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3.3 Assessment

Assessment plays a key role in the education system, as a formative or summative process and in some contexts helps to legitimate learning activities. Fostering progression in digital literacy as in all subjects is an important concern for educators and as digital technologies make new ways of demonstrating learning widely available it is useful to consider the following questions:

  • 3.3 AssessmentWhat is the role and purpose of assessment in schools?
  • How can Assessment frameworks help in designing relevant activities that extend pupils’ production, consumption and critical appreciation of digital media?
  • What are the issues and complexities we face when assessing digital literacy – this is particularly important when we consider the use of multimodal design?

Important work in the field of literacy education is significant to this debate. It is widely agreed that the assessment of literacy has become a complex process in an era in which children are developing skills, knowledge and understanding across a range of modes and media. Before considering what is to be assessed, the ‘how’ of assessment needs examined. As Murphy suggests:

Warrants for assessment should recognize the possibilities as well as the limitations of design in relation to the situation or circumstances of any one assessment activity. In particular, the representational possibilities for knowing offered by assessment designs should be acknowledged as limiting some representations while enabling others. Reasoned and reasonable warrants form the basis for thinking about the consequences of an assessment.
(Murphy, 2003)

3.3 Assessment2This would suggest that we need a broad portfolio of tools to draw on in assessing pupils’ literacy learning, including diagnostic tests, observation, analysis of products, questioning, the use of diaries and portfolios and techniques such as recall. Certainly, over-reliance on high-stakes testing is counter-productive and can narrow the curriculum, as do limited skills-focused approaches. In considering reading and writing in the digital age, we also require approaches to assessment that enable teachers to analyse multimodal interactions across media and so, to the above list, we could add electronic portfolios and the use of screen-capture software, for example.

In terms of identifying the knowledge, skills and understanding that should be assessed, we are in the early stages of developing a full understanding of what is needed. The United Kingdom Literacy Association has undertaken some work, under Eve Bearne’s directorship, mapping the assessment foci for reading developed by the now-defunct English Qualifications and Curriculum Authority onto the reading and analysis of multimodal texts. In ‘Reading on Screen’ Bearne and team (Bearne et al, 2007) draw on a range of projects undertaken in schools and found that the children’s learning could be mapped on to the existing assessment foci, (see Table 3).

Table 3: Assessment foci for the digital age

Assessment Focus Skills and Strategies Observed
AF1 Use a range of strategies including accurate decoding to read for meaning Children using the internet, CD ROM books, an computer games used similar decoding, syntactic and semantic strategies on screen as in book-based reading
AF2 Understand, describe, select or retrieve information, events or ideas from texts and use quotation or reference to text Children retrieved information which interested them from the internet, selecting and quoting from sites to suit their purposes.
AF3 Deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from texts Children demonstrated these skills as they used computer games, the internet and CD-ROMs
AF4 Identify and comment on the structure and organisation of texts, including grammatical and presentational features at text level Children held decided views on the structure, organisation and presentation of preferred screen texts, commenting particularly on images.
AF5 Explain and comment on writer’s use of language, including grammatical an literary features at word and sentence level Children commented on language, image and music as they trawled the internet, highlighting key sections.
AF6 Identify and comment on writer’s purposes and viewpoints, and the overall effect of the text on the reader Children identified the viewpoints shown in the content of sports sites on the internet
AF7 Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts and literary traditions Children used their out-of-school knowledge to help make sense of their reading

3.3 AssessmentHowever, these assessment foci need to be extended to enable the identification of progress in some of the skills outlined in Table 1 [3.2.1]. For example, how do we assess children’s developing understanding of the visual mode, or their awareness of the grammar of a moving image? These are areas that need to be the focus of future work in this area.

Bearne (2010) has recently drawn together the work of the ‘Reframing Literacy’ project to offer an outline of how teachers might begin to understand the stages in pupils’ analysis of multimodal texts. She identifies four stages of competence:

(i)            emergent early reader/viewer;
(ii)           developing reader/viewer;
(iii)          experienced reader/viewer;
(iv)         expert reader/viewer.

Table 4 provides examples of the stages of development in relation to inference and deduction in reading/viewing multimodal texts.

Table 4: Example of stages in multimodal analysis


Knowledge and skills

Emergent/early reader/viewer Makes literal interpretations, but may identify different aspects of modality
Developing reader/viewer Draws together ideas and information from across the whole text, using simple signposts e.g. changes of settings in comics, computer games films; organisational features on website
Experienced reader/viewer Discusses and infers reasons the characters behaviour, referring to a specific point in the text e.g. a particular dialogue exchange in comic, film, magazine picture book; specific frame(s) in comics, episode(s) in computer games films; facial expressions, gestures posture in still and moving images.
Expert reader/viewer Infers authorial/directorial perspective, commenting on how messages, moods, feelings and attitudes are conveyed and making reference to the text e.g. recognises bias in magazines, websites and can identify particular modes–images sounds words–which support the bias.

Bearne’s work provides a significant platform for future developments, as well as highlighting the need for the extension of this framework to encompass the production of multimodal texts.

3.3 AssessmentThe assessment of children’s multimodal texts can be undertaken by identifying the ways in which children have used the various modes effectively in meaning making although Vincent (2006) suggests that practice is limited in this area and that educators have only developed appropriate assessment criteria for written language and images. He argues that this is disadvantageous to children who perform best when engaging with multimodal texts:

…multimodal composition is not just a desirable extra, but should be brought into the mainstream of literacy teaching for two main reasons. Firstly it is the way in which students see the world, and secondly it releases certain children from the trials of monomodal, verbal expression where they are unlikely to succeed. This study suggests that it is unfair to some children for us to restrict assessment to written language and the conventional literacy of school.
(Vincent, 2006:56)

The development of appropriate assessment criteria is a key area for future development.

References: see 3.3.1 References / Links to Further Resources

3.3 Assessment Tags COMMENTS (public) ANNOTATIONS (private)