Saudi performance on the IELTS and TOEFL iBT

According to publicly available information on the Cambridge Esol and ETS websites, Saudi’s seem to perform best in the speaking skill.

In both exams, listening comes second, though a little behind on average compared to speaking.

In IELTS, Saudi’s do worst in writing, but in the TOEFL iBT they do worst in reading.

So basically, reading and writing are the weakest skills.

What’s odd (in my opinion), is that I thought that as the TOEFL iBT is online, typing might be an issue. It seem’s not based on the statistics available.

Fundamentally, what the figures (for 2014) show, is that speaking is way ahead in terms of average performance, whereas listening, reading and writing are clustered closely together.

It’s difficult to read too much into these numbers, but one thing that policy makers should start focussing on, is the development of reading and writing abilities in the long-run, especially for those who are planning to travel overseas for further study or work.

 

 

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Speaking to yourself is not a sign of madness – it’s a way to learn languages

Hello all.

Talking to yourself

I’ve been assessing my students speaking this week. It’s been pretty time consuming, but worth it (I hope).

One of the questions I’ve been using to elicit more speech is about how students learn English outside of university. There have been a variety of very interesting answers. One of the most interesting methods, is to talk to themselves. Students cannot find anyone to talk to, so it seems like the only solution.

Talking to yourself

One of my students who drives back to his village from the main city at weekends, told me that on his two hour journey back, he speaks to himself. He kind of imagines that he’s speaking to another person. A made-up, contrived situation. Wow. Fantastic idea.

What are the possible pedagogical implications? Well, I wonder whether we should introduce speak-to-yourself sessions in our conversation lessons?

I’m seriously now planning to learn Chinese – “I just can’t wait to speak to myself!”

What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?

When we think of testing, we often think of TOEFL or IELTS. These high stakes exams, with their potential to help make or break futures, are what many think of as the typical exam.

In classes across the world, teachers emulate these exams by using the same question types e.g. multiple choice questions (MCQs).

Often, testing, assessment or evaluation is reduced to a quiz of some kind. Students get a mark, and that’s the end of the story.

At the same time, people in the testing industry, who are mainly involved with the big examination bodies, cannot understand why teachers cannot grasp the ideas of validity and reliability.

I think that unless ‘testing people’ are not teaching themselves, they will never be able to understand class dynamics, and thus why there is such a gap or disconnect between those with testing knowledge, and people who want to assess in the classroom. But is it really up to people who are testers? What about teachers? What’s their take on this? Are they worried? Are they also unhappy about testing in their contexts?

In the Middle East, there is a tendency to reduce the role of teachers to just receiving centrally written quizzes and tests. In reality this reflects the lack of confidence in teacher testing ability.

There are a lot of issues.

I think we need to simplify things and create a take-off point, from which teachers can move forward in terms of their testing knowledge. Let’s keep the testing and assessment jargon to one side.

What I’m proposing, is that we start off with a simple question. The question being. “What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?”

Once we have the answer to this, we can then take the discussion further. I have my own answers, but if you are a teacher, who teaches a language, what in your view is the purpose of a test?

Once you have an idea of this, it’ll open doors, and hopefully result in an innovative movement in testing, although it’ll be a tough job to convince those who see testing as merely a score producing exercise. But the point is, that we need to look at the classroom as a different context, and study it’s dynamics. The classroom is a learning environment. The role of testing has to be seen as something that contributes to this. Unless we start looking at testing in this sense, it is difficult to see how large numbers of teachers will see tests as anything beyond the merely producing a score.

Lastly, we mustn’t forget our most important stakeholder, the student. After all, they are the ones directly affected by all of this.

Until next time..

Assessment without numbers

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better that someone who got 80? Really? How?

What about in the classroom? You give students a score out of 10, 15, 20 etc, but what does the score really mean? What does good, very good or excellent mean? Do we really know what we mean? Do the students understand what the scores mean, or even these expressions?

What if scores were totally replaced by descriptions or descriptors? What if we gave a student a description of what they had achieved?

Are we giving students marks, because that’s the way it’s always been? Or may be this is also a reflection of our educational backgrounds as well as the undergraduate and graduate courses we’ve taken. After all, we probably also got scores or grades.

