Assessing the young Learners' Progress: Tests

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 32 Pages

Didactics - English - Pedagogy, Literature Studies



1. Introduction

2. Issues in assessing children’s language learning

3. Classroom reality

4. Principles of assessing children’s language learning
4.1 Assessment should be seen from a learning centred perspective
4.2 Assessment should support teaching and learning
4.3 Assessment should be based on learning

5. Key concepts in assessment
5.1 Formative and summative assessment
5.2 Criterion-referenced and norm- referenced assessment
5.3 Fairness

6. Planning the assessment of children’s language learning
6.1 Assessment in relation to goals
6.2 Assessment during classroom activities

7. Self-assessment and learner autonomy

8. Guidelines for the marking of English in Primary schools:
8.1 Principles to assess the learners’ level of ability
8.2 Methods of assessment

9. Psycholinguistic tests

10. Development of communication skills

11. Making the Grade with Ginger
11.1 Facts about Ginger
11.2 Some critical aspects about the book

12. The Cambridge Young Learners Test
12.1 What is UCLES ?
12.2 What is the Cambridge Young Learners English Test?
12.3 The three levels
12.4 The aims of the test
12.5 Syllabuses
12.6 Examination report

13. Conclusion

14. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In 1999, Rea-Dickens and Rixon conducted a survey about the relationship between assessment and learning. 120 European teachers and teacher trainers were asked if the main purpose of their assessment was to help their teaching, and 97% answered in the affirmative.

Rea-Dickens and Rixon examined afterwards what the teachers really assessed and how they did so. They found a strong “mismatch between curricular aims, pedagogy and test content” (Cameron 2001: 217). The assessment focused mainly on the children’s achievements but neglected other curricular aims such as language and social awareness.

The assessment of young learners should serve teaching by providing feedback on the children’s learning progress, so that the content and the difficulty of subsequent teaching units can be effectively adjusted to the learners’ needs.

This term paper offers the reader an overview about the theoretical ideas and principles which should be kept in mind when implementing an assessment.

Furthermore, the guidelines of Lower Saxony are introduced. They illustrate the expectations of the German school system towards assessment in class. Afterwards the term paper gives an overview about psycholinguistic tests such as “Blitztest” and “F-Test”. Additionally, the paper discusses origin and purpose of the Cambridge Young Learners Test. Finally, material which should support the teacher in the assessment of the pupils is presented, considering the example of “Ginger”.

2. Issues in assessing children’s language learning

In order to “measure” young learners’ progress properly, it is important to take into account that there are substantial differences between the assessment of young learners and other foreign language learners.

One critical factor in this regard is age. Besides, it is important to appreciate the learners’ cognitive development.

The concrete operational stage – the third of Piaget’s four-stage model of cognitive development - starts at the age of seven and ends around twelve years of age. During this period of their lives, the children become able to reverse their thinking, to arrange things in a logical order, to classify things (animals, e.g.) based on perceptible attributes. They can determine the causes of events and understand the conversion of numbers, substances and weight.

A third important factor is the content of language learning. The current curricula focus on oral skills, vocabulary and language use on discourse level (cf. “Verbindliche Anforderungen” in Lehrplan NRW Englisch für die Grundschule).

The methods of teaching, for example interactive use of games, songs, rhymes and stories, are also important for the design of an assessment.

Different learning theories, like the critical period of language learning or Vygotsky’s notion of the "zone of proximal development" should be taken into consideration when designing an assessment.

3. Classroom reality

Normally, teaching and learning should dictate what kind of assessment has to take place. But in reality, things often move in the opposite direction: The assessment dominates the whole learning and teaching process.

The most frequently used method in Rea-Dickens and Rixon's study was the pencil and paper test, and this instrument was predominantly used to measure the acquisition of single vocabulary items and grammar through the completion of gaps in isolated sentences.

This kind of testing stands in stark contrast to the pupils’ experience in the classroom, where they learn language through songs and stories. Indeed, there is a substantial gap between the experience of interactive learning in a group and the isolated and non-interactive experience of completing a written test on one’s own.

There is also a contrast between the curricular goal of developing oral skills and their assessment. Only a few classroom tests focused on spontaneous speaking.

It appears, then, that only areas which are ‘easy’ to assess were examined in the classroom tests (e.g. by way of a vocabulary test) studied by Rea-Dickens and Rixon. One explanation for this finding certainly is that it is indeed quite difficult to assess oral skills and to mark them fairly.

4. Principles of assessing children’s language learning

4.1 Assessment should be seen from a learning centred perspective

Foreign language teaching should have children’s learning in the centre, trying to understand how the pupils experience classroom interaction and talk.

The Vygotskian idea of assessing young learners argues from this perspective: Children learn through interpersonal activity with adults - or with more knowledgeable others, and they thus form concepts they would not be able to produce if the were acting alone. The technical term for this is “zone of proximal development”(Vygotsky, L.S. Mind in Society. Harward University press. Cambridge, Mass. 1978.) This term refers to the cognitive level that a child is not yet able to operate at on its own, but which it is capable to perform at with adult guidance.

