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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills

in the Primary ESL classroom

TOPIC 4

ASSESSING LISTENING AND SPEAKING SKILLS

4.1 SYNOPSIS
Topic 4 introduces you to the Assessment of Listening and Speaking Skills. It
provides an overview of the important principles that a teacher has to bear in mind
when assesing listening and speaking skills. You will also be introduced to the
differences between teaching and testing, and develop the ability to distinguish the
differences between accuracy and fluency based tests of listening and speaking. It
also aims to help you develop a better and clearer understanding of the assessment
strategies related to the testing of listening and speaking skills that we most often pay
little heed to. The conventions of spoken language and the factors that affect listening
and speaking skills are also included in this section. You will also be introduced to the
importance of giving effective feedback and support to improve overall performance
of the students.

4.2 LEARNING OUTCOMES


By the end of Topic 4, you will be able to:

Identify and deliberate on issues related to assessing listening and speaking

Differentiate between teaching and testing

Distinguish the difference between accuracy and fluency based tests of


listening and speaking

Develop a clearer and better understanding of assessment strategies related


to the testing of listening and speaking skill most notably the communicative
testing listening and speaking

Develop a better understanding on giving effective and construtive feedback


and support to improve performance

lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

4.3 ISSUES IN ASSESSING LISTENING AND SPEAKING


Comment on the following statement:

The best teacher is the teacher who devises classroom methods and techniques
that derive from a comprehensive knowledge of the total process of language
learning, of what is happening within the learner and within the teacher and in the
interaction between the two. All of this knowledge, however, remains somewhat
abstract in the mind of the teacher unless it can be empirically tested in the real
world.
H.D. Brown (1987:218)

a. Answer True or False:

Tests involve students and teachers only.

Tests are carried out on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

A test is a form of measurement.

All tests are formal.

Questions asked by the teacher about what has been learnt in a lesson can
be considered a test.

Revision:
Four basic criteria to devise, use or adapt tests of listening and speaking

Validity

Reliability

Practicality

Washback Effect/ Instructional Impact

Validity

We must make sure that we are testing what we are teaching and what the
students want to be learning. Only then is the test fair and appropriate

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

A test that measures what it is intended to measure is called a valid test

We need to determine in advance what we want to measure (test)

We must then design items, tasks, or prompts for the test that measure what
we want to measure

For example: A student who has not been taught prepositions is tested on
prepositions --> the test can be viewed as lacking in validity because it tests
what the student has not learnt

Reliability

We have to be sure that a test or an assessment procedure is reliable.

Reliability is concerned with consistency

For example: if you tape record your students speaking in English and ask
another teacher to evaluate the students speech using a ten-point scale, your
evaluation and the other teachers evaluation should not differ greatly

Rater reliability Intra (the rater himself) and Inter-rater (between raters)

Can you think of some factors that affect intra-rater and inter-rater reliability?
What can you do to minimise the variability (differences) that exist?

Practicality

Practicality refers to the fact that a test or other assessment procedure can
only be useful if it does not make unreasonable demands on resources,
including time, money and personnel

For example: Interviewing each student for thirty minutes (very thorough way
to assess but what if you have 100 students?)

Washback Effect/ Instructional Impact

The effect a test has on teaching and learning

Does the test encourage people to prepare for speaking tasks, or does it
cause them to study grammar rules or obscure vocabulary items?

Washback can be positive or negative

Positive promotes the development of the skills or knowledge to be learned

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Negative hinders the development of the skills or knowledge to be learnt

For example: Listening and speaking skills are neglected in schools mainly
because the two skills are not tested at the national level and more
importantly, the grades or marks for the testing of listening and speaking skills
are not included in the overall results. Teachers therefore view the teaching of
listening and speaking as an unnecessary thing in schools. Hence, the over
emphasis on the reading and writing skills and a neglect of the listening and
speaking skills in schools (Negative washback effect).

Can you think of some other instances of positive and negative washback effects
of tests on the teaching and learning process in schools?
b. What is a test?

