons, it is crucial to include literacy and writing tasks that build on students’ prior knowledge and experiences. For a positive writing experience, learners should be able to recognize both the similarities and differences between their L1 and L2 and relate text materials to their own knowledge. Studies have indicated that comprehension improves, and anxiety decreases when the language material contains familiar content that allows the writers to make connections to past knowledge.

L2 writers can feel anxious from teachers’ negative evaluation, writing tests, insufficient writing technique, linguistic difficulties, pressure for perfect work, and lack of topical knowledge. That’s to say, their L2WA may not be related to content but instead may be a consequence of the unrealistic requirements or the excessive emphasis on errors in spelling and grammar. This can lead L2 writers to focus more on syntactical, lexical, and grammatical commands over text composition and flow of ideas which will eventually lead to frustrating experiences that result in an increasing number of anxious learners. Lacking the necessary skills such as finding ideas, collecting information, organizing, and combining that information in a coherent text would hinder writing development and become a source of anxiety in the language classroom. It is important to mention that this usually occurs in the teacher-centered model of teaching.

The experience of second language writing anxiety may vary from learner to learner. Because writing in a L2 requires a lot of practice, effort, and confidence, studies have revealed that fear of negative evaluation, fear of writing tests, insufficient writing technique, linguistic difficulty, pressure for perfect work, and lack of topical knowledge were the main sources of writing anxiety experienced by L2 learners. On a positive note, there are several strategies that teachers can incorporate in class to help in reducing L2WA, however, in this review we will present three main themes that were supported by L2 research for reducing L2WA. The three themes are: Helping our students through feedback, helping our students online, and helping students throughout the writing process.

Helping our students through feedback:

Teacher-centered approaches to teaching writing might increase L2 writing anxiety, whereas alternative types of assessment such as peer- or self-assessments can increase students' positive emotions toward L2 writing. Asking learners to provide peer-feedback to one another can help them be engaged in a positive interactional environment in which they collaborate to reach a common goal. This interaction will decrease their L2WA and increase their writing confidence because they will have a chance to see how mistakes are normal part of the learning process and will be more motivated to improve their writing with one another. However, before asking students to provide peer-feedback, it is very important that teacher provide students with training and practice in providing feedback and point out to them the common mistakes that can appear in writing. Also, it could be useful to support peer-feedback with teacher’s feedback which can boost students’ confidence and reduce their L2WA.

Helping our students online:

Online feedback (or e-feedback) has shown to be more effective than traditional feedback in lowering students’ L2WA. That’s to say, incorporating online websites and applications that have built-in autocorrect features would allow students to focus on the content while writing without being distracted by spelling and/or grammar, which in turn would lower their L2 writing anxiety. This can also provide students with instant type of feedback because, for example, when they type a misspelled word, the autocorrecting feature will point that out to them and they will be able to edit in no time without feeling frustrated or demotivated. Google docs. is a great online source for collaborative writing and for individual writing which also allows for peer feedback. However, it is very crucial that students are trained on how to use a particular online platform before being asked to produce an L2 writing text. Also, it is important that students have time to practice writing on the online platform without being graded during class writing activities. Teachers can support this process by providing students with personalized encouraging feedback to lower their L2WA, especially when they use a platform for the first time.

Helping our students throughout the writing process:

Researchers have shown that genre-based approaches that are combined by teaching writing as a process can have a positive effect on lowering learners’ L2WA and increasing their self-efficacy. Those types of instructions can increase L2 learners’ genre-awareness and equip them with self-regulatory strategies to use in L2 writing. For example, when teaching students about a specific genre (e.g. argumentative essay), teachers can incorporate concept mapping or brainstorming strategies in the pre-writing stage. Zarei and Feizolahi (2018) found that although both pre-writing strategies reduced students’ L2WA, the concept mapping strategy improved students’ lexical and grammatical accuracy in writing. These strategies along with teachers’ positive feedback are very powerful for empowering students and enhancing the mental imagery of their future selves as successful academic writers. Students who have positive feelings about their writing abilities (e.g. ability to use strategies for planning and composing sentences) are always less anxious and able to develop more accurate, complex, and fluent pieces of writing. This can be achieved by eliminating the time pressure and giving them more time for planning and editing.


