Assessing the Language of Young Learners

Assessing the Language of Young Learners Published as part of the British Council Monographs on Modern Language Testing series, Assessing the Language of Young Learners offers comprehensive discussion and analysis of the testing and assessment of young learners (YLs) of English in three distinct age brackets, namely younger learners (5–8/9), older learners (8/9–12/13), and teens (12/13–17). The book is carefully and logically organized; in its first and second chapters, it analyses the particular developmental and linguistic needs of the three age groups, which forms a sound base for the ensuing chapters. The following chapter is on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and the fourth considers more general issues surrounding the assessment of YLs. The next chapters (Chapters 5–9) focus on testing and assessment of each of the language skills as well as vocabulary and grammar. These are all carefully tied to areas addressed in previous chapters, and move from more general considerations to practical implications in terms of test design and implementation. Finally, Chapter 10 provides a useful summary of the key issues before concluding. The intended readership of the title is broad, and includes practising YL teachers, researchers, and YL test writers, especially those working within the CEFR (see also Figueras, 2012, for an interesting look at the influence of the CEFR 10 years after its publication). Readers such as these would certainly find this book a valuable guide to developing principled assessment tools, and it would also be suitable to include in a YL training programme or academic reading list. The focus of this book is slightly different to that of other well-known publications such as McKay (2006) or Ioannou-Georgiou and Pavlou (2003), as it looks most closely at principled YL formal and informal assessment with a specific focus on testing and test design. Hasselgreen and Caudwell define testing as ‘not confined to formal and summative testing’ but rather as ‘an essential component in formal and formative assessment’ (p. 37). Many other writers on similar topics tend to look at a broader range of different types of YL assessment and testing (often viewed as being synonymous with formal assessment), and look in detail at how principles of assessment are addressed in each. Importantly, each of the three age groups is given close attention in terms of developmental and linguistic expectations or potential, rather than focusing more broadly on a range of assessment types for YLs, such as alternative, dynamic, and so on, or on more general principles of YL assessment. The aims of the book are stated clearly in the Introduction (pp. ix–x) in the form of four questions. These relate to children’s cognitive, social, and linguistic development in the three age groups in L1 and then in L2, possible correspondence between CEFR levels and potential, and how the principles of assessment may be applied as children mature. Chapter 1 responds to the first of the questions by reviewing a number of relevant and key developmental theories (cognitive, social, L1, and literacy), focusing on the particular needs of the three age groups in these areas. It carefully discusses a number of influences on L1 acquisition and, more specifically, literacy development; acknowledging the risks implicit in making age-stage generalizations, the chapter successfully informs the reader of realistic expectations at different ages in terms of learning and, importantly, assessment. Hasselgreen and Caudwell argue that literacy in a second language presupposes that in the first language, which has strong implications for L2 assessment of reading and writing at all ages. Chapter 2 turns to L2 acquisition and YLs, and as such focuses on the second main question. It begins by highlighting the need to look at children’s potential L2 communicative language knowledge and skills at each age, in relation to the developmental constraints discussed in Chapter 1. The chapter offers a four-part model for communicative language ability, which identifies microlinguistic, textual, sociolinguistic, and strategic abilities, and goes on to look at aspects of children’s language use in various situations, namely topics, purposes, participants, medium, and discourse types/genres. It concludes that the ability to communicate depends on a number of areas that develop through childhood, such as conceptual understanding, knowledge of discourse, and world and topic knowledge. The authors emphasize here that we cannot take L2 literacy for granted within any learning context. The CEFR and the European Language Portfolio (ELP) come into focus in the third chapter. Hasselgreen and Caudwell provide a detailed analysis of the CEFR and ELP scales with respect to age and with reference to the points raised in the previous chapters regarding various aspects of development of children in the three age brackets, a concern previously discussed by Alderson (2007). This analysis is of great value to those involved in CEFR-alignment/aligned work with YLs, such as curriculum, syllabus, or materials designers, as well as teachers and assessors. A number of issues stand out in the analysis, not least that there is a complex interplay between cognition, maturity, and language skill evident in the descriptors, which results in the need for increasing levels of cognitive skill, such as abstract thinking and reasoning, to achieve levels up from B1. This, generally, renders the higher levels difficult, or even near-impossible, to achieve for younger children, regardless of their language skill and ability. The authors