Monday, August 31, 2009

Portfolio assessments / The quantifiable components of communication

Every year, I think, "This year, less of my learners' grades will be based less on a written final exam and more on a portfolio of artifacts, encompassing their communicative achievements throughout the year."  And every year, I understand a little bit better what that means.  I have a list of contexts (and, by extension, some vocabulary sets) I'd need to see represented; I have general communicative modes that learners need to master; I'm working on a list of specific communicative tasks that learners would have to be able to perform; and some examples of activities that students can do to cover these contexts in those communicative modes are forthcoming.

But what I've still managed to avoid learning is how to assess all of this.  How well does a 1st-year high school (or this year, 8th grade) learners need to speak Spanish?  How much culture (and how many cultures) do they need to know?  How many comparisons between language and cultures do learners need to make?  How much do they have to bring connections from Spanish into their other classes, and vice versa?  And how on Earth do you assess a learner's role in her communities?

So we'll start with communication.  What components of communication can an outside observer accurately assess?  Well, there are the communicative skills, of course: speaking, listening, writing, and reading.  And there are the communicative modes: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational.  So far, so good--I can watch all of these things happen.

What's in all of those things?  What follows is me making stuff up.  It seems like I should have had an easier time finding these things in research, but I haven't yet.  If anyone still reading this knows where I can find some research on this, please let me know.  Even if you can make something (reasonable) up that I haven't yet, chime in.

Interpersonal communication
Equal participation--Engage in both parts of a conversation--listening and speaking, or writing and reading--in equal measure, and participate evenly with the other members of their group.

Responsive to communicative situation --Asks clarifying questions, responds to questions, makes sure that listeners are following the conversation, modifies speech as necessary.

Interpretive communication
Comprehension--Fairly straightforward.  Indicates an understanding of the language in some manner.

Vocabulary recollection--Remembers studied vocabulary in context.

New vocabulary learning--Uses a variety of strategies to determine the meaning (and importance) of unknown vocabulary. 

Presentational information
Erm...stage presence?  Appropriate illustrations, maybe?  None of these are necessary to the communication aspect, but are important nonetheless.  More information forthcoming.

Fluency:  Speaks without undue pauses.  Everybody has to take a breath to think in mid-speech-stream.  Long silences are just awkward, and hamper communicative tasks.  In addition, sentence structure varies in order to keep the listeners interested.

Vocabulary:  Word choice is appropriate for the communicative task.  Advanced speakers have a variety of word choices, and can pick the most appropriate.

Syntax:  Word order aids communication.  Novice-high or better level speakers can change word order in order to change sentence meaning.

Pronunciation:  Speaker sounds similar to native speakers.  There is some evidence that this can only be taught up to a certain point.  Experience tells me that this point is the introduction of new sounds--the rolling 'rr', the flipped 'r.'

Comprehension:  Indicates understanding and asks for clarification where necessary and possible.

Application of strategies: Uses a variety of strategies to understand new vocabulary.

 Similar to speaking: Vocabulary, Syntax, and Fluency.

Spelling:  Written words follow accepted, standardized spelling.

Comprehension:  Indicates understanding of an age-appropriate, skill-appropriate text.

Application of strategies: Uses a variety of strategies to understand new vocabulary.

Pronunciation, reading out loud:  This is not exactly a vital communicative skill, but we seem to do a fair amount of this in English, so it bears some examination.  Sounds that come out of reader's mouth accurately reflect the letters written on a page.

Okay, getting sleepy.  More soon.

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