The analyst and academic discussion of an assessment peice in a ESL language course

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The students in my teaching context are university students that are planning to study two years of extensive English and business related classes in Shanghai and then the students will study for two years at a university in Australia to get a degree in Business Administration. These students have at least two English language lessons a day, one with a foreign teacher and one with a local English language teacher. The lessons included listening and speaking plus reading lessons, with their local teacher and oral English, IELTS English, which includes all core skills in preparation for the IELTS examination, an academic English class, which is predominately writing, and two lessons of English language classes using the text book, “Interchange 3” which teaches all core language skills.

Predominately the goal of the course is to get the students up to a level where they will be able to achieve band six in the Academic IELTS examination after two years of study. The students also need to become accustomed to academic English, and related academic tasks, so that they can study in Australia, thus they need to be able to write essays, read related textbooks, and literature, as well as listen to lectures and take part in tutorials, all in a native English environment. In relation to the IELTS examination they will need to hold a conversation for several minutes on a random topic with a native speaker. Listen to conversations and fill in forms using information gleamed from said conversations, read short articles about current affairs type topics, and lastly write both a short descriptive passage and then an argumentative written essay.

ID and explain the purposes of the assessment and the intended language skills of ESL/EFL to be assessed.

The assessment piece tests students’ reading and writing skills through asking them to read an article and then write an essay disagreeing with the article they’ve just read. The reading part of the test differs from the standard multiple choice questions or questions requiring a one sentence answer. The reason for this is that such questions for testing reading ability, while perhaps testing the students’ ability to comprehend an article, are a little too removed from the actual situation that these students will need to use English in future, thus it lessens the level of Authenticity of the test.(Ellis, (2003) pg305), that is the level of realism in the assessment, which can lead to the testing of students’ reading ability for completing tests, instead of their reading ability in relation to non-test situations.

The writing task asks the students to write an argumentative essay refuting the main ideas of the initial reading task, this allows the examiner to see quite clearly the level of understanding of the reading article through the students’ ability to identify the main points and understand the readers meaning clearly enough to disagree. The second part of the assessment is assessing the students’ ability to use the correct formal, academic genre to write an argument that is while being clear and well organized, is also written with the minimal amount of lexical errors.

What does it mean to know a language and learn a language? (500)

A language is a body of knowledge that can be used to communicate with others, it is both made up of words and also of cultural connotations (Flowerdew and Miller (2005) pg 94), the expectation of a user of the language to be able to use the language both correctly is important for basic communication but we also need to understand the finer connotations of a language to use it at a higher level of competency. This includes understanding the correct usage of language for writing and for formal writing in academic or other situations. Thus this assessment is testing the students’ ability to understand a piece of semi-formal writing and also their ability to write their own piece of formal writing.

We do not expect, and indeed there is no need, that the students can learn the language to the same level of competency as a native speaker they need to know the language to an extent where they can perform tasks that will be required of them, and also to communicate confidently. Thus to know a language they must be competent in the usage of the language. Thus to the extent a language can be known is based on the extent to which the language can be used in real world situations, as such it is a skill that is learnt to be used, and is thus also tested through it’s ability to be used. Thus the reason for choosing a test format that requires the students to undertake a task that they will be expected to do so later in their university experience abroad.

The process of learning a language is one of obtaining knowledge in the form of building blocks, for example vocabulary or grammar knowledge, and then after being provided with samples of, and instruction on how the language is used. The students are expected to replicate the language independently and then receive feedback on the correctness of their attempt. After the student has received feedback the student would then use this feedback to modify their second language understanding and improve their inter-language (Hedge (2000) pg11). This process of instruction, creation and feedback, can happen in a variety of forms, either in the classroom between teacher and students, students and students, or even between a student and a text book or other members of the public.

An examination is simply a more formalized step in the ongoing process of learning a language.. In an assessment task the feedback is recorded and provided in more detail than in a normal classroom environment, where the feedback to a student may simply be verbal and where it may even be overlooked by the student (Lightbrown (2000) pg 448). Here the examination increases the likelihood that the results of the feedback will be taken in by the students to help them to continue to modify their body of knowledge and understanding, and thus competency, with the language, as test results will be reported to school leaders and parents, and thus can have greater influence on the students’ lives.

How does the design address the concern that language performance varies when the context and the task change?