provide a clear chart showing the correspondence between age groups and generally attainable CEFR levels, which permits a better and more refined understanding of the potential achievement of different individuals or groups. The authors note, however, that individual exceptions may well be found in different contexts. Moving on from the developmental needs of children, i.e. the third main question, the fourth chapter relates to the broader area of YLs’ L2 assessment initially, before moving to that of testing. The chapter is based around five questions to be answered when planning, analysing, or evaluating assessment, relating to the why, what, how, who, and for what purpose of an assessment. The authors propose features of good YL assessment, before discussing a number of principles of YL assessment. Current and relevant issues surrounding computerized YL testing are discussed, including examples of such testing, and the chapter closes with a pertinent reminder to pay attention in task selection and design, to ensure quality and variety, also cautioning that ‘irrelevant’ abilities, such as test-taking skills, which might be taken for granted in an adult, do not ‘get in the way of a young learner being able to demonstrate his/her knowledge and ability in the assessment’ (p. 51). The following five chapters of the book consider testing the four skills, plus vocabulary and grammar. The chapters are all similarly organized—each introduces the skill, then provides a discussion of general issues related to it. A skills model is developed for each, which identifies features of three different areas: task, knowledge, and processing. This, along with points raised in previous chapters, forms the basis of the practical considerations and attainment proposed for each of the three age groups in relation to the CEFR levels. Written language skills (reading and writing) are the first skills under the microscope, grouped together for their particularities in relation to literacy and language skill, but distinguished by their receptive/productive natures. In Chapter 5, the writers also discuss further complex issues surrounding the testing of reading, emphasizing the importance of ‘pitching the level of a test so that it reflects the ability/knowledge of the test-takers’ (p. 72), whatever a child’s age band. A model of writing is presented in Chapter 6, and the need for positive success-oriented assessment of writing as a productive skill is emphasized. The authors note in this chapter that many issues in this area are shared with the testing of reading, most notably those which stem from L1 literacy and language skill limitations, as well as cognitive and other writing skills. Oral skills, intertwined yet separated for the purposes of the book, are the subjects of Chapters 7 (‘Speaking’) and 8 (‘Listening’). Strategies, skills, and knowledge required by speakers are identified within the model of speaking and criteria for assessment. It is noted that children may be able to achieve higher CEFR levels in speaking than in other skills, although the reliable and valid testing of speaking may be problematic for various reasons, often practical or affective. Chapter 8 then looks at testing non-collaborative listening, i.e. where no interaction occurs with the speaker(s), and presents a model similar to the model presented for reading. The authors suggest that its non-collaborative nature allows it to be an easier skill to test, although the testing of it can be more challenging in terms of resources, practicality, and validity. The use of visuals and non-verbal answers are mentioned as important considerations. Although vocabulary and grammar constitute components in communicative testing of all four skills, Chapter 9 explores the testing of these two areas specifically, considering a number of general issues relating to both grammar and vocabulary testing, and noting dimensions of vocabulary assessment in specific tests and in communicative language tests. The authors go on to note some developmental considerations in relation to linguistic development and issues related to validity. While the conclusion to this chapter does note that it is not intended to be comprehensive, this chapter perhaps could usefully have been developed a little more deeply, especially given the complex nature of grammar and vocabulary development with YLs at different ages (Cameron, 2001). The concluding chapter offers a clear and concise summary of the main issues raised in the book. Of note here, however, are the summarizing tables on pp. 121–24, which pull out the main developmental considerations and their implications for testing in the five areas in general and for each of the three age groups. Similarly, the appendices contain a range of useful reference grids and tables, presenting, for example, some published assessment criteria, features of speaking/writing, and age–CEFR level correspondences. Assessing the Language of Young Learners is a carefully organized and crafted book, which has a high degree of coherence, making it logical to follow and easy to read. It uses published and other data and information to exemplify and support theoretical concepts and ideas, making it relevant, highly practical, and giving it an appropriate balance between theory and practice. That said, the examples tend to draw on data and materials from a slightly limited range of tests. Although acknowledged, it would have been interesting to read about some considerations for testing in a wider range of contexts outside of Europe, such as those in less-developed or under-resourced contexts, or where the L1 writing system differs from that of English. The