A yardstick a teacher uses to measure the performance of a student


(Nesamalar et. al., 2005)

A method of measuring a persons ability or knowledge in a given area


(H.D. Brown, 1987)

We test every day in virtually every cognitive effort we make when we read
a book, listen to the news, or prepare a meal, we are testing hypotheses and
making judgments

We will now deconstruct the definition of a test by H.D. Brown, 1987 to develop a
better understanding of what a test really is:

A method of measuring a persons ability or knowledge in a given area

A Test is a method

There is a set of techniques, procedures, test items

The method generally requires some performance or activity on the part of


either the testee or the tester, or both

The method may be intuitive and informal or explicit and structured

A Test is a method of measuring

A test has the purpose of measuring

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Formal and informal tests nature of the quantification of data

Informal tests intuitive and difficult to quantify; judgment rendered in global


terms (good, poor, fair etc.)

Formal tests quantification is important: using carefully planned techniques


of assessment; for comparison within individual or across individuals

A Testmeasuring a persons ability or knowledge

Need to understand who the testees are?


Their previous experience
Their entry behaviour

Is the test appropriate for the testee?

How are scores to be interpreted for individuals?

A Test measuring a persons ability or knowledge

Competence

A test samples performance but infers certain competence

A driving test for a drivers licence a sample of performance to infer general


competence to drive a car

A language test samples language behaviour to infer general ability in a


language

A Testability or knowledge in a given area

Proficiency test actual performance involves only a sampling of skills, that


area is overall proficiency in a language

A pronunciation test might test only a particular sound/ a phonemic minimal


pair

4.4 TEACHING VERSUS TESTING

Tests serve many of the needs of teaching

lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

To monitor progress as we teach

Topic tests used to assess how well a student has mastered what has been
taught

To find out specifically what areas pose difficulties for students diagnostic
tests

Testing and teaching are very closely interrelated but do not have the same
focus

Tests assess the products of learning (students previous learning)

Teaching materials, methodology and the classroom enable students to


succeed in the process of learning (prepares students for current and future
learning)

Primary function of teacher to ensure learning takes place; tests are one of
the tools to help him do this job well;

A test is only a sample of what the student is supposed to know a test is


supposed to pick out the most important aspects of the skill(s) that have been
taught

A test is also often used as a guide as to what would be the most important
things to teach a test influences what is taught (backwash effect)

A test often leaves out certain important skills because of practical constraints

UPSR & PMR no Listening and Speaking component; therefore teachers


do not pay sufficient attention to these important skills

What is taught should be decided by reference to how important the skills are
to a childs present or future life

Teachers should not just teach students only those things that will help them
pass exams

Some teachers use the exam formats for teaching purposes this is
WRONG!!

A test usually seeks the most economical way of finding out what the student
already knows; leaves out many things that are important

Using MCQs for speaking tests (not suitable)

Teaching should keep in mind the real reasons for learning and the real
circumstances in which the language or skill would be used

lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Discrete Point vs Integrative Testing

Discrete point tests based on the assumption that language can be broken
down into component parts and tested adequately (listening, speaking,
reading, writing, phonology/ graphology, morphology, lexicon, syntax)

Discrete point approach met with criticism in the integrative sociolinguistic


era where the emphasis is on communication, authenticity, and context.

John Oller (1976, 1979) argued that language competence is a unified set of
interacting abilities which cannot be separated apart and tested adequately

Communicative competence is so global and requires integration that it


cannot be captured in additive tests of grammar and reading and vocabulary
and other discrete points of language

If discrete items take language skill apart, integrative tests put it back
together. Whereas discrete items attempt to test knowledge of language one
bit at a time, integrative tests attempt to assess a learners capacity to use
many bits all at the same time (Oller, 1979:37)

Example of a Discrete Point Test

A typical proficiency test with MCQs divided into grammar, vocabulary,


reading etc.