Writing is an important skill for language development and is essential to academic success. However, it is considered a difficult skill to master, especially for second language learners. In this study, fear of teachers’ negative feedback, low confidence in writing, the pressure of time, quality of work, and poor linguistic abilities were found to be the main causes of L2 writing anxiety. The factors that contribute to writing anxiety should be addressed using research-based approaches. Otherwise, it may not only impact the language learning process, but it may also affect students’ self-esteem and confidence toward their academic, professional, and personal pursuits. The pedagogical implications of this study indicate that a comfortable language learning environment where students feel less stressed, and more confident must be created in order to alleviate writing anxiety. Teachers can help students’ lower their anxious feelings by eliminating the time pressure through giving them more time for planning before asking them to write. Another way by which teachers can reduce writing anxiety for students is by encouraging them to engage in collaborative work, giving them a chance to provide and receive feedback, and incorporating online sites and applications that provide autocorrect features. Providing students with personalized encouragement feedback is also crucial for lowering their writing anxiety. In conclusion, L2 writing is a cognitive and emotional process that deserves attention from researchers, teachers, and learners. It is crucial to acknowledge the existence of second language writing anxiety, identify its causes and effects, and pay close attention to the teaching strategies that can lead to a more satisfying learning environment and pleasant writing experiences.


Daly, J. A., & Wilson, D. A. (1983). Writing apprehension, self-esteem, and personality. Research in the Teaching of English, 17(4), 327-341.

Kara, S. (2013). Writing anxiety: A case study on students’ reasons for anxiety in writing. Anadolu Üniversitesi Eğitim Bilimleri Enstitüsü Dergisi, 3(1), 103-111.

Zarei, A. A., & Feizollahi, B. (2018). Concept mapping and brainstorming affecting writing anxiety and accuracy. Journal of Modern Research in English Language Studies, 5(1), 117- 144.

Rana Alnufaie is a Ph.D. student in the Culture, Literacy, and Language program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests focus on second language writing, corpus linguistics, and language complexity. She completed an MA in TESL at the University of Texas at San Antonio, USA, and a BA in Applied Linguistics from Umm Alqura University in KSA. She has taught ESL and linguistics courses for undergraduates at various universities in Saudi Arabia.

Fabiana Stalnaker, M.A. is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Culture, Language & Literacy at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She holds a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics & TESOL and has worked as an ESL/EFL teacher in the United States, Brazil and Japan. Fabiana is passionate and committed to language learning and teaching.



Amidst neo-normalcy situation that occurred with COVID-19 pandemic, to continue tertiary education in best possible way, online teaching is the only way to reach the students. Some researchers find the neo-normalcy situation in the field of education as remote teaching while some researchers find it as emergency online teaching. Whatever the term may it be, almost all the teachers from primary to postgraduate levels had to switch to online modes with available facilities to make the process of formal education happen, although with many lapses.

Practicing teaching L2 through online modes effectively has become a necessity when the students and the teachers are compelled to engage in the teaching learning process while practicing social distancing. Thus, the necessity of related research in this field of teaching L2 through online modes has become a timely upliftment. Qi (2019) notes that prior studies report numerous benefits gained by L2 learners in learning a L2 through using technology; that L2 learners’ language skills (i.e., speaking, listening, reading, and writing) can be developed through the use of technology.

In summarizing L2 learning tasks and involved technological tools in learners’ perceptions-oriented studies, Qi (2019) notes three task types: presentational, interpretive and interpersonal. Further Qi (2019) summarizes that each task type has several tasks as “recording oral assignments” and “online collaborative writing” for the presentational tasks; “exploring topic-oriented information”, “watching pedagogically supported authentic L2 video clips”, and “using electronic language dictionaries” for interpretive tasks; and “text-based online topic oriented discussion with native speakers” and “oral communication with native speakers” as interpersonal tasks. Several technological tools (e.g., chat and Google Docs) discussed by Qi (2019) in perceptions-oriented studies were used in this study as well. Moreover, some other teaching resources provided insights to organize other tasks innovatively such as breakout rooms in Zoom.