It is a problem with many assessments that they do not fully test the student’s abilities in ways that are related to real world usage of language (McNamara (1996) pg 45). Examples of this can be seen through the usage of multiple choice questions to gauge student’s ability. While perhaps the students can best tested on an ability to read an article, but the format of the exam is not like anything the students would realistically use outside of an assessment task. It would be feasible to believe that while two students may have a similar level of language ability, but one of the two students maybe more skilled at the test format of say, answering multiple choice questions, or filling in gaps in a text(Bachman (1990) pg139). Then if this student’s tests results where stronger than the student of equal ability could we say that our test is reliable in testing students’ language competency?

Surely then there is a strong case for using text formats that can try to mirror the real world situation of the students as much as possible, for then we can test the students’ language ability and also their degree of literacy with a particular task item that is actually of use to the students in their lives. So the assessment task that has been created to mirror a real world academic task as much as is possible in the situation of a test, were arguably there is no perfect way to avoid the changes in language performance that will come from when student’s know that they are undergoing an assessment task(Ellis (2003) pg306).

Another factor of a test is that it has a time limit, and that putting the students under a time constraint will cause the students to feel more stressed than they would normally and thus this can lead to a change in the nature of the students’ interaction with the required task(Bachman (1990) pg148). Obviously a way to avoid this would be to remove a time limit on the students in undertaking the task, however due to the logistics of giving 180 students an examination at the same time. It is not possible to give the students the freedom of unlimited time to complete the task.

The fact that the students must undertake this academic reading task in a room under supervision also changes the nature of the task from the situation under which students would write an academic piece in future. However to ensure that the students are completely responsible for the work that is completed there is no other way than to supervise the students. To try to compensate for the unavoidable changes that a test situation will create in the students, we will make sure that the total overall grade of the students also included classroom assessed topics. It is worth mentioning however that the students’ ability to perform well in a test situation is also important for these students as they need to take the IELTS exam to go abroad. Thus the practicing of test based skills is still not completely irrelevant to these students.

How do you intend to expand the assessment activity into an opportunity for ESL/EFL learning?  

Opportunity for further learning prompted by this assessment activity will exist both before and after the assessment is undertaken by the students. Firstly the awareness that such an assessment task will be presented to the students will encourage the students to naturally concentrate on and practice the skills required within the test. Before the assessment many weeks will be spent explaining some of the basic required reading and writing skills. The genre and expected writing structure will also be practiced and explained to the students.

After the examination the results will be returned to students with written comments on their strengths and weaknesses. Students will also be encouraged to visit the teachers to discuss the results in more detail. It is here that the students can be provided with a breakdown of the examination results and also have one on one instruction with the teacher on their general errors and weaknesses. As with past examinations this seems to be a very useful way of instructing the students. A breakdown of the students’ score is purposely not given to the students so as to encourage the students to visit their teachers. One-to-one conferences with students allows the teachers to provide more detailed and personalized comments to the students on their work, as well as ensuring that the students understand the feedback.  

The information provided from the examination will be talked about in our department meetings, the results will also be placed on a master sheet and printed out as a hard copy resource to aide with planning lesson content. The overview of the students’ scores can be easily cross-referenced and areas of general weakness can be focused upon. The results can also be used to identify the weakest student for additional support.

The students’ own writing samples also make for excellent teaching resources, as it is more relevant for the students, than some fictional example of work. Especially since it seems that a lot of the student errors are of a similar nature, thus the examples chosen from actual student work can be applicable to a broad spectrum of the class, and hopefully through extended focus on these areas of weakness the students can start to improve their language skills. Examples of good work and sentences created by students will also be shared, as it is just as constructive and useful to show examples of what type of work the student’s should be producing (Tsui (2003) pg233) as well as examples of work that they should be avoiding.

The last activity that will be undertaken after all of the above will be the rewriting and resubmitting of the examination piece. This re-writing, after additional instruction previously, will help to emphasize the nature of the errors in the students’ work, and also will show to both the student and the teacher that not only does the student understand the nature of the errors that they are making, but also that they are able to correct their mistakes and use the language in the correct form. This will both help the teacher’s see more clearly improvement among the student body and also provide the students with confidence in their abilities to use the language well.

Procedures of the assessment and the marking/grading rubrics.

The students will be provided with a sheet of paper (See Appendix 1) and then the students will have the task read out to them and explained in more detail if necessary. It has been decided to allow the students to use dictionaries during this exam as we don’t want to test the student’s level of vocabulary knowledge but their ability to read and comprehend the main ideas of an article. It has been explained to the students that they need to be careful with time management however and not get carried away using a dictionary.