Examples of Integrative Tests

Cloze tests Oller (1976, 1979) good measure of overall proficiency


requires a number of abilities that lie at the very heart of language
competence
Knowledge of vocabulary, grammatical structure, discourse structure,
reading skills and strategies and an internalized expectancy grammar

Dictation a potentially appropriate integrative test


Taps into certain grammatical and discourse competencies
Requires careful listening, reproduction in writing of what is heard,
efficient short-term memory, and some expectancy rules

lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Discrete Feature Listening Tests

Auditory Discrimination
distinguishing specific sounds from a background of different sounds

Minimal pairs sound discrimination test


Pen or Pan; Pill or Peel; Van or Ban

Identifying words that rhyme

Identifying intonation patterns

Identifying stressed and unstressed syllables

Discrete Feature Speaking Tests

Minimal pair tests


/pen/ & /pin/; /bell/ & /bill/

Intonation tests
He is here.
He is here!
He is here?
Here he is!

Reading aloud
A test of pronunciation, stress and intonation

Tests of language functions and their linguistic realizations


Writing down what is missing in a conversation

Task-based Listening Tests

Listening tasks that students normally engage in authentic tasks

Listen to a text/ description and answer questions/ identify places on a route


map

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Task-based Speaking Tests

Conversational exchanges different degrees of control (controlled, partly


controlled, one-sided dialogue, incomplete dialogue with prompts)

Using pictures single picture/ object, pictures for comparison, a series of


pictures to make up a story

Oral interviews common oral interaction test in which one or two testers
interview a candidate regarding a set of pre-determined topics

Assessing Listening and Speaking Skills

Do we use discrete point tests or integrative tests to assess L&S skills?

Or do we use a Communicative Test?

Communicative Test

To test the communicative production of language

A communicative test has to meet some stringent criteria. It has to test for:
Grammatical competence
Discourse competence
Sociolinguistic competence
Strategic competence
Illocutionary competence
(Wesche 1983, Swain 1984)

Has to be pragmatic

Learners have to use language naturally for genuine communication

Use authentic language within a context

Should be direct

Should test learners in a variety of language functions

DIFFICULT TO MEET ALL THESE CRITERIA!!!

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Communicative Tests - Merrill Swain (1984)


Four primary criteria

1. Start from somewhere tests should build on existing knowledge &


principles

2. Concentrate on Content have interesting motivating and substantive


content; integrated and interactive

3. Bias for best need to do everything possible to elicit the very best from
students

4. Work for washback we should not teach toward a test but we can use
tests as teaching tools; feedback devices

4.5 ACCURACY VERSUS FLUENCY

Activities which focus on accuracy try to get students to say something


correctly (correct grammar, correct word form).

Activities which focus on fluency try to get students to communicate


successfully, even if they make some mistakes.

When using communicative tests, the teacher constantly faces the dilemma of
deciding which is the focus of the assessment: accuracy or fluency or both

Both are equally important for language learning and language use.

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Accuracy certainly helps students communicate effectively and efficiently, and


more importantly, they may need a high level of accuracy to pass exams.

Fluency activities are important because they allow students to express their
ideas and communicate in a meaningful and enjoyable context.

REFLECTION
As a teacher, which would you consider more important when teaching: accuracy
or fluency?
As a teacher, which would you consider more important when testing: accuracy
or fluency?
Can you think of an activity that focuses on accuracy which can be used to test
L&S skills
o What will the focus of the activity be?
o Grammatical accuracy?
Can you think of an activity that focuses on fluency which can be used to test
L&S skills?
o What will the focus of the activity be?
o Ability to communicate? What about errors made?
TUTORIAL TASK
What is validity and how does it differ from reliability?
Why is practicality an important issue in learners listening and speaking skills?
What are positive and negative washback? Provide a few examples of positive
and negative washback effects of testing on teaching.
Think about an important listening and speaking test that you have taken. How
did you prepare for that test? What did your teacher do to help you prepare for
the test? Did that test have a positive or negative impact on you? Describe the
test that you took.
If you have not taken such a test before, think of possible reasons why it was not
carried out.

lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

4.6 ASSESSMENT STRATEGIES FOR LISTENING AND SPEAKING SKILLS


Types of activities that can be used for testing L&S communicatively

Reaching a consensus (Groups of 3/4)


Deciding on ten out of twenty items that they would take on a 2-week
trip to New York; need to provide justifications

Moral Dilemmas (Groups of 3/4)


Invigilating an important exam
See a student cheating with notes
4 possible action: ignore, warn, ask student to leave, report to
authorities

Discussion
Using controversial topics (smokers should be banned, forced to quit
habit, jailed, allowed to smoke in designated areas)
Debates (two sides argument: points for or against); Balloon debate
who to throw out of a balloon which is losing air!

