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Assessment activities that help students show what they know | ELTOC 2020

Assessment Activities Most teachers include informal, ongoing assessment as an integral part of their lessons. Noticing what students know and don’t yet know helps us adapt our lessons and teaching strategies. Sometimes teachers hesitate to tell students when they are being assessed because they don’t want students to become anxious. However, if we present these assessment activities as a chance for students to see (and show us) how much they can do in English, they can be something that students look forward to.

Colin Finnerty writes about the importance of providing students with the ‘right level of challenge’ in formal assessment. This is equally important in informal assessment activities, especially in young learner classrooms where teachers are juggling students’ cognitive and physical development, language levels and global skills objectives. Matching assessment activities to student levels can make the difference between a student feeling like a success (and working enthusiastically toward even more success) and feeling like a failure (and giving up on English in frustration).

The simplest way to make sure that your assessments are at an appropriate challenge level is to repurpose activities students are already familiar with. Students can focus on the language or skill you are assessing rather than figuring out what it is that they are supposed to do.

In my ELTOC webinar, we’ll look at different types of activities to assess both language and global skills, but in this blog post, let’s look at how these activities might work for assessing writing. First language writing development commonly categorizes children as emergent, transitional, or fluent writers (Culham, 2005). In foreign language writing development, these levels are determined more by literacy level than by age, because children begin studying English at different ages, some are already literate in their first language, and some are coming from a first language that has a writing system very different English. While writing skills may develop a bit differently in a second or foreign language, the categories are still useful for describing stages of growth.

Assessment activities for pre-literate learners

At this stage, students don’t really write. They are typically developing phonemic awareness of English sounds, and perhaps developing awareness of how the English writing system differs from their own. While you can’t assess a skill they haven’t yet developed, you can give them a picture or photograph and ask them to tell you what they would write if they could. If you want something to add to a portfolio to document growth, you can also record them talking about their pictures.

My name is Max English Assessment

Watch the video on YouTube. Created using Chatterpix.

What is Ririko showing us that she can do? She uses the English she knows in a creative way to talk about the dog, including using a relatively low-frequency word from a phonics lesson (bone). It’s easy to identify areas I might want to focus on in class, I also want Ririko to see what she is able to do so that she can learn to notice her own growth.

Assessment activities for emergent writers

Emergent writers can write with a model that provides a lot of structure, for example personalizing sentences from lessons, like I can _____ in the following example. In writing, they still convey most of their meaning through drawings. To assess their progress, you can ask them to draw a picture and then write using the model to bring the writing challenge to an appropriate level.

Emergent Writers Assessment

Kanna clearly understands that I can ___ is prompting her to talk about abilities. She was able to correctly spell two relatively challenging words (swim and jump) because those were important to her. They helped her communicate something meaningful about her own abilities.

Assessment activities for transitional writers

Students at this level can write somewhat independently when using familiar patterns and words, but often use invented spelling. They may still need illustrations to support what they’re trying to communicate in writing. An appropriate assessment activity is to ask them to draw a simple picture and write what they can about it.

Transitional Writers Assessment

Interestingly, Natsuru can spell ‘like’ correctly on a spelling test and uses plurals with the verb in practice activities but loses that accuracy when she’s writing to communicate. But I am impressed that she created a conversation for her drawing, especially since she hasn’t been explicitly taught any of the conventions that go with writing dialogue.

Assessment activities for fluent writers

Fluent writers can do a lot. They can organize their thoughts in a logical order and their writing usually has a beginning, middle, and end. They are willing to take risks with structures and words they aren’t confident with. Give them a specific topic, and a time limit, and ask them to write as much as they can during that time. Satoshi’s class was asked to write about something that happened during their summer vacation.

Fluent Writers Assessment

Errors like Satoshi’s with prepositions and verbs show his developing understanding of the English language system. These types of errors are sometimes called ‘developmental’ errors “because they are similar to those made by children acquiring English as their first language” (Lightbown and Spada, 2013). I can also see that Satoshi is ready to learn how to use transitions like on the fifth day in his writing. He hasn’t explicitly learned how to use ordinals for telling a story in chronological order so I’m happy to see him include them. I’m thrilled that he was willing to write about something that was meaningful to him, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it perfectly.

If we create a learning environment where assessment activities are opportunities for students to see their own growth, we can also help them learn how to become reflective learners.