The rubric has been chosen to allow the students’ reading ability to be checked in a practical way of seeing how well they understand the main ideas of the written text. It can be argued that in a multiple choice question, the correct answer could possibly be obtained from guesswork, or through a process of elimination of unlikely answers. Whereas in this test there are no chances for such to occur, thus there is more chance of the students answer being purely based on their ability to understand the text provided to them.

The amount of points awarded for the writing section have been evenly split between general writing skills like structure, organization and clarity of writing with the other half of the points based on language skills such as the correct usage of words and grammar rules. Thus it can provide room to score students on both macro and micro writing abilities, providing a more overall balanced assessment of the student’s writing ability, with equal weighting being applied to both areas of writing (See Appendix 2).

References

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lightbrown, P.M (2000). Applied Linguistics, 21 (4).

Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and learning in the classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Flowerdew, J. and Miller, L (2005). Second Language listening: theory and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bachman, L.F (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McNamara, T.F (1996) Measuring second language performance. London: Longman.

Tsui, A.B.M (2003) Understanding expertise in teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Appendix 1

Traveling abroad is highly over-rated.

In today’s day and age many people spend much of their disposable income and free time traveling the world. Especially now in China during lengthy holidays such as the Spring Festival, overseas travels seems to be increasingly popular. However traveling abroad to taste foreign culture is hardly worth the risk, or indeed the expense. There are many better uses that such money could be put towards, also traveling abroad is not without it risks. In the form of strange diseases, crime and a large variety of cheats and con artists waiting to swindle away our hard earned money.

With the cost of living, and real estate increasing yearly we need to save away for a rainy day, as much of our own hard earned cash as we can. With the new economic environment that we live in, there are very few iron rice bowls these days, and periods of unemployment can be quite expensive. Thus these days we shouldn’t be so frivolous with our extra money, and display some of the caution that our parents and the older generations have when it comes to spending money.

Africa is an exciting continent and filled with plenty of wonderful places to visit, but it was also the home of AIDS, and who knows how many other diseases could be waiting for tourists. Also as you travel you often tire, and we all know that fatigue reduces the ability of the body to fight off illnesses. Lastly visiting places like New York and South America may seem like fun, but the crime rate in such places, compared at least to China, is substantially high, and thus by traveling abroad we are exposing ourselves to dangers of robbery, especially if we stand out like a tourist, a good choice for robbing, due to the likelihood of carrying large amounts of cash. So it’s best not to take such risks, and explore the outside world from the safety of our living room TV. 

When you visit the Great Wall, or the Bund, you will see the small army of trinket sellers, and the large hoards of taxi drivers, all waiting to make a quick buck. While quite a few of these fellows are indeed honest and upright citizens, there are also many who would be happy to cheat or swindle a good amount of cash out of anyone ignorant enough to fall for their scams. Tourists, whether from abroad, or out of town, may not realize what is a good price for a souvenir, or a ride back to their hotel, and thus makes a good target for being cheated. Traveling may sound like fun but the enjoyment of your trip will surely be dampened by the discovery that you’ve been cheated.

Considering the risks and possible frustrations of traveling, it seems that there must be a better way to enjoy one’s self. Healthy hobbies, such as jogging, swimming or cycling are good examples of inexpensive past times that are good for you and relatively safe. Spending time with friends and family is also an enjoyable experience that will strengthen the bonds between people important in your life. All these are better more wholesome experiences that you can enjoy everyday and don’t need large sums of money or exhausting and expensive plane trips to far off parts of the world.

Read the article above and the write a response disagreeing with the author’s opinion. Not only should you disagree with the author’s main idea, but you should write a response disagreeing with each main reason or example used by the writer to support his point of view. (250-350 words)

Appendix 2

Marking Scheme

Reading assessment:

Did the students find all the main ideas within the text? Each idea is worth 2 points based on how well the idea was grasped.

0 for the idea was not found or completely miss understood.

1 for an idea that was correctly recognized but perhaps not completely understood

2 for an idea that is correctly recognized and fully understood

Overall opinion-traveling is bad and there are better activities to undertake- /2

Traveling is too expensive we should save our money instead. /2

Traveling is dangerous because of illness and crime /2

Traveling can lead us to being cheated. /2

There are cheaper and healthier activities you can undertake instead of traveling /2.

Total 10

Writing Assessment

Grammar and sentence structure /10

Vocabulary correctly used. /10

Clarity of ideas organization of writing /10

Genre correctness-macro-structure of essay confirms with argumentative essays, language is appropriate. /10

Total 40

Grand Total 50

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