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|Name of oral assessment task
|EAL curriculum level range
|C2, C3, C4
|Interaction and negotiation
|To assess students’ ability to negotiate in interaction involving collaborative problem solving.
|Students are presented with a list of items and asked to discuss and select the most useful items for them to take on a wilderness experience.
|Assumed knowledge and description
|Language centre/mainstream Class
|Subject/key curriculum objectives, outcomes
|English, Outdoor Education
|Survival in an unfamiliar physical environment (may incorporate needs, wants, desires, etc.), collaborative decision making, working in teams.
Nature and purpose of the task
The task is intended to assess the language students’ have for negotiation in a collaborative problem solving activity. EAL learners often encounter such situations in classrooms while doing group activities, and in other contexts outside the classroom and school.
In this group activity students need to decide which 7 items they would choose to take on a 5- to 7-day stay on an island. The options included for the students to discuss include some items of great practical utility, such as a knife or a cooking pot, and others that are of little practical use, such as an electronic device, and others whose value may not be immediately evident, such as a tarpaulin. Plenty of items are offered to encourage discussion.
This activity is intended to elicit language for interaction and negotiation with peers, such as what do you think? Why do you think that? , making suggestions, We could take a…, what about a…?, giving reasons, we need a… to…, we need a… because…, agreeing, that’s a good idea, and disagreeing, I don’t think we need that. Such language can involve a number of grammatical structures, such as negation, modal verbs. Students also need to be able to talk about the items presented as options, and to explain their utility in the situation. There is an overall orientation towards persuasive language in this task, as students need to discuss different options and make a collective decision, convincing their peers about their ideas.
The students at one school (Samples 1 to 3) had some preparation for this task in days preceding the filming of their discussion. The situation and issues of survival in an unfamiliar environment were discussed, and the language used to talk about equipment was practiced. For these students the task had an achievement assessment dimension, assessing what they had learned. In the school in which Video Sample 4 was filmed, the task was given to the students at quite short notice. In this situation the task had a more diagnostic assessment quality, seeing how well they use spontaneously use language for the situation.
The students in the videos were grouped together at similar levels of proficiency, by their teachers.
The four video samples show different levels of performance of the task. These partly reflect the personalities of the students and the way they approached the task, as well as different levels of English language skills. The students in Sample 1 are quiet and reserved, and are also constrained to some extent by their earlier levels of English language skills. The students in Samples 2 and 3 engaged with the task and had earnest discussions, while the students in Sample 4 engaged with the task in a more light-hearted and humorous way, choosing to select some unlikely options (a lap top, despite a lack of internet access on the imaginary island, and cosmetics), intending to have fun in the activity. Nonetheless, the task elicited the intended language, along with a lot of sociocultural elements of language use as these students discuss, make comments and jokes, and show solidarity in performing the task.
The first three video samples involve a degree of teacher scaffolding. The teacher intervened to shape what the students said more directly towards the intended language of the task. Looking at what the students say before and after the teacher intervenes illustrates how teachers can scaffold assessment tasks to improve the quality of assessment produced by a task, particularly when students are at earlier language levels.
Year level: Year 9 (both students)
First language: Karen (both students)
In the first section of the video the students are working together, but making minimal comments, but pointing to parts of the task sheet they are working with. They are carefully looking at the task sheets, and making short comments to each other, which are barely audible. They interact, with Student A (left of screen) making a suggestion which Student B (right of screen) responds to. The teacher intervenes and models the language the students can use (Say ‘I think…’), but they continue talking very softly. When the teacher intervenes again by explicitly asking about cosmetics, Student B offers a reason for this choice, So we can make us clean. As the teacher tries to prompt the students to say more, Student B responds with short phrases that give reasons, drink (referring to the soft drink), and, cut stuff, referring to the knife. To this point the students are responding in short, grammatically incomplete phrases, such as things we eat (in response to a question about the use of a knife). Student A provides a more elaborate response to the teacher asking why they want a rope, So we can climb up on the tree, and Student B adding, to get some fruit on the tree. The students then respond more to the teacher about their choices, although they don’t respond to every question, and answer with relatively short phrases that build on what the teacher says.
The students’ performance in this task is heavily dependent on the scaffolding provided by the teacher. She makes explicit prompts, which don’t always elicit a response, requests for justification, comments on what the students say, and makes some suggestions of her own. The students continue to give brief responses. However, at times the students provide longer utterances which provide more information and include some grammatical features such as modals. They also give reasons for choices, such as, Torch and batteries so when it gets dark; We find animals on the island so we kill with the knife and cut them
Towards the end, when the teacher asks if they are happy with their choices, they briefly use their home language, probably to confirm that they are.