book is nonetheless a very welcome addition to other titles on other types of YL assessment, or assessment in broader terms. Testing as a form of assessment is a reality in many contexts, and this focus is a valuable contribution to the literature in the field. Although beyond the scope of this title, a complement to it, and a development on the work of Mirici (2008) and Little (2005), would be a detailed look at assessment using the European Language Portfolio (ELP) with YLs at different ages. The book takes children’s various developmental needs as a starting point for discussing issues surrounding testing and assessment in the current CEFR-oriented world, emphasizing the need to take children’s potential capabilities into account at all times. As such, I would strongly recommend it to YL practitioners, assessors, and researchers. Kate Gregson is a freelance ELT consultant, trainer, writer, and teacher. She has worked in ELT for over 20 years, with experience in a range of contexts in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe as teacher to adult and young learners, pre- and in-service trainer, master’s supervisor, and teacher manager. She specializes in teaching young learners in particular, and is currently involved in curriculum and materials development projects in different locations, as well as in distance and face-to-face in-service teacher and trainer training. Her professional interests include child bi- and multilingualism, and various aspects of teacher education and professional development. References Alderson , J.C . 2007 . ‘ The CEFR and the need for more research ’. Modern Language Journal 91 : 659 – 63 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cameron , L . 2001 . Teaching Languages to Young Learners . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Figueras , N . 2012 . ‘ The impact of the CEFR ’. ELT Journal . 66 / 4 : 477 – 85 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ioannou-Georgiou , S. and P. Pavlou . 2003 . Assessing Young Learners . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Little , D . 2005 . ‘ The Common European Framework and the European Language Portfolio: involving learners and their judgements in the assessment process ’. Language Testing 22 / 3 : 321 – 36 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS McKay , P . 2006 . Assessing Young Language Learners . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Mirici , I.H . 2008 . ‘ Development and validation process of a European Language Portfolio model for young learners ’. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 9 /April. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ELT Journal Oxford University Press

Assessing the Language of Young Learners

ELT Journal , Volume Advance Article (2) – Mar 21, 2018

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
ISSN
0951-0893
eISSN
1477-4526
D.O.I.
10.1093/elt/ccy002
Publisher site
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Abstract

Published as part of the British Council Monographs on Modern Language Testing series, Assessing the Language of Young Learners offers comprehensive discussion and analysis of the testing and assessment of young learners (YLs) of English in three distinct age brackets, namely younger learners (5–8/9), older learners (8/9–12/13), and teens (12/13–17). The book is carefully and logically organized; in its first and second chapters, it analyses the particular developmental and linguistic needs of the three age groups, which forms a sound base for the ensuing chapters. The following chapter is on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and the fourth considers more general issues surrounding the assessment of YLs. The next chapters (Chapters 5–9) focus on testing and assessment of each of the language skills as well as vocabulary and grammar. These are all carefully tied to areas addressed in previous chapters, and move from more general considerations to practical implications in terms of test design and implementation. Finally, Chapter 10 provides a useful summary of the key issues before concluding. The intended readership of the title is broad, and includes practising YL teachers, researchers, and YL test writers, especially those working within the CEFR (see also Figueras, 2012, for an interesting look at the influence of the CEFR 10 years after its publication). Readers such as these would certainly find this book a valuable guide to developing principled assessment tools, and it would also be suitable to include in a YL training programme or academic reading list. The focus of this book is slightly different to that of other well-known publications such as McKay (2006) or Ioannou-Georgiou and Pavlou (2003), as it looks most closely at principled YL formal and informal assessment with a specific focus on testing and test design. Hasselgreen and Caudwell define testing as ‘not confined to formal and summative testing’ but rather as ‘an essential component in formal and formative assessment’ (p. 37). Many other writers on similar topics tend to look at a broader range of different types of YL assessment and testing (often viewed as being synonymous with formal assessment), and look in detail at how principles of assessment are addressed in each. Importantly, each of the three age groups is given close attention in terms of developmental and linguistic expectations or potential, rather than focusing more broadly on a range of assessment types for YLs, such as alternative, dynamic, and so on, or on more general principles of YL assessment. The aims of the book are stated clearly in the Introduction (pp. ix–x) in the form of four questions. These