The objectives of the study were: (1) What are the L2 learners’ experiences in learning listening and speaking through online modes? And (2) What are the L2 learners’ experiences in learning reading and writing through online modes?

Participants and Study Site

This study reveals an exploration of online L2 learning experiences among six first year undergraduates of a bachelor of technology degree program in a vocational technical university in Sri Lanka. The students were of below average level English language competency.

The students have completed the module “Communication Skills in English I” in their Semester I, in face to face interactions, whereas the students had to complete the module “Communication Skills in English II” in their Semester II, through online modes, i.e. through the Learning Management System (LMS) of the University and through Zoom.

Data Collection and Analysis

From the sample mentioned above, each selected participant then individually completed a 15-minute semi-structured interviews that asked participants about their learning experiences through online modes in their first year second semester. Data was analyzed thematically based on the responses provided by the participants.


There were a few limitations of this study. For example, only six participants were selected from one particular bachelor of technology degree program. Moreover, the semi-structured interviews were conducted by the English language lecturer of the participants, so it may have influenced participants’ responses.


Findings can be presented under two major themes as listening and speaking skills in L2, and reading and writing skills in L2. In the interviews, most of the participants have unintentionally compared their face to face learning experience they had in Semester I and the learning experience they had in Semester II through the online mode.

All the participants were on the view that their listening skills were improved and two of them have mentioned that they were able to listen and watch how native speakers use the language with voice projection and gestures. Three of the participants mentioned that since they could revisit the lecture and watch the uploaded video several times, they felt comfortable through online modes since they could reach the listening materials any time they wanted to revisit.

In practicing activities to improve speaking, first, the students were asked to record their voice and upload it. Second, the students were asked to record their video and upload it, and finally they were asked to make presentations or speak at the online session via Zoom. Five participants have mentioned that, this step by step approach made them comfortable in speaking in L2 and with the recordings of their own voices in English, they had mentioned that they were able to reflect more on their speaking. Two of the students have mentioned that though they were anxious about the accuracy of the language when they were speaking at the beginning, but later they were able to focus on their voice projection and pitch in oral presentations. However, one participant revealed that he found it uncomfortable when he had to make presentations by switching on his video, since he did not like others to see his physical background. All the participants mentioned that listening to audio books enabled them to improve their reading skills as well.

Regarding reading and writing, four participants found the reading and writing activities are interesting than they expected through online modes. They found that providing reading materials beforehand and discussions on the chat forums regarding the read materials enabled them to focus on the text effectively than they thought. Regarding writing, the participants revealed that they enjoyed collaborative writing activities a lot through shared documents. Four participants were on the view that, they prefer to write using a pen and paper than typing on the computer, and sometimes online platforms do not allow them to do so. The participants have provided several reasons for that. They are not familiar with typing using the computer keyboard since they have only the smart phones to access the activity. They think that practicing writing using a pen and paper will be more effective in their in-class writing performance when the university starts physically. Four participants mentioned that, in providing feedback for writing activities, they prefer the handwritten comments, other than the typed comments. The participants were on the view that they feel their learning experience in listening and speaking through online modes is more effective than that of reading and writing.

Other than the four language skills, the participants revealed that they could interact more with their colleagues and the lecturer. They had enjoyed the breakout rooms in Zoom a lot, in group activities and the chat forums. Three participants were on the view that the creative language production activities provided to them, with the intention of avoiding plagiarism, enabled them to think more creatively. Moreover, the participants have mentioned that, even though the lecturer was strict in conducting lectures physically, they feel that through online modes, the lecturer has become more flexible and friendly. One of the learning experiences that all the participants have mentioned was that, when the lectures were conducted physically, if they do not participate in the lecture, they did not have the opportunity to listen to it again. Through online modes, even though they have connectivity problems at the time of the lecture, they are able to revisit the lecture when they can gain access, and it made them more comfortable in learning the language skills.