And what about the usefulness of assessment. What can we do to make students more aware and at the same time get them to do something about their learning?

It might require us as teachers to also take a closer look at what we mean, and/or what our students are really doing. But may be we just don’t have the time?

So there are a lot of questions here, a lot of elements, what now?

Well, what do you think? What do you do? How can we reinvent testing and assessment?

I’m hoping to add future posts to the questions above.

Teaching very very weak students how to write

picture source: emiller27.wordpress.com

How many times have you ended up with a class of students who seem to be well below the level required for a particular class?

They cannot seem to comprehend what you say (listening and vocabulary knowledge?), and are unable to respond when you speak to them. They seem to lack basic words, and yet you have to teach them how to write a 5 paragraph essay!

You have a course schedule with a number of units to cover within a finite period of time. You cannot at this point resort to teaching them grammar and improving their lexis.  Admittedly the latter is easier to do than the former.

They also seem to have a problem when it comes to brainstorming, and seem to lack ideas. May be the ideas are there for a restricted list of topics, as they have probably not had to talk about societal issues. I’m assuming that if ideas exist, they are unable to convey these as those ideas can only be conveyed in their L1.

Strategy so far

I’ve been focussing on ensuring that the students internalise the framework of an essay. What I mean is, the idea of having introductions, body paragraphs and a conclusion, and the sub-levels for these important pillars of an essay, e.g. a hook, thesis statement and supporting ideas.

In every class, we have a new topic or topics, and a brainstorming session. This is followed by trying to fit the ideas into the framework. Which of course is then followed by adding meat to this skeleton. This is a good way to introduce new vocabulary. Throughout this period, I’ve been acting ‘all enthusiastic’ as if I’m some kind of football team manager/ motivator.

In addition to the above, I’ve come to the conclusion, that in order to get the attention of the students, we need to brainstorm topics that they can relate to, or are close to their hearts.

I’ve covered topics like ‘finding a marriage partner’, ‘why a certain famous person is famous’ and even how to make ‘rice and meat’ also known as kabsa! I’ve been amazed at the attention the students give, and how familiar, interesting topics engage them. You can see their eyes light-up and of course the smirks when I try to introduce some ‘silly’ topic.

How are we progressing? Well, the prognosis is, that irrespective of how well the student understands the framework, or likes the topic under discussion, if the message cannot be conveyed, which requires a reasonable level of language, then the chances of success are low. Ultimately, the reader needs to understand the message being conveyed. Being able to piece together accurate sentences with appropriate vocabulary is a necessity. Even part accurate will do. But we are even below that. You know how serious word order problems, along with inappropriate vocabulary can just totally confuse the reader.

I’m sure there are ways that others deal with such difficulties, but when you are teaching a 2-3 credit hour course over a semester, it can be difficult to do anything extra. I have asked them to revise certain tenses they may have studied as part of a grammar course in the past. But should I be following this up? There’s little time.

All of the above obviously brings up issues relating to teaching, learning and assessment issues. Issues that I’ll try to discuss in the future. My final thoughts link in to these issues.

Final thoughts: Who let these students pass the previous courses? They could not possibly have passed looking at their current performance. What were they being taught before and how? What kind of assessment was going on, and using what standard? Is the context a major problem, and do we need to take a closer look at this?

All the best.

The Common European Framework – CEFR

A “wiki-leak” of Brian North’s rarely available PhD –

The Development of a Common Framework Scale of Language Proficiency. Here’s the link:

https://sohaibsandhu.com/language-testing/cefr-common-european-framework/

I have many issues with the CEFR, it’s implementation, the politics, the passive acceptance of it, both in the public and academic domains. At the same time, there are many people who are highly accomplished language testers who praise it highly. It has been implemented in different contexts and is proving invaluable. There are published case studies of it’s use. But it can also result in emotive discussions, where even respectable academics, people who I respect, become like angry gang members, ready to pull up their academic sleeves accusing each other of just plain jealousy – not academic talk you’d say. Yes, it’s not academic, but it’s good to let the human side out now and then, as it reminds us that in fact we are all mere humans at the end of the day.  But where did it all begin? This read is a part of it.

Having Brian’s PhD publicly available means that it is open to greater dissemination, by a more informed public.

Thanks to the sender.

Have an enjoyable read!