PBLA Assessments in Remote ESL Classes

Guest Contributor: Kasia Kasztenna

Student learning online study concept: Asian Young man sitting holding smartphone chatting in home for e-learning in educational technology by self
Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

Observing a student’s progress is an exhilarating moment in a teacher’s life. Creating, executing, and grading assignments however, constitutes the part of teaching that I enjoy the least. I invest a lot of time and effort in a fair and thorough examination of my students’ progress. Online English teaching has imposed new challenges, and opened new opportunities in assessing student progress. 

Based on my experience, how you apply PBLA assessments depends on whether you are using synchronous or asynchronous online teaching. PBLA assessments can be conducted with some modifications in both formats.   


Synchronous Mode 

Video conferences are most conducive to assessing oral skills. To capitalize on the nature of online learning and increase chances of independent work, you may have your students try some of the following: 

  • Conduct a video tour – e.g., my garden, my favourite spot in the house, etc. (Competency: sharing information, interacting with others) 
  • Create a podcast on a selected topic – e.g., How the pandemic changed my shopping habits.  (Competency: getting things done) 
  • Host a cooking show – learners demonstrate a recipe from their kitchen (Competency: giving instructions) 
  • Family Interview – either interview a family member or have them interview you   (Competency: interacting with others) 
  • Present a collage – e.g., ABC in selfies. Students take pictures with objects which illustrate the letters of the alphabet. Higher-level learners can create a collage of pictures/short videos capturing some features of their culture, and present it to the class during a video conference (Competency: sharing information) 

 Incorporate listening and reading assessments as well by presenting texts on a shared screen and have students answer questions. 

Asynchronous Mode 

 In this situation learners are assigned certain tasks to be completed outside the classroom.  All four skills can be assessed this way, but it is most conducive to assessing writing skills.  

 Type of Assessment Tasks 

Assessment tasks should be closer to mini-projects in which students have to integrate many different skills to ensure a modicum of independent work. My anecdotal experience confirms that these kinds of tasks minimize plagiarism.   

 Real world tasks in online teaching can include a range of activities that are an integral part of functioning online. For example, getting into the online classroom can be considered a first diagnostic assessment of reading and writing skills. These tasks (within the competency: getting things done and interacting with others) include: reading and following instructions, writing a simple greeting message, responding to and asking questions to solve a problem, etc. If the instructions are given by phone, there is an opportunity to assess students’ speaking skills as well. 

 Time Frame 

According to CLB guidelines, Stage 1 assessments are supposed to be conducted in a non-demanding context and Stage 2 in a moderately-demanding environment. Considering the fact that using online tools significantly increases communication demands, I compensated by allowing more time for completing tasks. I was aware of possible scaffolding provided by family members, which I considered justified vis-a-vis instructor’s inability to offer direct help. 

 Assessing Oral Skills 

Free software such as Vocaroo allows you to assign speaking tasks via Google Classroom (or other platform) and have students record and submit their answers. The problem is, learners can record their answers multiple times and rely on notes while speaking prohibiting spontaneous interaction with an interlocutor. Nevertheless, such an assessment brings certain insight into students’ oral skills. 

 Repurpose Existing Assessments for Online Applications 

You can transform many tasks from the Real World Tasks bank into Google Class quizzes that can be administered both as asynchronous and synchronous assessments of reading, writing and listening skills.  

 In both modes there will be an electronic trace of evaluative efforts both in learner and instructor’s files ready to be included in PBLA portfolios. 

Post written by Dr. Kasia Kasztenna

Dr. Kasztenna is an active ESL/LINC instructor and PBLA Lead Teacher with the Durham District School Board. She is also an independent researcher and author of multiple publications in her original field of expertise – literary studies and discourse theory. Most recently she contributed a chapter to the book Being Poland…, published by UofT Press.



One thought on “PBLA Assessments in Remote ESL Classes”

  1. Thank you for your contribution, Kasia. Related to your comments on assessing oral skills, my CLB 2-4 students enjoyed recording their voices for assessments with Poodll in Avenue.ca Assignments. I recorded verbal feedback for them, which they also appreciated. I linked the assignment directly to their eportfolios in Avenue. I like to balance these types of assessments with other one-on-one synchronous oral assessments due to the issues you mentioned (they might be reading from notes, etc.).

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