The results revealed that all the participants hold positive attitudes on developing the four language skills through online modes. Yet, it could be noted that the participants’ attitudes regarding developing listening and speaking skills through online modes is more effective and more motivating than that of reading and writing. Furthermore, the participants have observed that, in learning English through online modes, they could develop more student – student interactions and student – teacher interactions than they had expected. Moreover, they have noticed that online L2 teaching provided them opportunities to be more creative and more flexible.


Qi, R. (2019). An exploration of L2 Chinese learners’ perceptions of interacting with recap. In Belda, A.A.P., Galbraith, H., Josephs, K., Pinto, A. P., Pulkowski, E., Walker-Cecil, K., Wuxiha. C. (Eds.). (2019). Research approaches to second language acquisition: Proceedings of the 2018 second language acquisition graduate student symposium (CARLA Working Paper Series). University of Minnesota, The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.

Buddhima Karunarathna grounds her research in the perception of online L2 learning experiences among Sri Lankan undergraduates. Her research interests are applied linguistic and semiotics. had been teaching English for primary grades for 2 years, teaching English and English literature for secondary grades for 4 years and teaching English language for undergraduates and as a ELT educator at the tertiary level for 7 years in Sri Lanka. Currently she is teaching as a senior lecturer in English at the Department of Language Studies, University of Vocational Technology, Sri Lanka.



Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2020). 50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners. Pearson.

For higher education professionals teaching pre-service educators (PSTs), the sixth edition of 50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners (2020) delivers exemplary content while providing carefully detailed and thoroughly-described teaching strategies to fully support the PST who will teach both English as an additional language (EAL) and content areas to English learners (ELs). Teachers-in-training require structured teaching strategies for their TESOL toolkit and simultaneously need to know how to use those tools in practicum, internship, and future classroom settings; this undergraduate-level education-specific textbook fulfills both requirements.

The text contains 50 teaching strategies, bookended at the front by an alphabetical quick list of the strategies and a theoretical overview of concepts related to second language acquisition and EAL teaching. At the back, the textbook includes a multiple intelligences survey, grade-level language development profiles, and a glossary. A new and welcome aspect of the sixth edition is its inclusion of a much-needed index. The textbook is available in print and virtual formats and includes access to the Pearson Enhanced eText course materials. Virtual course materials include text passages, videos, hover-over definitions for bold-print vocabulary words, and multiple charts and tables; YouTube videos are noted in the print edition as links for learners who prefer to view them on their phone. Of particular interest to teacher educators are the data collection tools that track the percentage of class members who viewed the readings and the amount of time spent on them, as well collect data for students who don’t access at a high level. Also new to the sixth edition is the addition of color in the print text. Visual learners can more easily access sections within each strategy by noting that charts have a red bar as the header, textual subheadings are green, language development approximation behaviors are noted in purple, and teacher self-evaluation rubrics are in blue.

A critical aspect of the book is its relevancy to today’s fully online, hybrid, and in-person teaching formats. Throughout the text, references have been updated from the fifth edition, as has been content within each strategy. The fifth edition strategy #9, “Read-Aloud Plus,” (2016) has been replaced by “Choosing Technology Based on Student Needs: Advancing Progress in English Language and Content Learning,” (2020), which is entirely relevant in this era of online teaching and virtual learning. The formula from previous editions is followed for each strategy chapter and includes an introduction to the strategy, step-by-step instructions for delivery, vignettes describing the use of the strategy in believable classroom settings, concluding remarks, language development behaviors, and references; however, changes have kept the book fresh and very helpful. New to the sixth edition are additional charts in various chapters guiding PSTs to adjust their teaching to the language proficiency levels of ELs, a skill that can be fortified through the additional online resources. Although the fifth edition (2016) contained several “self-evaluation rubrics,” the sixth edition (2020) has added many more and has explicitly labeled them as “teacher self-evaluation rubrics,” to encourage reflective teaching practices.