Barbara spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto is co-author of the bestselling Let’s Go series, and director of the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi.pro). She is an English Language Specialist with the U.S. State Department and has conducted teacher training workshops in Asia, Europe, the Americas, and online.


References

Culham, R. (2005). The 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades. New York: Scholastic.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned. Fourth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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Writing ELT tests for teenagers | ELTOC 2020

ELT AssessmentI don’t want to sound too stuffy as I firmly believe that 42 is the new 21, however, teenagers today live very different lives to those who came before. Starting this blog with a quick comparison of my teenage life and my niece’s teenage life seems a good way to start. I was 12 in 1988, my life revolved around school, family, youth club, and the 4 channels on UK television. I loved music and spent all my pocket money on tapes, spending my evenings memorising the lyrics from the tape inserts. Now, Millie, my niece is 12 in 2019 and her teenage years are radically different to mine. Still, her life revolves around family and schools but the impact of technology on her life is of fundamental importance and so creates the biggest difference between our teenage lives.

But what does all of this have to do with assessment? Well, as Director of Assessment at OUP responsible for English language tests, some of which are aimed at teenagers, it’s very much my concern that what we design is appropriate for the end-user. My ELTOC talk will be about designing assessments for teenagers. Let’s start by considering why…

Why do we design a test specifically for teenagers?

Our aim is to make the test an accurate reflection of the individual’s performance as possible, and that means removing any barriers that increase cognitive load. Tests can be stressful enough and so I see it as a fundamental part of my job to remove any extraneous stress. In terms of a test for teenagers, this means providing them with test items that have a familiar context. Imagine an 11-year-old doing an English language assessment and facing this writing task. It’s not a real task but it is indicative of lots of exam writing tasks.

The 11 year might have the linguistic competence to describe advantages and disadvantages, make comparisons and even offer their own opinion. However, the teenager is likely to struggle with the concepts in the task. The concepts of work and flexible working will not be familiar enough to enable them to answer this task to the best of their ability.

This is why we develop tests specifically aimed at teenagers. Tests that allow them to demonstrate linguistic competence that is set within domains and contexts that the teenager is familiar with. An alternative question that elicits the same level of language is given below. It might not be the perfect question for everybody but it’s a question that should be more accessible to most teenagers and that allows them to demonstrate linguistic competence within a familiar context.

We have a responsibility to get this right and to provide the best test experience for everybody to enable them to demonstrate their true abilities in the test scenario. For us, behind the scenes, there are lots of guidelines we provide our writers with to try to ensure that the test is appropriate for the target audience, in this case, teenagers. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Writing a test for teenagers

Let’s think about the vocabulary used by a teenager and vocabulary used by the adults writing our test content, the potential for anachronisms is huge. Let’s look at this issue through the evolution of phone technology.

As well as the item evolving, so has the language: phone / (mobile) phone / (smart) phone. The words in parentheses gradually become redundant as the evolved item becomes the norm so it’s only useful to say ‘mobile phone’ if you are differentiating between another type of phone. For those of us who have lived through this evolution, we may use all of the terms interchangeably and writers might choose to write tasks about the ‘smartphone’. However, teenagers have only ever known the ‘smart, mobile phone’- to them, it’s just a phone! It’s not a big deal unless you’re a teenager in an exam suddenly faced with a phrase that might cause confusion. Other examples of such anachronisms include:

  • Video game, or is it just a game?
  • Do we say desktop, laptop, or just computer?
  • Would you talk about a digital camera or a camera, or would you just use your phone?
  • Are good things: cool, wicked, rad, awesome, chill, lit or maybe you just stan?

Writing tests for teenagers that incorporate the kind of language they are used to needs to be considered but this should be balanced with maintaining and measuring a ‘standard English’ that is recognised by the majority of people doing the test in different countries around the world as we produce global tests. Another important consideration is creating tasks of sufficient complexity that we can be sure of the level we are measuring.

As a test provider, we have people whose job it is to solve some of these challenges. For teachers, who write assessments for their students, some of the same challenges exist but with less resource available to solve them. This is why you should join me for my ELTOC session!


Sarah spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Sarah Rogerson is Director of Assessment at Oxford University Press. She has worked in English language teaching and assessment for 20 years and is passionate about education for all and digital innovation in ELT. As a relative newcomer to OUP, Sarah is really excited about the Oxford Test of English and how well it caters to the 21st-century student.