Relaying instructions
Giving each other instructions
Making models
Describe and draw

Communication Games
Find the differences between two pictures
Describe and arrange
Story reconstruction

Problem Solving
Desert Dilemma

Simulation (reality of function, a simulated environment, structure) and role


play (pretending to be someone they are not)
Creating the pretence of real-life situations in the classroom;
simulating the real world

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

To provide practice in real world use of English


Devising Marking Bands - Descriptors

When assessing L&S skills communicatively, what are the sub-skills or areas
you will be looking at?
Topics to be covered?
Activity type? Individual? Pair? Group?
Duration?
Holistic or analytical marking?
Accuracy? Grammatical?
Fluency?
Pronunciation?
Appropriacy?
Message conveyed?
Others?

Depending on what your assessment objectives are, you may choose to


incorporate a number of sub-skills or areas listed above in your marking band.
The marking band is formulated to address issues related to reliability interrater variability (the inconsistencies between markers) so that a more
objective score can be obtained by all raters.

4.7 THE SKILLS OF PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK

What is feedback?

Why feedback?

How to provide constructive feedback?

Exercise?

Innovations in methods of feedback?

Take home message?

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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

What is a feedback?

Why Feedback?

Provision of important information to the pupil.

A stimulus for further learning and training.

Show pupil the level of their performance.

Address the weaknesses and deficiencies of the pupil.

Decide the progress of the pupil.

An effective method to evaluate the whole program.

Characteristics of Good Feedback


lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Good Feedback

CONSTRUCTIVE

APPROPRIATE

Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback can help the trainee to improve in their knowledge,


skills and attitudes

It can help them to rate their learning in a realistic way

It can help them to be more self-regulated about their learning

It should be focused on behaviour rather than the person, and on


observations rather than inferences or judgments

Appropriate Feedback

Feedback should be completed as soon as possible after the event, before

they forget details of the events


Confidentiality and privacy should always be respected
Check if the feedback has been understood
More than one approach is preferred (e.g. visual and verbal in the same time)

4.9 HOW TO PROVIDE AN APPROPRIATE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK

A FEEDBACK SANDWICH
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TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

A feedback which starts with a positive statement,


followed by a negative statement and finished
with a positive statement
POSITIVE -----> NEGATIVE -----> POSITIVE

Recommended feedback techniques in giving feedback

Create a respectful, friendly, open-minded unthreatening climate

Elicit thoughts and feelings before giving feedback

Be non-judgmental

Focus on behaviour and specific observed facts

Give right amount of feedback

Suggest ideas for improvement

Base feedback on well-defined, negotiated goals

A constructive & appropriate feedback is an essential tool to improve


performance

Some Questions To Think About

Look at an existing language test (listening and speaking), evaluate it in terms


of the various criteria for a communicative test:
Is the test communicative? Why do you say so?
Does it focus on both the listening and speaking skills?
What is the focus of the test --> accuracy or fluency or both?

lgp/wsl/kj 2012

TSL 3105 Teaching of Listening and Speaking Skills


in the Primary ESL classroom

Is the activity suggested appropriate?


Does it truly measure the pupils ability to communicate?

Is there any way to resolve the dilemma of giving large-scale communicative


tests and still maintaining a sense of practicality (the feasibility of scoring
thousands of tests relatively quickly and cheaply)?

Computers are revolutionizing the testing industry. Can computerized tests


meet communicative test criteria? In what way can the addition of an
interactive video component to a computerized test help to meet those
communicative criteria?

References:
Brown, G., & Yule, G. (1983). Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Brown, H.D. (1994). Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language
Pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
Brown, H.D. (2004). Language assessment Principles and Classroom Practices.
Longman.
Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (2nd ed.)
(pp. 81-106).
Boston: Heinle and Heinle.
Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Nunan, D., & Miller, L. (Eds.). (1995). New Ways in Teaching Listening. Alexandria,
VA:
Penny Ur. (1996) Teaching Listening Comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Weir, C.J. (1990). Communicative Language Testing. Prentice Hall.

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