This textbook is highly effective in demonstrating sheltering of instruction through following the chapter formula each time a new strategy is introduced. It promotes access through a methodical approach to the perspective that teachers and PSTs should be able to quickly locate and then easily implement teaching strategies specific to second or additional language teaching. The content is explicitly taught and therefore is highly relevant for PSTs, beginning teachers, and teachers acquiring the ESOL endorsement or fulfilling certificate courses. Although PSTs will purchase or rent multiple textbooks during their undergraduate careers, this book of strategies is one that they can keep and continue to utilize well into their professional career. Teachers-in-training and teachers in the field can benefit from recognizing the many strategies that work for all learners, including ELs, but the textbook is noteworthy in that it provides pathways allowing educators to shelter their instruction through modifications to already-understood teaching strategies. As an example, graphic organizers, a familiar mainstay in education, can be easily modified to support content and English language learning by ELs, and the books explain how to make this happen. Pre-service educators who are learning to write lesson plans can include specific strategies from the textbook to support sheltering of instruction while also learning implementation of the strategy.


Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2020). 50 Strategies for teaching English language learners. Pearson.

Herrell, A., & Jordan, M. (2016). 50 Strategies for teaching English language learners. Pearson.

Anna Burnley, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor and ESOL Specialist at Flagler College – Tallahassee where she teaches the ESOL Endorsement sequence. Dr. Burnley’s research focus is in pre-service educators’ perceptions of English Learners, particularly as it relates to teacher choices of childhood cross-cultural literature. Having an interest in global folktales and fairytales, her focus is on building the K-6 classroom library to promote inclusionary classroom practices for all learners. She has presented at conferences in Canada, England, Germany, Scotland, and the US.


Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2021). Teaching and Researching Motivation (3rd ed.)Routledge, pp. 296. 

Like the rest of the series, this book is for teachers and researchers. It has four sections. In Part I (Chapters 1 through 4), the authors explore motivation generally and motivation in language acquisition specifically: they survey bedrock principles; they analyze cultural and intellectual forces that have shaped the landscape of ideas over time; and they map out motivation theory today. In Part II (Chapters 5 through 7), Dörnyei and Ushioda supply strategies for fostering motivation in language learners, then consider teacher motivation and its impact on learner outcomes. Part III (Chapters 8 and 9) provides information about various research methods for anyone interested in investigating motivation for themselves, including language teachers wishing to do action research in their classrooms; the authors also suggest potentially rewarding directions for such research. Part IV (Chapters 10 and 11) links motivation in language acquisition to domains like psychology, education, and applied linguistics; and there follows a list of resources—journals, edited collections, databases, and more—that inform the book and can be consulted by readers wanting to know more.

The authors are the perfect people to write about this topic. Dörnyei, Professor of Psycholinguistics at the University of Nottingham, is a major figure in the study of traits of language learners. I encountered his work in my graduate program in teaching English to speakers of other languages. His L2 Motivational Self System is hugely influential; the L2MSS emphasizes the importance of feeding a learner’s vision of a future self who is adept at using the target language. And I have successfully followed Dörnyei’s guidance about grading policies that incorporate learner self-assessment and other motivational classroom practices. Ushioda, also a world-renowned scholar, is Head of Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick. One of her key contributions is urging researchers to use a “small-lens approach” to motivation, focusing on individual learners acquiring specific knowledge or skills in particular settings—the “person-in-context.”

Unsurprisingly, given this pedigree, Teaching and Researching Motivation is a strong book. It is authoritative: The authors cite dozens of studies from many disciplines, including cognitive psychology, educational studies, and sociolinguistics. It is balanced: The authors even criticize one of Dörnyei’s previous motivational models for, among other things, disregarding how commitment to a task may be constrained by conflicting demands; and, while frankly acknowledging their own contributions, they stress that they have hardly had the last word in the field, with scholars digging at rich new veins of research like unconscious motivation, complex dynamic systems theory, and directed motivational currents. The work is also up to date: Dörnyei and Ushioda note in the Introduction that there has been so much activity in motivation in the last decade that they have not so much revised the previous edition as written a new book, with references to papers published just last year; and they touch on our present pandemic and difficulties with maintaining motivation in virtual education.

