Practical Skills for LOA

Having established the differences between paradigms, and set out a key criterion for LOA validity, we now turn to the correlate practical skills that are needed in an LOA LAL program. Hamp-Lyons (2017) has suggested that there are five elements to a theory of LAL for LOA: (1) task design for effective learning; (2) self- and peer-evaluation; (3) timely feedback; (4) effective teacher questioning; (5) scaffolding of performance. These are what Black and Wiliam (2001) would have termed the activities of teachers and learners to create an “assessment for learning” environment. However, there is a number of further key practical skills that need to be added to the list for a fuller picture of what constitutes LOA LAL: (6) lesson planning and classroom management for reflection; (7) management of affective impact on learners.

Language Assessment Literacy 41

Task Design for Effective Learning

Effective LOA tasks involve a variety of contexts and opportunities for communication, together with the integration of skills where appropriate. Meta-studies of successful tasks that engage and motivate learners, such as Coomey and Stephenson (2001), have discovered that four positive behaviors are generated. The first is dialogue between participants, which may be either convergent (collaborating to achieve a shared goal) or divergent (competing, as in game playing or debates, such as a “balloon debate”) (Pica et al., 1993, p. 13). The second is the involvement of learners, such that completing the task engages their attention. A judgment must be made about the relative difficulty of the task such that it pushes a learner towards the next step in their growth, but is not so challenging that it demotivates. The third is support (see scaffolding of performance below). The fourth is control, where the task designer must decide how structured and guided a task should be in the early stages of learning, leading to more freedom in how to engage with a task as proficiency develops. Together, these four behaviors are summarized as “DISC” features.

There are many ways in which teachers can think about task design to achieve variety. One that has proved very popular over the years is the Task Elements of Candlin (1987), an adapted version of which appears in Table 3.1.

Any or all of the task elements may be changed to produce a variety of performances that will enhance learning.

Self- and Peer-Assessment

Much recent research into self- and peer-assessment is concerned with the relative harshness or lenience of different rater types when awarding scores (e.g., Matsuno, 2009), but as I have argued, the real concern is whether the assessment is useful in supporting change. As Brown and Hudson (1998, p. 80) would argue, it is a matter of whether the assessment provides the learner with information on both strengths and weaknesses.

Table 3.1 Classification of Task Elements

Input

Stimulus to generate features of DISC

Roles

The assignment of participant duties within the task

Settings

The context in which communication will take place

Actions

What participants must do to achieve goals

Outcomes

The goals of the task

Objectives

What you expect participants to learn (learning outcomes)

Feedback

Evaluation of performance and outcomes to inform iterative learning and improvement

Source: Adapted from Candlin (1987).

In qualitative studies it has been shown that training in peer assessment leads to improvements in both the quality and quantity of information a learner receives (Saito, 2008). The purpose is to enhance learners’ ability to reflect on what constitutes “good” performance, the quality of peer performance, and ultimately the quality of their own performances (Topping, 2018). In order to achieve this, teachers need to acquire an understanding of what constitutes useful feedback that initiates learner revision, and to provide “model” responses to illustrative tasks so that learners make a note of the gap between their own performance and that of the target performance. If teachers can also generate descriptors of performance at different levels, or adapt these from existing descriptors to make them relevant to local conditions, learners may begin to develop a meta-language for talking about, and reflecting upon, their work.

Feedback

Considerations of the effect of feedback as a change agent were the impetus for the AfL movement in the late 1990s, and has been the main focus of attention in language learning research (Brookhart, 2017). There are seven principles established by research (Black, 2015) that teachers need to master both for their own feedback and training for peer assessment:

  • 1. Provide task-centered rather than ego-centered feedback. This requires focusing upon the performance of the learner, rather than the learner themselves, restricting comment to what can be done to improve performance.
  • 2. Feedback should focus on the positive in the current performance as well as how it can be improved in order to build confidence and a sense of ongoing achievement.
  • 3. Provide limited feedback on key aspects of the performance selected for improvement; do not overload a learner with too much feedback that creates negative reactions.
  • 4. Give information that will help the learner to make the next small step towards improved performance.
  • 5. Give feedback at an appropriate time, often as close to the performance as possible.
  • 6. Create time and space for the learner to reflect and act on the feedback.
  • 7. Check understanding of feedback and what is required to make an improvement.
 
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