The students are generally intelligible but very quiet. They tend to speak in phrases rather than more complete statements. Both students appear reserved, even reticent, especially early in the task. As the teacher sets up a more active interaction they respond more, and become more engaged, showing amusement at the teacher’s humorous suggestions., However, at times their smiling also seems to indicate some self-consciousness. At the end of the video Student B demonstrates a capacity to express humour, when he asks the teacher if the internet is working on the island, ‘so we can search for a hotel’!
Their quiet natures illustrate some of the challenges of assessing spoken language with such students. What is observable in this video may not give a full sense of their capacities. The teacher works hard to elicit responses, and some of their more fragmentary responses suggest their knowledge and skills are greater than appears through their relatively brief responses. They rely on their familiarity with each other and common understanding to complete the task. They may conclude that agreeing with each other is easier than disagreeing!
The marked criteria sheet shows that the students meet most criteria at level 1 of performance.
Their language use in this task is consistent with Level C2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Video Sample 2
Year level: Year 9 (all students)
Home language: Karen (all students)
In the first phase of the discussion, the students are interacting and making choices about items to select, and in response to the teacher’s prompts, giving reasons. At this stage the students are talking in relatively short phrases, but even these limited expressions include statements giving explanations or reasons for selecting items. Knife because we can cut.. A Saucepan so we can cook the food…
They make suggestions, like What about a shovel? They also ask each other to justify their suggestions. When Student A (left of screen) says, What about rope? Student B (centre screen) asks, What do you need a rope for? This leads to a humorous reply from Student A, In case you drown.(laughter). They go on making suggestions, but only sometimes offer reasons. Eventually, the teacher asks the students to review their choices and models how they can reasons for each choice. As instructed, the students rotate in naming and justifying the selection of each item.
In conducting their discussion the students debate suggestions and give reasons, often by saying what the item can be used for, such as, What about a shovel? What about torch and battery ‘cause we have to see in the dark? Because when we are eating we need those things, When you get injured you can… While they use some varied grammatical structures, the range of such structures is relatively limited, and they make errors when trying to construct statements about more complex ideas. For example, when the teacher asks them to go through the list and give reasons Student C follows the suggested model but shows he doesn’t fully understand it saying, Matches we will use that for to make e fire.
The students use the language intended to be elicited to some extent, but still make noticeable errors as they attempt to convey more involved meanings. They are confident, engaged, and demonstrate a cooperative ethos in completing the task, and make some jokes in the process. Their pronunciation is quite clear, and their accents pose few problems for them understanding the discussion.
The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 2 of performance.
Their language use in this task is consistent with Level C3, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Video Sample 3
Year level: Year 9 (all students)
Student A (left of screen): Dari
Student B (centre): Pashto
Student C (right of screen): Dari
These students begin by discussing the options on the worksheet. Even at this stage they are giving reasons and explaining their suggestions, You can hunting or fish with a knife, and making suggestions using modal adverbs and verbs, Maybe matches so we can cook. Student A is still checking the task and whispers to his classmates asking, Are we are on an island?. The students continue making suggestions and the teacher asks for reasons, but the students keep mentioning items from the list. In response to the teacher, Student A demonstrates his capacity to use adverbs and complex verb structures to enhance his ideas, Sunblock, that’s not really important actually … I guess you can stay alive without a sun screen. The students keep talking about items, but they start to say more about the reasons for their choices, such as, Compass to find your way . They discuss each other’s suggestions, sometimes disagreeing with a suggested item, such as Student B’s suggestion of a backpack, to which Student C replies, No you can put it in your hand. Eventually, the teacher checks that the students have selected seven items, as instructed, and invites them to report the items they have selected and their reasons for choosing those items. The students alternate in saying an item from their list and giving reasons for choosing it. In doing this they use language to describe actions the items can be used for, using modals and expressions of reasons like, So we can… to tie…
This conversation has less teacher scaffolding than Samples 1 and 2, and the students are more self-sustained in the use of the language of discussion and giving reasons. For example, they spontaneously say things like, If you have a wood you can sharpen it and you can hit a fish with it, (which is very effective circumlocution for ‘spear’!) and Maybe you can hunt for fish with a knife, and, ..And the batteries that’s not important cause you don’t usually go out at night.
The students’ spoken language is generally intelligible throughout, although their pronunciation is influenced by their home language phonology. Most sounds are accurately produced, but there are mispronunciations, including island, sounding more like ise-land, and tarpaulin as trampoline in summing up, although it was more accurately (still with misplaced stress) said earlier in the conversation.
The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 3 of performance.