relate to children’s cognitive, social, and linguistic development in the three age groups in L1 and then in L2, possible correspondence between CEFR levels and potential, and how the principles of assessment may be applied as children mature. Chapter 1 responds to the first of the questions by reviewing a number of relevant and key developmental theories (cognitive, social, L1, and literacy), focusing on the particular needs of the three age groups in these areas. It carefully discusses a number of influences on L1 acquisition and, more specifically, literacy development; acknowledging the risks implicit in making age-stage generalizations, the chapter successfully informs the reader of realistic expectations at different ages in terms of learning and, importantly, assessment. Hasselgreen and Caudwell argue that literacy in a second language presupposes that in the first language, which has strong implications for L2 assessment of reading and writing at all ages. Chapter 2 turns to L2 acquisition and YLs, and as such focuses on the second main question. It begins by highlighting the need to look at children’s potential L2 communicative language knowledge and skills at each age, in relation to the developmental constraints discussed in Chapter 1. The chapter offers a four-part model for communicative language ability, which identifies microlinguistic, textual, sociolinguistic, and strategic abilities, and goes on to look at aspects of children’s language use in various situations, namely topics, purposes, participants, medium, and discourse types/genres. It concludes that the ability to communicate depends on a number of areas that develop through childhood, such as conceptual understanding, knowledge of discourse, and world and topic knowledge. The authors emphasize here that we cannot take L2 literacy for granted within any learning context. The CEFR and the European Language Portfolio (ELP) come into focus in the third chapter. Hasselgreen and Caudwell provide a detailed analysis of the CEFR and ELP scales with respect to age and with reference to the points raised in the previous chapters regarding various aspects of development of children in the three age brackets, a concern previously discussed by Alderson (2007). This analysis is of great value to those involved in CEFR-alignment/aligned work with YLs, such as curriculum, syllabus, or materials designers, as well as teachers and assessors. A number of issues stand out in the analysis, not least that there is a complex interplay between cognition, maturity, and language skill evident in the descriptors, which results in the need for increasing levels of cognitive skill, such as abstract thinking and reasoning, to achieve levels up from B1. This, generally, renders the higher levels difficult, or even near-impossible, to achieve for younger children, regardless of their language skill and ability. The authors provide a clear chart showing the correspondence between age groups and generally attainable CEFR levels, which permits a better and more refined understanding of the potential achievement of different individuals or groups. The authors note, however, that individual exceptions may well be found in different contexts. Moving on from the developmental needs of children, i.e. the third main question, the fourth chapter relates to the broader area of YLs’ L2 assessment initially, before moving to that of testing. The chapter is based around five questions to be answered when planning, analysing, or evaluating assessment, relating to the why, what, how, who, and for what purpose of an assessment. The authors propose features of good YL assessment, before discussing a number of principles of YL assessment. Current and relevant issues surrounding computerized YL testing are discussed, including examples of such testing, and the chapter closes with a pertinent reminder to pay attention in task selection and design, to ensure quality and variety, also cautioning that ‘irrelevant’ abilities, such as test-taking skills, which might be taken for granted in an adult, do not ‘get in the way of a young learner being able to demonstrate his/her knowledge and ability in the assessment’ (p. 51). The following five chapters of the book consider testing the four skills, plus vocabulary and grammar. The chapters are all similarly organized—each introduces the skill, then provides a discussion of general issues related to it. A skills model is developed for each, which identifies features of three different areas: task, knowledge, and processing. This, along with points raised in previous chapters, forms the basis of the practical considerations and attainment proposed for each of the three age groups in relation to the CEFR levels. Written language skills (reading and writing) are the first skills under the microscope, grouped together for their particularities in relation to literacy and language skill, but distinguished by their receptive/productive natures. In Chapter 5, the writers also discuss further complex issues surrounding the testing of reading, emphasizing the importance of ‘pitching the level of a test so that it reflects the ability/knowledge of the test-takers’ (p. 72), whatever a child’s age band. A model of writing is presented in Chapter 6, and the need for positive success-oriented assessment of writing as a productive skill is emphasized. The authors note in this chapter that many issues in this area are shared with the testing of reading, most notably those which stem from L1 literacy and language skill limitations, as well as cognitive and other writing skills. Oral skills, intertwined yet separated for the purposes of the book, are the