Evaluation and Testing of Chinese Native Speakers Learning English
The issue of testing and/or evaluation is an important topic in general, however, it is of personal import to me because I currently work as a full-time ESL teacher in China, over half of who are pre-school and kindergarten age. In China, children begin primary school (first grade), at age seven, plus they have three years of mandatory kindergarten, which begins at age four. English is not taught in Chinese public schools until primary school (grade three), and then, for only forty minutes, three times per week. For these reasons, the average Chinese child is not formally taught English until they are nine years old, and even then, for only three hours per week.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Kirk K. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Lack of English Environment
Many Chinese parents are now very concerned about the delay in their children’s exposure to English training and are seeking early age intervention through formal education. Even though there are a plethora of Chinese television shows and mobile apps which provide English introduction and directed training, like the Sesame Street program in the United States, the average parent refuses to allow their children to consume such content regularly, and in many cases, they are barred completely. The reason is that parents feel that television is addictive and bad, and mobile phone/tablet technology is worse. Since many parents cannot speak English, or their ability is so poor they refuse to try, the children essentially receive zero language exposure until age nine, and even then, it is very limited.
This then results in a conflict once the student enters formal language training, either in a private or public school, because the parents expect that the child can learn English, like they learn other subject matter, by committing a set of facts to memory and successfully reciting them on a written exam. As such, when the child receives a language level assessment by a native English-speaking teacher, they are often very disappointed at the results, especially if their informal opinion of their child has been inappropriately established by the seemingly good results they have received on their public-school exams. This is a very common occurrence in China.
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Challenges of Testing and Evaluation
How then to remediate and appropriately progress test a young learner who has a false understanding of their skill level? Further, how is it possible to allow family members to assess their child inside the home, especially when they have little or poor English ability? If progress testing must be conducted only in the school setting, how often should it be done, and how much time of the overall available class time should be used? When a learner is being remediated to bring them up to the A1 or basic level, and they have no exposure to the target language outside of class, how do we ensure that they are acquiring the fundamentals normally acquired by a native speaker, through immersion?
Unit 1 of ITTT Course 000, illuminates that beginning learners are not quickly or easily activated. Since a teacher can normally determine a student’s progress by monitoring them during the activation portion of a lesson, this insight becomes unfortunately restricted. Therefore, direct testing needs to be employed during the study phase of the lesson. Unit 3 of the course delves into the theories, methods, and techniques of ESL, and one of the methods illumined is ‘audio – bilingualism’ which is the practice of verbal repetition.
This can be focused on vocabulary or full sentences, but regardless it hinges upon having the student speak as much as possible. Progress testing can be performed manually by the teacher during the study phase, by administering a verbal exam at the beginning of this phase and using video or audio recordings of the lesson from which the teacher can make post-action notes during their office hours. This will serve as a method of progress examination.
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Unit 7 covers the teaching of vocabulary, and it explains that one of the methods which can be used is matching exercises, word searches, and gap-fill exercises, all of which can be used as progress tests. While these exercises are normally used to convey the new content of the lesson, they can just as easily be used to test for retention of previous lessons. These exercises can be modified such that the student is hearing the teacher speak the vocabulary words, and then they perform the exercise, instead of reading. One benefit to this type of test method is that the parents will possess and definitive ‘report’ in the form of the exercise.
Unit 11 covers the teaching of receptive skills, and this can also be structured as an informal test during the study phase. Exercises of the aforementioned type can be modified to convey predictive, scanning, and skimming skills, even to young learners, and again the worksheet/exercise papers can then be used as a progress test, which also doubles as a receipt for the parents.
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In summary, young learners (A1) need to be progress tested regularly, and the seemingly most natural way to do so is via the activities performed during the study phase of the class.
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