Their language use in this task is consistent with Level C3, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Video Sample 4
Year level: Year 8 (all students)
Student A (left of screen): Chinese,
Student B (centre): Chinese
Students C (right of screen): Mongolian
These students had been involved in a number of other videos when they were asked to complete this task, and were more relaxed with the process than the earlier students. They seem to have decided they could take a more humorous approach to this task and suggest some less probable options in their selection of items. While this shapes the nature of the conversation, leading to critical comments of classmates’ suggestions, and more personal comments about each other, language relevant to this kind of task is still elicited. In addition, the solidarity and support for each other’s role they display in completing the task reveals information on the sociocultural skills they use when speaking English to each other.
The students begin by agreeing ironically that being on a desert island, Sounds fun!, then with the suggestion of the laptop and umbrella from students A and C. Student B, who tends to take the role of leading and organizing the discussion, asks for reasons and the others elaborate on why they need to bring a laptop. He comments on the reasons given and the unlikelihood of access to social media on the island. He then comments, You guys are really useless. . Eventually Student B suggests they need to choose chocolate. It appears he has decided to join the humorous tone of the conversation, as he mentions various wild animals, which then results in Student C suggesting they need an MP3 player. Student B points out they have one choice left, but have yet to choose any food. He tries to move on to the choice of the last item, and Student A suggests cosmetics as their last choice giving the reason, Because I’m a girl!
This conversation produces more discussion and argument than the other samples, with some explicit questioning, good-natured critical comments on each other’s’ suggestions, and humorously negative comments about each other. They use a variety of question structures, from simple structures like Why? to more complex structures like, You know what we should bring? What if we have to catch an animal? and, How about chocolates? They use a wide variety of grammatical structures in making suggestions, like, That’s why we need…, giving reasons and commenting on their discussion, such as, Come on somebody agree with me! Their extensive use of facial expressions contribute to the good natured and humorous tone of the discussion, even when they make comments critical of each other. The ‘high five’ gesture of Student A and Student C when they make suggestions that complement each other illustrates that these students are becoming adept at sociocultural aspects of English as it is used by their peers in their school.
The students are quite intelligible, while they make some noticeable errors in their pronunciation. The students refer to a deserted island in their discussions; this may be a pronunciation error, but it may also indicate they see this as the correct term, rather than desert island. Their English has some traces of their L1 phonology, but this doesn’t impede comprehension of what they are saying. Student B has been influenced by North American English in his previous learning of English.
The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 4 of performance.
Their language use in this task is consistent with Level C4, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Using the assessment to improve learning
- Giving reasons using ‘to’ or ‘for’ plus a verb.
Point out to the students two ways of using the prepositions to and for in combination with a verb for giving a reason. Use terminology they can understand.
We can use a knife to cut things.
We can use a knife for cutting things.
Matches can be used to light a fire.
Matches can be used for lighting a fire.
If we use ‘to’ the verb stays in a non-finite (e.g. to cut) form, but if we use ‘for’ the verb takes the present participle form ( – ing ending e.g. for cutting).
Ask the students to review a recording of their discussion and note when they use ‘to’ and ‘for’ with a verb when giving reasons, and note the extent to which they followed the correct pattern.
Ask them to practise saying both ways of giving reasons for any in which they made mistakes in their conversation.
- Different ways of giving reasons
With the class, brainstorm as many ways as possible for giving reasons, to add to this table.
|We should have a compass
|we need to find our way.
|We should have a compass
|we can find our way
|We need a compass
|show us directions
Hint: some other possibilities; in case ….
‘cause (in speaking)
Ask the students to review the recording of what they said, and to find where they can use more ways of giving reasons than they did in their conversation.
- Making suggestions.
Put students in pairs to identify as many ways of making a suggestion as possible, such as: We could…, Why don’t we… etc. Monitor their answers and provide additional suggestions as appropriate.
Ask each group to make a list of as many ways of making a suggestion as they can think of. Then ask them to use these expressions to practice making suggestions relevant to the survival items in conversation with their partner.
2. Agreeing and disagreeing with a suggestion.
Put students in pairs to identify as many ways of agreeing to a suggestion as possible, such as: That’s a good idea! Yes!
Then ask the students to identify ways of disagreeing with a suggestion, such as: I’m not sure about that. No, I don’t think that is as important as…, That’s a good idea, but I think it would be better if… etc.
Talk to students about the need, in a collaborative conversation, not to use ‘put downs’, when disagreeing. Ask them to suggest what they should not be saying if they are to come to an agreed conclusion, for example, That’s rubbish, You’re, stupid…
Ask each pair of students to follow this pattern:
Student A: Makes a suggestion
Student B: Responds, either agreeing or disagreeing (they should do both)
After 5 suggestions, swap, so Student B makes the suggestion and Student A responds.