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Language learning and assessment

Language learning and assessment

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Published by Benjamin Stewart
This essay looks at how a variety of testing items can align to the desired results put forth in a written curriculum. The educational context of an English as a foreign language classroom fosters the creation of understandings, knowledge, and skill sets as an inclusive set of curricular aims. Norm and criteria-referenced tests are discussed in terms of how each can benefit from assessing English language learners’ communicative competency as well as their academic English skills. It was determined that both types of tests are equally important in assessing English language learners and that the best approach to implementing such tests is through a community of practice that promotes shared and reflective teaching practices in a risk-free educational environment.
This essay looks at how a variety of testing items can align to the desired results put forth in a written curriculum. The educational context of an English as a foreign language classroom fosters the creation of understandings, knowledge, and skill sets as an inclusive set of curricular aims. Norm and criteria-referenced tests are discussed in terms of how each can benefit from assessing English language learners’ communicative competency as well as their academic English skills. It was determined that both types of tests are equally important in assessing English language learners and that the best approach to implementing such tests is through a community of practice that promotes shared and reflective teaching practices in a risk-free educational environment.

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Published by: Benjamin Stewart on Jul 12, 2009
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Language learning and assessment 1AbstractThis essay looks at how a variety of testing items can align to the desired results put forth in awritten curriculum. The educational context of an English as a foreign language classroomfosters the creation of understandings, knowledge, and skill sets as an inclusive set of curricularaims. Norm and criteria-referenced tests are discussed in terms of how each can benefit fromassessing English language learners
’ communicative competency as well as their academic
English skills. It was determined that both types of tests are equally important in assessingEnglish language learners and that the best approach to implementing such tests is through acommunity of practice that promotes shared and reflective teaching practices in a risk-freeeducational environment.
 
Language learning and assessment 2Language learning and assessment: setting behavioral objectives through the development of understandingsAssessment in language learning often focuses on behavioral objectives that are based onskills (i.e., grammar usage, phonetic distinction, lexical ability, etc.). How English languagelearners communicate is often measured in terms of fluency, accuracy, and perhaps socioculturalelements to language as well. Limiting assessment on skill-based behavior runs the risk of overshadowing the potential for language learners to achieve higher levels of achievement as
Bloom states in his taxonomy as follows: “analysis”, “synthesis”, and “evaluation” (as cited inKubiszyn and Borich, 2007, p. 95). Wiggins and Mctighe’s
put forth a slightly different notionof establishing learning outcomes through their
 pursuit of “six facets of understandings: a)
explain, b) interpret, c) apply, d) perspective, e) empathy, and f) self-
knowledge”
(Wiggins andMcTighe, 2005, pp. 85-102). The six facets of understanding
contrast Bloom’s taxonomy in that
the former is not hierarchical and are not limited to only the cognitive domain. Indeed, theaffective and psychomotor domain are addressed as well through an emergent,phenomenological perspective (i.e., teachers facilitate learners through various performanceverbs that are not specific to only one or two facets of understanding as opposed to beingdetermined prior to instruction). In determining the evidence required to infer what Englishlanguage learners sh
ould understanding, know, and be able to do, a combination of “selected andconstructed response” (Popham, 2008, p. 115) test items are needed.
Before planning assessment test items, the desired results, or classroom objectives, mustbe determined. The desired results can be expressed in terms of understandings, knowledge, andskill sets. In other words, assessing the English language learner (ELL) builds not only on acertain skill set (i.e., pronunciation and grammar usage), but also some cultural knowledge and
 
Language learning and assessment 3understanding of sociocultural practice. Taking a typical topic from a level I English course asan example, an understanding might be as follows:
The English language learner willunderstand that the manner and way in which people greet and introduce each other dependsgreatly on the social context 
. In order to achieve this understanding, ELLs will need to knowunder which social contexts speakers use formal and informal register, and they will need to beable to use the present tense form of a variety of verbs and appropriate vocabulary in order tosuccessfully introduce themselves and others as well as greet both friends and strangers. Anexample of an instructional objective that is based on what an ELL should know and be able todo is as follows:
 After reflecting on a give social context, the ELL will be able to effectively greet and introduce someone using the appropriate use of language in a way that is understood by anative or near native-like speaker 
. When assessing these desired results (i.e., understandings,knowledge, and skill set), several types of assessment measures are necessary to assure that theevidence the ELL provides is valid, reliable, and non-bias.Assessing desired results include both norm and criterion-referenced tests. Norm-referenced tests (NRTs) include in-part multiple-choice, true-false, and matching test items.Continuing with our example, a multiple-choice question that attempts to assess our instructionalobjective might be the following:
When greeting a good friend at a party
 – 
one you typically seeon a daily basis at school
 – 
all of the following are acceptable introductions except:
a)
 Hey,man. What´s up?
b)
What’s going on?
c)
 How´s it going?
d)
 Excuse me, how are you tonight?
Atrue-and-false question measuring the same desired result:
When greeting someone, theutterance,
What´s up, man?
is not used to address a female. (T/F)
. An example of a matchingexercise follows:Match the possible opening greetings (1-5) with the most appropriate follow-up response (A-E).

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