Discussion: Testing and Assessment

This Friday Springboard will be bringing teachers together to chat and discuss testing and assessment. I’ve read an article by Dave Allan, which got me thinking about some questions that might be good discussion starters. What do you think? Post your comment below, and we’ll bring them to the discussion!


Discussion Questions: Testing and Assessment in Language Training

What’s the difference between testing and assessment?

Which is a better evaluation of a learner’s English capabilities: an objective test or a teacher’s assessment?  Why?

Do learners want to be tested? Why? Why not?

For assessment that involves various processes which go on over time, and measure more abstract traits such as discourse skills, fluency, flexibility and range, how can we give learners clear, formalised reporting on their language competence?

What are some best practices for teachers to integrate testing into a task based, communicative learning environment?

Adrian Underhill’s Pronunciation Skills

Adrian Underhill’s Pronunciation Skills changed the way I teach pronunciation. You can teach all of the sounds of English in about 2 lessons, but most importantly, it gives students a way of “discovering” the sounds themselves. Have you ever done the repeat-after-me exercise that just results in each of you saying a different word because the student doesn’t hear or can’t produce the sound you want? This will give you a way of communicating about pronunciation together!

I give students a printout of Adrian’s pronunciation chart and we usually go through the vowels pretty carefully. This area of the chart is often where a lot of trouble spots are and it also highlights 3 of the 4 pronunciation “levers” or “buttons”. These are the physical ways in which we make sounds (lips, tongue, jaw and voice). You can watch Adrian do his workshop here, it’s really cool the way he gets the participants to provide the sounds (I don’t do it with quite so much pantomime).


Furthermore, Adrian has a YouTube channel where he demonstrates and elicits the sounds individually and in combination to help learners (and teachers!) understand how to make them. He provides a lot of really good strategies for communicating about pronunciation and operating the “levers” that enable it. He also posts regular updates about teaching pronunciation on his blog.

Getting students talking with statistics

Jamie Karnik sent me a great tip after our last get together, about speaking activities. Here’s what she said:

Hey Dave,

I’m attaching a scan I made of the Business Options (Oxford, 1999) book I use sometimes. Protocal Statistics 2It’s an old book, but I still like a lot of parts in it. It’s got good grammar explanation and a lot of white space for students to think and take notes.

The scan is of the front matter of a chapter, as I explained on Friday. What I like to do with these pages is white out one word-like you mentioned- and have them discuss the topic (it also works well with one-to-one’s) and then guess some possible gap fills. Depending on what I want them to learn, I will white out words which fit to the rest of my lesson. Of course a lot of these statistics are outdated, but I just mention which year they are from. So far, they have worked well.

Thanks again for an interesting talk, and best of luck with the rest of your week!


New Authentic Listening Resource

Within EarshotAt the get together in September, I asked the question, “Are you and your students tired of contrived, scripted dialogues in dry textbooks meant to improve spontaneous interactions in English?” Everyone knew what I was talking about. Well, I was too. That’s why I decided to compile an engaging, colorful, clean and authentic resource with audio and visual material that both teachers and students could appreciate. The concept of this resource is based on my experiences teaching English to all age groups from a variety of cultures. Young students, especially, want to know more about American culture and how they can understand native speakers with more confidence. The pages include colorful photos to elicit vocabulary and discussion along side white spaces to encourage students to take notes directly next to those associations. Each interview was conducted spontaneously. Each exercise was created post-interview to describe and frame the language used naturally by the interviewees. Teacher tips, study tools, answer key and transcript are all included in one coursebook. Each chapter consists of two short stories, six interviews with exercises, a page of further suggested projects and a chapter test. More information about this resource, Within Earshot, can be found on the website (www.withinearshot.com). You can also try any of the six interviews and exercises on the website. There is one to try from each theme.