subjects of Chapters 7 (‘Speaking’) and 8 (‘Listening’). Strategies, skills, and knowledge required by speakers are identified within the model of speaking and criteria for assessment. It is noted that children may be able to achieve higher CEFR levels in speaking than in other skills, although the reliable and valid testing of speaking may be problematic for various reasons, often practical or affective. Chapter 8 then looks at testing non-collaborative listening, i.e. where no interaction occurs with the speaker(s), and presents a model similar to the model presented for reading. The authors suggest that its non-collaborative nature allows it to be an easier skill to test, although the testing of it can be more challenging in terms of resources, practicality, and validity. The use of visuals and non-verbal answers are mentioned as important considerations. Although vocabulary and grammar constitute components in communicative testing of all four skills, Chapter 9 explores the testing of these two areas specifically, considering a number of general issues relating to both grammar and vocabulary testing, and noting dimensions of vocabulary assessment in specific tests and in communicative language tests. The authors go on to note some developmental considerations in relation to linguistic development and issues related to validity. While the conclusion to this chapter does note that it is not intended to be comprehensive, this chapter perhaps could usefully have been developed a little more deeply, especially given the complex nature of grammar and vocabulary development with YLs at different ages (Cameron, 2001). The concluding chapter offers a clear and concise summary of the main issues raised in the book. Of note here, however, are the summarizing tables on pp. 121–24, which pull out the main developmental considerations and their implications for testing in the five areas in general and for each of the three age groups. Similarly, the appendices contain a range of useful reference grids and tables, presenting, for example, some published assessment criteria, features of speaking/writing, and age–CEFR level correspondences. Assessing the Language of Young Learners is a carefully organized and crafted book, which has a high degree of coherence, making it logical to follow and easy to read. It uses published and other data and information to exemplify and support theoretical concepts and ideas, making it relevant, highly practical, and giving it an appropriate balance between theory and practice. That said, the examples tend to draw on data and materials from a slightly limited range of tests. Although acknowledged, it would have been interesting to read about some considerations for testing in a wider range of contexts outside of Europe, such as those in less-developed or under-resourced contexts, or where the L1 writing system differs from that of English. The book is nonetheless a very welcome addition to other titles on other types of YL assessment, or assessment in broader terms. Testing as a form of assessment is a reality in many contexts, and this focus is a valuable contribution to the literature in the field. Although beyond the scope of this title, a complement to it, and a development on the work of Mirici (2008) and Little (2005), would be a detailed look at assessment using the European Language Portfolio (ELP) with YLs at different ages. The book takes children’s various developmental needs as a starting point for discussing issues surrounding testing and assessment in the current CEFR-oriented world, emphasizing the need to take children’s potential capabilities into account at all times. As such, I would strongly recommend it to YL practitioners, assessors, and researchers. Kate Gregson is a freelance ELT consultant, trainer, writer, and teacher. She has worked in ELT for over 20 years, with experience in a range of contexts in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe as teacher to adult and young learners, pre- and in-service trainer, master’s supervisor, and teacher manager. She specializes in teaching young learners in particular, and is currently involved in curriculum and materials development projects in different locations, as well as in distance and face-to-face in-service teacher and trainer training. Her professional interests include child bi- and multilingualism, and various aspects of teacher education and professional development. References Alderson , J.C . 2007 . ‘ The CEFR and the need for more research ’. Modern Language Journal 91 : 659 – 63 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cameron , L . 2001 . Teaching Languages to Young Learners . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Figueras , N . 2012 . ‘ The impact of the CEFR ’. ELT Journal . 66 / 4 : 477 – 85 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ioannou-Georgiou , S. and P. Pavlou . 2003 . Assessing Young Learners . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Little , D . 2005 . ‘ The Common European Framework and the European Language Portfolio: involving learners and their judgements in the assessment process ’. Language Testing 22 / 3 : 321 – 36 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS McKay , P . 2006 . Assessing Young Language Learners . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Mirici , I.H . 2008 . ‘ Development and validation process of a European Language Portfolio model for young learners ’. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 9 /April. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

ELT JournalOxford University Press

Published: Mar 21, 2018

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