Through interaction, it is possible to assess what has already been internalised by the child.

Vygotsky developed the idea of “scaffolding assessment” (Vygotsky, L.S. Mind in Society. Harward University press. Cambridge, Mass. 1978.), i.e., the child’s language abilities should not be measured on the basis of what the child is able to do on its own. Instead, the performance of a child, created with the help of scaffolding, knowledgeable others, gives an idea of the next stage of learning and makes it clear what the child has already internalised.

4.2 Assessment should support teaching and learning

As has already been mentioned above, teachers need clear understanding of language learning. In her book Teaching languages to young children, Lynne Cameron compared language learning metaphorically to the growing of a plant. This idea of language learning implies the idea that language learning is an on-going organic process. The plant develops through the nutrients it absorbs from its environment; different types of growth occur at different stages of the development. Assessment thus asks how well the “plant” language is growing. At this point, it is important to mention that progress in language learning - and not achievements - should be assessed and later be graded! Larry Selinker coined the term “interlanguage” in recognition of the fact that second language learners create a linguistic system that draws from the learners mother tongue and the target language. The learners change their interlanguage through adding and deleting rules and restructuring the whole system, which results in an interlanguage continuum . This transition reflects acquisition. Learning a language is a progress and not a static movement from one stage to another and as such it should be assessed and graded. (cf. Ellis 1997)

Assessment should not prevent learning or stand in its way. Rather, assessment ought to have a positive effect on language learning: A good assessment result can motivate the learner, provide feedback and thus support further learning.

The outcomes of the assessments can help the teacher to plan the following lessons, and they might also be important for the evaluation and improvement of courses.

4.3 Assessment should be based on learning

Children should be assessed on the basis of what they have been thaught and how they have been instructed. The assessment activities should reflect the classroom activities. (Interactional rather than solo experience assessment)

5. Key concepts in assessment

5.1 Formative and summative assessment

Formative assessment can inform on-going teaching as and gives immediate feedback on specific forms of treatment. The teacher uses the pupil’s results to plan the next lesson or lessons and to increase the pupil’s performance in the future. The concept of formative assessment is related to diagnostic assessment with the latter trying to establish what a child can do or cannot yet do; so that further learning opportunities can be provided.

Summative assessment is a kind of assessment which takes place at the end of a unit or a year. The focus of this type of assessment thus lies on the mid- or long-term achievements of the learners rather than on the processes on which the achievenments are based. (Achivement assessment)

5.2 Criterion-referenced and norm- referenced assessment

Norm- referenced assessment is based on a comparison between different pupils or – to be more precise - an examination of how the performance of a pupil can be interpreted in relation to the achievements of other pupils.

The grade or mark a pupil will be awared in norm-referenced testing thus depends stongly on the results of other test-takers. This kind of assessment might motivate some pupils to do better than their peers, but to know how good you are in comparison to others does not provide the answer to the question how you yourself might become better.

In criterion-referenced assessment, the child’s performance is matched with an expected response. Normally, a scale is used, on which the learner is placed. The main question is thus if the learner achieves a particular goal or not irrespective of how other learners fared. This kind of assessment gives a clear picture about the different learning levels the child moves through and shows success or lack of knowledge.

5.3 Fairness

Fairness or ‘equity’ must be seriously considered in the design and use of assessment.

Assessment in children’s language learning is part of their first language experience, thus it can influence the children’s attitude towards the language.

They might loose motivation and interest if assessment is not adjusted to what they have been taught or is not fairly designed.

There are six equity principles, which should be considered when implementing an assessment:

1. Plenty of opportunities should be offered, in which the children have the chance to show their language performance.
2. Multiple methods of assessment should be use during the lessons.
3. The content of the assessment, types of questions and tasks should be familiar to the pupils.
4. If the assessment requires oral production, the willingness to talk should be obvious before the assessment starts (silent period).
5. The situation of discourse with an adult should be a confident situation.
6. Behaviour, gender and appearance should not influence the assessment of the children. (Cameron, Lynne. (2001). Teaching Languages to young Learners. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.)

6. Planning the assessment of children’s language learning

6.1 Assessment in relation to goals

The learning goals must be clearly defined for each lesson. These goals might also serve as the target of assessment.

For example, one goal might be that the pupils learn the names of various animals. The teacher could then use action cards and examine the learners' ability to recall particular items with individual pupils or with a small group of learners. This kind of assessment can take place during the lesson and appears not to be that face-threatening to the pupils.

6.2 Assessment during classroom activities

The teacher has to ask him- or herself who should be assessed. It is not realistic to assess each child during one lesson. It is better to concentrate on six or seven children. The next question should be, when the assessment will take place. The appropriate moment for a test should be identified by matching the assessment focus with the lesson plan.



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University of Wuppertal
Assessing Learners Progress Tests Teaching English



Title: Assessing the young Learners' Progress: Tests