The volume is strong in other ways. The writing is clear, with concise explanations of jargon and pithy turns of phrase; for example, the authors characterize the combination of cognitive and affective components that create motivation as “I think” and “I feel” becoming “I want,” which I find neat. And there are helpful features that aid in navigating and digesting the book’s contents, including signposting at the beginning of every chapter, text boxes containing summaries of central concepts, synopses of specific studies to illustrate research designs, and more.

I recommend Teaching and Researching Motivation to anyone interested in understanding language acquisition, particularly this newsletter’s audience. After all, the motivation of English language learners in higher education faces plenty of perils: struggles with the speed and complexity of lectures; the challenge when writing academically of attending simultaneously to grammar, conventions of spelling and capitalization, and elements of discourse; the pressure of understanding communication about student services and other facets of university life; for international students, the strain of negotiating a new culture. And then there are English language instructors, whose own motivation seems under assault by conditions like casualized contracts, poor pay, and a lack of autonomy. As for me, my language academy, a department of a non-profit university, will soon become a separate entity intended to make money—a common development, but a change that represents a threat to my identity as a professional who is uncomfortable with such a motive in education.

These are serious issues. Teaching and Researching Motivation has something valuable to say about all of them.

Bill Nelson, MATESOL, MEd, is an instructor at the English Language Academy at American University of Iraq - Baghdad. He is an award-winning English language teacher, teacher trainer, and educational administrator with five years of experience on three continents. Bill is an active member of TESOL International, New York State TESOL, and TESOL Arabia. His most recent publication was “A Menu of Flavors of Speaking,” which appeared in Uncharted TESOL in 2020.





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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Contribute an article for the October 2021 issue!

HEIS News welcomes articles that apply to classroom situations and that focus on ESL/EFL pedagogy, second language acquisition, academic literacy, language assessment, applied socio- and psycholinguistics, advocacy, administration, and other related areas. Given the newsletter’s electronic format, authors are encouraged to include hyperlinks.


Full-length articles and brief reports should

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  • include a 50-word (500 characters or fewer) abstract;
  • contain no more than five citations;
  • follow the style guidelines in the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition (APA Manual);
  • be in MS Word (.doc or .docx) or rich-text (.rtf) format; and
  • include an author headshot.

Please direct submissions and questions to Zhenjie Weng.

Note: It is not necessary to have an article complete and ready for submission to contact us! Please feel free to get in touch at any stage of the process. We are happy to answer any questions and work with you in developing or refining a topic.

The deadline for submissions to the HEIS News October 2021 is September 30, 2021.


Book reviews are always a very popular feature of the newsletter. To request or suggest a book for review and for details, including submission deadlines, please contact Zhenjie Weng.


HEIS News welcomes reviews of scholarly books and textbooks dealing with English teaching, applied linguistics, second language acquisition, language assessment, or other disciplines as they relate to ESL or TESL instruction in higher education settings. Anyone interested in writing a review for HEIS News may choose a recent book in the field and contact the editor for approval. Reviews will be considered for publication based on the quality of the reviewer’s evaluation and description of the book, and the book’s relevance and importance to the field.

Reviews should

  • be 600–900 words in length;
  • include a 50-word (500 character or fewer) abstract;
  • include a 75- to 100-word bio of the reviewer;
  • follow the style guidelines in the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition (APA Manual);
  • be in MS Word (.doc or .docx) or rich-text (.rtf) format; and
  • include a reviewer headshot.

Book reviews should be commentary/critical, not merely summary, and must include elements such as assessment of the writing, the content, the research/evidence provided, the book’s usefulness, etc. The summary portion should make up less than half of the text. Following is a basic academic book review outline from the UNC Writing Center:

  • First, a review gives the reader a concise summary of the content. This includes a relevant description of the topic as well as its overall perspective, argument, or purpose.
  • Second, and more importantly, a review offers a critical assessment of the content. This involves your reactions to the work under review: what strikes you as noteworthy, whether or not it was effective or persuasive, and how it enhanced your understanding of the issues at hand.
  • Finally, in addition to analyzing the work, a review often suggests whether or not the audience would appreciate it.

Additional information about academic book reviews from the USC article, "Writing Academic Book Reviews."