Assessing the Productive Skills in Modern Languages S4-6
Author(s): James McGonigal, Brian C Templeton
Copyright holder(s): University of Glasgow: re-use of Crown Copyright material
As is the case in English, the performance of students in speaking and writing in a Modern Language is assessed on the basis of impression marking, guided by some form of Grade Related Criteria (GRC). At Standard Grade, the extended GRC for speaking assist teachers in allocating the performance to one of the three levels (Foundation/General/Credit) and then to one of two grades within each level (e.g. Foundation = Grades 5 or 6). At the levels within the National Qualification (Higher Still) framework, the GRC are presented in the form of Pegged Mark Descriptors, which allow the performance to be allocated to a category (Very Good/Good/Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory/Poor/Very Poor) on the basis of performance descriptors written in English. Once the category has been selected no further decision is required as one pegged mark is awarded from each category (e.g. Speaking Discussion: Very Good = 15) and this contributes to the end of course award.
At Standard Grade, given the key principle of authenticity, the baseline established for a performance was in terms of task completion, with communication achieved in spite of errors and assisted by help offered by the interlocutor in terms of the speed of delivery and rephrasing of questions. In the Higher Still framework, the baseline level of performance described in the “Satisfactory” category encourages teachers and lecturers to assess performances in terms of the following aspects:
• language resource
Because the wording of the pegged mark descriptors for each level is very similar, it is necessary to refer to the Topic Development Strands of the prescribed themes to ensure that the student is developing the topic in a way appropriate to the level (e.g. expressing opinions and ideas at Higher level). To confirm that the student is operating at the appropriate level in terms of the content of the performance, it is also necessary to refer to the Grammar Grid as it provides an indication of the range and level of grammatical competence expected of students at the different levels.
If the content of the performance is at the appropriate level, the student is well on the way to producing a satisfactory performance and this will be confirmed by the accuracy of the language used. The key descriptors of a “Satisfactory” performance refer to the language being “sufficiently accurate to convey meaning clearly and consistently and communication is achieved in spite of errors”. This is interpreted to mean that the ability to form the requisite verb tenses will be crucial in determining whether communication is achieved. A satisfactory performance normally contains a limited number of common verbs and although some of the verbs may contain an error, e.g. j’ai resté, you are in no doubt as to the meaning and tense being used. If the student can handle a limited range of common verbs with sufficient accuracy, then it is likely that communication will be achieved in spite of errors in other areas such as spelling, cases, genders and agreement.
These errors will be apparent and will no doubt annoy the teacher/lecturer conducting the assessment but they will not impede communication to the same degree as will the inability to make clear who is doing the action and whether that action is happening now, has happened in the past or is still to happen in the future. If the content of the performance is appropriate to the level and communication is achieved in spite of errors, then the student will have achieved a satisfactory performance.
If we are considering an award above the “Satisfactory” category, then the key aspects of the performance are likely be those which relate to accuracy and language resource. Performances in the “Good” category tend to contain a wider range of vocabulary and structures and therefore the content is becoming slightly more interesting. The language is “fairly free from serious errors”, which means there may still be errors in spelling, genders, agreements, etc., and there may still be occasional errors in verb tenses, but these will be of the j’ai allé type, which leave you in no doubt as to the tense and meaning. Errors tend to occur when the student tries to use more complex language (less common verbs/wider range of structures) and tries to form more complex sentences. Performances in this category are often described as being either “more accurate but predictable and pedestrian” or “less accurate but more enterprising and fluent”. If the student was able to combine both the accuracy and the wider range of more complex structures, then the performance would move into the “Very Good” category.
