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Speaking

Arthur Hughes, Testing for Language Teachers

"The objective of teaching spoken language is the development of the ability to interact successfully in that language...this involves comprehension as well as production."

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in the language classroom is providing an environment in which students feel comfortable enough to "try on" the language through speaking. As language teachers, if we plan to assess students' speaking abilities, we must have them practicing them before they are assessed on them. 

If you want to assess students' ability to interact in an interview, you must practice interviews. If you want to assess students' ability to debate, they must practice debating. This refers to testing speaking ability by "elicit[ing] a valid sample of oral ability" (Hughes 119). In other words, testing exactly what we intend to measure. 

One quick fix to speaking assessment could be semi-direct responses to audio recordings. Using Google Voice, a Google application that permits you a free phone number, teachers can use the application to record voice messages. Students can all the number, listen to your voice message, and respond appropriately to an authentic task. 

Before the assessment, students should be familiar with calling to practice their presentational speaking skills. I suggest giving students a structure to keep the task valid, but also to be careful not to restrict students too much. 

For example, in answering telephone machine prompts, students should be expected to include the following in their response. 

1. A greeting or introduction  

2. A response to the question 

3. Two further questions 

4. A farewell  

Let's try a role playing example using the authentic resource Cosechando Natural.

Cosechando Natural - Teacher Audio
00:00 / 00:00

Using a platform like Google Voice, students call and hear a recording like the prompt above. Using the authentic resource (the website for Cosechando Natural above), students will be expected to include the following in their response: 

- A greeting

- Answer the questions: 

1. ¿Cómo es la alimentación de las gallinas? 

- ¿La dieta? ¿Qué comen?

- Two follow-up questions 

- Say goodbye

How does the example allow students to speak freely, but restrict responses to maintain a valid and reliable speaking task?

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