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Training myself to be curious

 

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“The more courses I take and the more I learn, the hungrier I feel for more knowledge. It’s like training myself to be curious.”

Learning for learning’s sake is a rewarding experience. And once you start learning, it’s difficult to stop. The trick is to choose a subject that you really care about and know what you want to achieve.

It’s the third online course I am attending this year. The first was ‘Leaders of Learning’ (Harvard University), the second was ‘De-Mystifying Mindfulness’ (Leiden University in Holland) and the third one I am currently doing is ‘Classroom-based Assessment’ (British Council).

When I came across this course I said to myself “You have attended numerous seminars and conferences on assessment, you have read and written a lot about this topic; is there something you do not know?” But when I saw who the instructors were, I decided to proceed. In fact I know most of them personally. We’ve been to European conferences together, I have interviewed some of them for ELT NEWS, I have good memories of meeting them at lunch breaks and conference dinners, and having long chats … this sort of thing that floods you with feelings and emotions. What to say about Prof. Burry O’Sullivan who leads the team of instructors? What to say about Dr Nick Saville, Chairperson of ALTE, or about Dr Neus Figueras who offer their valuable advice and research findings to course participants? La crème de la crème of the language testing and assessment sector.

So here I am, spending my nights on screen, watching tutorials, reading articles, taking quizzes, sharing ideas and experiences with 16,000 course participants from 164 countries, writing posts, reading other participants’ posts and commenting on them (it’s part of the course) and YES, LEARNING MANY NEW THINGS.

Course Topics

Principles of language assessment
Formative and summative assessment
Positive washback
Assessment and testing

Assessing speaking
Formats, tasks and settings
Rating scales

Assessing writing
Assessment tasks
Marking criteria
Feedback

Assessing reading
Meaningfulness and authenticity
Developing reading tests
Scoring reading tests

Assessing listening
Task types for listening assessment
Scoring listening tests

Assessing grammar and vocabulary
Principles of testing grammar and vocabulary

Test development
Assessment and course planning
Approaches to testing
The test development cycle
Evaluating the effectiveness of a test

All these are the basics every practicing teacher should know.

Which skill is easier to assess?

In my opinion the Reading skill is easier to assess if you know exactly what you want to test. As Burry O’ Sullivan put it:

A reading test will only provide useful information about a test taker’s reading ability if we do three things: choose the right texts, select the most appropriate tasks, and score everything efficiently. All this takes time, effort, experience and, above all, a lot of common sense.

Take Listening seriously

This is what your brain does when it listens. First we hear the sound and decide what kind of a sound it is (music, someone speaking, traffic, etc.).

When we realise it is someone speaking, the brain compares it with words that it already knows. This helps you to understand what you hear. If your brain doesn’t understand, it tells you to check. If it does understand, it helps you to respond.

Your brain does all these things in just a few seconds, often before the person speaking has finished.

Think about this for a minute; your brain must be really active to listen so quickly!

Which skill is the most time-consuming to assess?

Writing obviously

Writing, for the moment, can only be rated by a human rater. The tools we have, can measure the language level of a text, the difficulty of a text, the level of a specific word or a grammatical structure but cannot score the text.

However technological devices, apps, and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are constantly evolving. It’s exciting and a bit of a head-spinner. Automated item generation and automated scoring will enable more immediate delivery of scores and guidance on student learning needs.

To measure the difficulty of a text, there are a few tools we can use.

Text Inspector is a piece of software that can tell us how complex a text is. To use Text Inspector, go to textinspector.com and copy and paste your text into the analysis box. Then press ‘Analyse’ and you will get a lot of information about the level and complexity of the text. Text analyzer, another piece of software, will tell you what level your text is according to the CEFR. It’s very useful for placement purposes. 

If you want to check the level of a specific word, you can use the English Vocabulary Profile tool (englishprofile.org) from Cambridge University Press, which, at the time of writing, was free to subscribe to.

Similarly, you can also check the level of a grammatical structure using the English Grammar Profile (englishprofile.org/english-grammar-profile).

The English Profile project is not new. I wrote about it 10 years ago but it went unnoticed in Greece at least.

For teachers writing academic reading tests, the Academic Word List (www.wgtn.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist) from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand is also a useful resource. This resource provides lists of the most frequent words used in academic environments. There are 10 lists, ranging from most frequent words (list 1) to least frequent (list 10).

These are the tools I am sharing with you hoping to find them useful in your teaching.

All our instructors insist that detailed feedback is crucial to student learning. Feedback most of the time is tempting to concentrate on mistakes or errors, but people need to know what was good and what to do to go from one level to the next, to climb the learning ladder and be successful.

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