In the “Very Good” category, the language should be “mostly accurate”. Therefore, while some errors will still occur, they will be relatively minor and the overall impression is of the ability to sustain a high level of accuracy in verb tenses and to extend this accuracy into other areas of language such as genders, cases, word order and agreements. In terms of language resource, the student can form more complex sentences and introduces less common verbs, vocabulary and language structures, which might include some of the following: relative pronouns, object pronouns, reflexive verbs, verbs followed by prepositional phrases and subordinating conjunctions (in German). It is also at this level that the aspect of interaction becomes most noticeable, as the discussion between the student and interlocutor should allow the interlocutor to talk at normal speed in the target language and should not require him/her to provide much help to the student in terms of repetition or rephrasing.
Many of the points made above are taken from a document “Guidance on interpreting the descriptors”, which was produced firstly as guidance for moderators and markers of the external speaking and writing tasks. The purpose of the document was to ensure a standardised approach to marking through a shared understanding of the key indicators such as accuracy of verb tenses/range of structures, which guide markers when trying to decide between two categories and the associated marks. This document has subsequently been issued to schools and colleges to assist them in assessing the speaking performances of their students. This must be recorded on audio cassette, given a mark by the centre and sent to SQA for central moderation, and to assist with the marking of writing tasks, which are to be used to provide estimates and evidence for appeals should that be necessary.
In terms of developing Language Awareness, a further use of this document will be as the basis for discussion with the students themselves, so that they have a shared understanding of the criteria against which their performance will be assessed and are provided with formative feedback on what is required in order to improve their performance.
Exemplification of Standards
Ultimately to make any GRC or Pegged Mark Descriptors meaningful, it is necessary to provide examples of real performances by students, which can be used as a basis for discussion. For Speaking in Modern Languages, there exist performances on audio cassette for Higher and Intermediate 2 and these will be updated by SQA as a result of the annual moderation of speaking, which takes place towards the end of April. There is also a video of candidates attempting the new format of Presentation/Discussion at Higher level in French. These audio and video cassettes are accompanied by written comments from the Senior Moderator for each language, which indicate the mark awarded and the features of the performance that contributed to that award.
For Writing in Modern Languages, SQA has made available to all centres the examples of candidate performances in the writing tasks at Intermediate 2 and Higher which were used with the teams of markers, in order to set the national standards expected in each task. The SQA packs in French, German, Italian and Spanish provide exemplification of the standards expected of candidates in each of the writing elements of the end of course assessment and are accompanied by comments in English, written by the Principal Assessor of each language.
The main purpose of the exemplars of student performances in Speaking and Writing is to aid departments to moderate their own marking and to ensure that they are assessing their students in line with national standards. This will in turn help centres both to arrive at accurate estimates of their students’ likely performance in the end of course assessment and also to compile credible evidence for appeals, should they be necessary. However, as indicated above, these performances and the written comments which accompany them can also be used by centres to provide their candidates with formative feedback on how to improve performance in each of the skills. Much the same approach is used by colleagues in English departments.
The video of speaking performances could be analysed with the students as a means of helping them to identify useful language and useful strategies, both of which will allow them to organise and structure their presentation. The written exemplars of performances could also be used as the stimulus for intensive reading activities, where students could be asked to find the errors in the text and suggest how they would be corrected or the text could be reworked in the form of a cloze procedure in order to focus attention on particular grammatical structures. In this way the students can develop their own grammatical competence and will be better able to monitor their own output and self-correct as required.
English teachers will recognise connections here with their own use of video or print exemplars to improve student performance in Talk and Writing. Criteria can be clearly exemplified and explicitly discussed. The use of critical and linguistic terminology that is vital for a Credit level performance in Extended Response to Reading, for instance, can be clearly demonstrated (even by its absence).
Departmental training can use SQA exemplars in a planned way to highlight the differences between stages of spoken and written performance. The Modern Languages Grammar Grid (available from colleagues as Appendix B in the Higher Still Arrangements for Modern Languages) might also provide a useful model for developing secondary KAL terms for English beyond what is given in 5-14 levels D, E and F.
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Assessing the Productive Skills in Modern Languages S4-6. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=502.
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