“I am an IELTS 6”: impacts of assessment on identity

Jayne Pearson, a Lecturer in EAP at the University of Westminster, is going to talk about the impacts of assessment on identity.

This talk will examine the relationship between learner identity and assessment in EAP. I will begin by exploring some of the literature on the negative impacts of EAP assessment on learner identity. The focus will be on writing, as so far research attention has been mainly on the way writers construct their own experiences and identities through texts (Lillis, 2003). The critique of assessment from literature will be supported by interview data conducted over three years with pre-sessional students at a UK university. Among the themes identified are alienation (Case, 2008) and the equating of grades with a judgement of the self, impediments to the genuine negotiation of academic and discoursal identities (Pearson, in press). This begins with students’ experiences of SELTs and is reinforced by in-house EAP assessment as a gate-keeping measure which has consequences for application of a pedagogy attempting to facilitate student transition.

In the second part of the talk I will discuss how some alternative assessments such as reflective writing and portfolios, in attempting to drive an explicit exploration of identity, have led us down a potentially dangerous path of performing the individual (Macfarlane, 2015). I suggest that the conflation of agency with autonomy is detrimental to a discussion of learner identity, and stymies potential for pedagogies which attempt to facilitate students’ negotiation of their multiple identifies in a critical way.

Finally, I will advocate a middle ground of assessment which is designed to mitigate negative impacts on learner identity, rather than bringing identity into the realm of assessment. I will argue that by engaging with the culture of disempowering social practices, we EAP teachers are required to explore our own roles and identities as practitioners.

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Jayne Pearson is an EAP lecturer at the University of Westminster and doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham. Her research interests are in assessment impacts, critical EAP and alternative assessment of writing. She currently teaches in-sessional modules, pre-sessional courses and is module leader of an imminent MATEAPP programme. You can find out more about her in her institutional web profile.

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