EFL assessing speaking skill class or How to assess speaking activities in ESL/EFL classes?

EFL assessing speaking skill class

EFL assessing speaking skill class

First, a placement test should be used for initial evaluation of students’ speaking skills. It should include a range of interactions and should not last more than 10 minutes. For example, a short informal chat, the student chooses a topic from a list, or a picture from a set of pictures and talks for a minute about it. Or a picture story that is used for a narrating task. The student is asked to answer questions about the school, the subjects and classrooms.

In comparison to a written test of grammar that is relatively easy and time-efficient, a speaking test is not. It is time consuming, subjective because of different testers with different criteria for judging speaking. That is why in major public examinations such as Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) or the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) there is a speaking component.

Alternative assessment tools are not only designed and patterned differently from traditional tests, but also graded differently. Since alternative assessment is performance based, it helps teachers emphasize that the point of language learning is communication for meaningful purposes.

Authentic assessment activities should follow these criteria: they are designed around topics that are interesting for the students; they are real–world communication like contexts and situations; they define stage tasks and real problems that ask for creative use of language rather than simple repetition; their evaluation criteria and standards are familiar to the student; they imply interaction between assessor and the assessed; they allow for self-evaluation and self-correction as they develop.

With self-assessment, students become better language learners when they take responsibility for what they are learning and how they are learning it. As a result, students tend to ignore the steps of the learning process focusing more on their learning strategies and their progress as language learners. Self-assessment motivates students to become independent learners. If self-assessment has well defined learning aims and the goals are realistic, then it is a successful assessment tool. The teacher gives a model and the students try the technique to observe its impact on their learning and adapt it to their own learning pace.

Students can use checklists and rubrics surveys for specific language communication and even more elaborate self-assessment tools for a proper selection of topics they have studied or their study habits.

In the European language passport you can record your skills and competences in Languages, after you make a self-assessment of your language skills in understanding (listening and reading), speaking (spoken interaction and spoken production) and writing. The grid developed by the Council of Europe has three broad levels: Basic user (levels A1 and A2); Independent user (levels B1 and B2) and Proficient User (levels C1 and C2)

Types of spoken tests:
As described by Scott Thornbury in “How to teach speaking” (2007), the most common used spoken test types are:

1. Interview
The students receive a writing or reading task and then they are called out, in order, for their interview. Due to the formal aspect of interviews the situation is hardly appropriate for testing more informal, conversational speaking styles. If the interviewer is also the assessor, it may be difficult to focus on the whole talk while making objective remarks on the whole answer delivery of the student being interviewed. It helps if a casual talk is set at the opening part of the interview or that a set of pictures or pre-selected topic is given to the student so as to prepare in advance for one or two minutes. A third person could help assess the students.

2. Live monologues
The students prepare a talk based on an already selected topic. If the other students can be part of the audience then questions can be asked so as to prove the ability of the student giving the talk to speak interactively and give spontaneous answers.

3. Recorded monologues
These monologues are less stressful than a public speaking performance. They can record themselves while talking about a topic of interest and the assessment is done after the recording procedure.

4. Role-plays
The role-play should not require difficult subjects or complex performance. Previous learning material can be used as stimulus for engaging students into a dialogue.

5. Collaborative tasks and discussions
They are similar to role-plays but instead the students are not required to take a role but to act as themselves. The students can answer to a set of statements according to their own beliefs and can engage in active interaction close to real-life context.

The CAMBRIDGE Speaking test criteria

There are four categories:

Grammar and vocabulary
Students are given points for the accurate and appropriate use of syntactic forms and vocabulary in order to achieve the task requirements. The range and use of vocabulary are assessed at this category too.

Discourse Management
Assessors are evaluating the students’ ability to express ideas coherently in order to justify their opinions.

It refers to the students’ ability to be comprehensible while fulfilling the task requirements. It refers to the production of sounds, the appropriate linking words, the use of stress and intonation. Accents are accepted as long as they do not affect the communication.

Interactive Communication
This refers to the students’ ability to interact with the other candidate by initiating and responding in an appropriate way and at a required speed and rhythm to fulfill the task. It also refers to the students’ ability to maintain or repair the conversation and develop it.

Needless to say that when assessing speaking, teachers should take into consideration the fact that even native speakers produce non-grammatical forms in spontaneous speech.

How to prepare for a job interview

Thornbury, S. (2007) How to teach speaking, series editor: Jeremy Harmer, Pearson Education Limited.


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