Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Speaking tests - response to TES forum

My response to the TES thread on Speaking tests... hopefully better formatted than on the board!

Warning – this is long – have been off the forum for a while and have only just caught up and cannot resist joining in, so skip this if you want!!! Also, lost the first version when I clicked the wrong button.

Just taking a break from the stress of 'the last lesson before the oral' with my Year 11s .. this is a very interesting thread with lots of subthreads and although I haven’t anything really to add to my earlier post about the issues - , I find it reassuring to see that there are so many of us who agree from across the spectrum .. whether teaching male / female / able / not so able.

[ALL] Aligru …I’m not sure whether I’ve missed some reference here, but ALL is consulted on initiatives, and the nature of the GCSE is one of the most recent. As an ALL member you would probably know about his through ALLnet or the publications which are sent.

[Content] Re: what is taught, and its link with future study, I am with asisehace on this. The aims of the General Certificate for Secondary Education do include preparation for further study and working life, but they also include enjoyment and being prepared for things which a 16 year old might expect to need to do. If we were to provide a curriculum for all which was targeted for those who are going to be specialists at university, there is a risk that the majority would be left out, numbers would drop, courses would not run and the supply to university would be drastically reduced. I find it helpful through ALL/ISMLA contacts to be able to talk with people from other sectors so that we can all understand each others’ perspectives. In particular, I was interested by a talk from GCHQ at the ISMLA conference. I had the impression that they did not expect the schools and universities to be providing the ‘finished product’ and that they provided intensive courses to bring people up to the level needed for some jobs, in particular with respect to lesser taught languages. It was also encouraging to learn that they really valued the generic skills of linguists, and found them highly employable across the service.

[Validity and reliability] I think the point asisehace makes is right. Pupils and parents will expect the teacher to prepare the candidates as well as they can for the given test so that they can show their ‘true ability’. I don’t think that the current test fairly allows people to show their ability - the range of speaking skills they have. It will be interesting to see whether the new rĂ©gime will be better (I have yet to view the DVD which I have received).

[Analogies] There have been some excellent analogies drawn e.g. El Hombre’s music/ drama .. and I love the samenerve analogy with driving – great! I’m tempted to suggest another … I notice that many politicians (not sure whether this includes Nick Gibb) prepare and read aloud what they say in the house. I suspect that sometimes their researchers / assistants help them to write the scripts. I’m sure their researchers prepare them pretty thoroughly for what might come up, and an even better technique is perhaps to learn a formula for avoiding the question and saying what you have prepared anyway. And that’s just in English. [actually – just re-read El Hombre’s post – so my analogy isn’t original – but I’ll leave it anyway!!](I realise the analogy breaks down a bit, but analogies often do, and I couldn’t resist this one!)

[Solutions?]. Not sure what the solutions are, as we can see from this thread alone, let alone all the other threads about the changes to GCSE that there is no single view from the teachers. Certainly I think it is helpful to keep channels between govt/DCSF/ofqual/qca/exam boards / professional body of teachers/media open as much as possible and be really clear about what the role is of these bodies and honest about what we can realistically expect. I have to say that I was pretty impressed by Isabel Nisbett’s (ofqual acting i/c) openness about the complexity of putting together valid and reliable exams which meet the expectations of the users .. and I agree with her. A big problem for all of these bodies is dealing with what the public expects of exams, and in her speech to a Westminster forum I attended she gave a good overview of what she felt was reasonable / not reasonable to expect. (At least I think it was Isabel .. could have been Prof Timms .. will check and report back!) But the professional body which has the most direct impact of unrealistic expectations of what results can tell you is the teaching profession … our own and our schools’ reputations are publicly affected by the results, and the results are issued by the government and the media without all the theoretical ‘caveats’ which are discussed at a political forum.

One thing I’m sure about though is that a radio programme is not the best way to discuss and resolve issues in the first instance. I haven’t heard the programme, but if we feel Nick Gibb is ill-informed, we can easily contact him and give him the information.