The Influence of Emotion on Preservice Teachers as they Learn to Assess Student Learning

From Section:
Assessment & Evaluation
New Zealand
Apr. 01, 2021
April, 2021

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 46(4)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In order to contribute to a gap in the literature this paper focuses on the research question:
What are the effects of emotion that preservice teachers encounter as they learn to assess?
This study contributes to the discussion about the involvement of emotion in preservice teachers (PSTs)’ initial experiences of acting as assessors, and also the interconnected emotions associated with being judged as PSTs.

Methods and Data Gathering
This paper reports on a qualitative study involving eight secondary PSTs who were recruited from one initial teacher education (ITE) programme in New Zealand.
The participants were involved in the study through their 10 month graduate ITE programme.
The PSTs were all graduates, four were recent graduates and four had been working in other professions before deciding to retrain as teachers.
At spaced intervals over the study time frame these teachers were interviewed four times using semi-structured interviews, and were asked to talk about their experiences as well as any self-chosen artefacts that they felt represented their developing abilities to assess student learning.
Each interview followed the same format using the same starter questions.
The series of interviews provided the preservice teachers opportunities to experience different aspects of assessment and reflect on their responses over the course of their programme, as they learnt about assessment in university and experienced assessing students while posted on teaching practice.
The teachers were encouraged to share their experiences as they learnt how to assess and make assessment related decisions.
The data gathered were analysed using the software NVivo8, by considering the interview transcripts and artefacts.

Results and discussion
In this study emotion was found to influence PSTs’ instructional approaches, including assessment decision making in way that are similar to those reported in other studies (Jacob, Frenzel & Stephens, 2017; Trigwell, 2012).
All PSTs in this study communicated a sense of emotional engagement and relationship with their students with respect to assessment.
They also experienced a range of emotions as they made instructional decisions and assessed students work.
As found by Hagernaur (2015) student-teacher interpersonal relationships played a strong role in the PSTs’ emotional experiences in class.
The PSTs in this study experienced a wide range of positive and negative emotions as they learnt about assessment and started assessing students, and these were seen to act as amplifiers and filters (Edwards, 2020; Gess-Newsome, 2015) driving their classroom practice.
A number recalled their own feelings of anxiety when being assessed as school children, and explained that they projected these feelings onto their students and acted accordingly.
The effects of this were evident in teachers’ assessment decisions, as has been found by Zembylas (2004).
For example, those PSTs who remembered feeling anxious and worried when facing examinations tried to avoid or reduce the use of examinations with their classes, or at least tried to mitigate stress for students. PSTs in this study redesigned assessment tasks to try to make them more engaging, and at times reported that they adjusted conditions to enable students to do better in assessments.
This adds to the evidence of how teachers focus on trying to reduce negative emotions in their students (McCaughtry, 2004; Sheppard & Levy, 2019), and alerts those working with inexperienced teachers of the motivations that might be in play as amplifiers/filters as they adjust assessment tasks or change assessment conditions.
The PSTs in this study were found to experience feelings of fear, worry and concern during the process of marking and/or grading student work, as they were concerned about the effects the grades might have on the students.
When discussing marking, the PSTs at times appeared to be quite stressed.
Their concerns for students’ emotional responses were sometimes seen to take priority over honesty and fairness in marking, as evidenced by them “bending the rules” at times.
These can be attributed to the pressures that stem from high stakes assessment in any system focused on accountability, which at times clash with teachers’ own motivations and beliefs.
Put another way, the amplifier/filter effect of the context contributed to their emotional work .
Being heavily emotionally engaged with students and their academic progress can cause teachers to become disappointed or frustrated at times (O’Connor, 2008), and this was evident in this study.
For example, all PSTs described times when they felt disappointed or angry but powerless as they observed their students underperforming or opting out of summative assessments.
Shapiro (2010) argues such feelings are a result of the tension between teachers’ concerns of an intellectual nature and their emotional responses.
This sort of tension adds to teachers’ emotional labour (Isenbarger & Zembylas, 2006) and may well be more keenly felt in PSTs and beginner teachers given their lack of experience.
Certainly the tenor of some of the discussions held during interviews alluded to considerable emotional work being carried out.
Being judged as a teacher also generated emotional responses for PSTs in this study, as they felt that others we likely to judge their performance based on their students’ grades.
This likely produced positive emotions when their students did well and negative emotions when students did poorly in assessments, and at times generated a level of self-doubt for the PSTs.
They felt vulnerable when their students’ grades were scrutinised by others.
Vulnerability has been described as “feeling that one’s professional identity and moral integrity, as part of being ‘a proper teacher’, are questioned” (Kelchtermans, 2005, p. 997), and can arise in teachers when they do not understand the limits of their professional efficacy.
It is important for PSTs to have realistic expectations of their influence.
This study was conducted over an extended period of time, in order to see what changes were evident as PSTs garnered experience and knowledge about assessment.
It was interesting to see that near the end of the study there was no change in the types and level of emotions that PSTs experienced when they were assessing their students’ learning and that these could still be seen as amplifying and filtering ideas on which PSTYs based decisions.
Near the end of the study, PSTs were still focussing on the mitigating the immediate emotional responses their students might have to assessment results, rather than thinking about how emotion might impact the students’ ongoing learning through their responses to feedback.
An awareness of students’ emotional responses to feedback is an important but under-explored area (Rowe, 2016), and the PSTs in this study appeared to not yet have reached a point in their development where they were concerned with this.
However, there was evidence of change over time in their views and emotional engagement with being assessed as teachers.
Early in the study many of the PSTs felt that they were being judged based on their students’ results, and they felt direct responsibility for these results.
As time went on, some moved to a realisation that they alone did not have to carry the burden of responsibility for students’ assessment results, as the students themselves were responsible for their learning.

This study offers a unique view on the involvement of emotion during the development of PSTs’ assessment practice as they assess others, and concurrently as they themselves are assessed.
PSTs carry a heavy emotional workload throughout their ITE year as they negotiate their early summative assessment practice in which concern for students is balanced with assessment expectations from their schools.
Concomitantly they are dealing with being assessed as PSTs, and the emotion that this entails.
One obvious necessity therefore is that in order for PSTs to thrive, they need both emotional awareness and understanding as well as support through this crucial stage of their early career.

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Updated: Nov. 23, 2021
Assessment for Learning | Emotions | Preservice teachers | Summative evaluation