Weighing a butterfly: How can we authentically assess progress in proficiency in English as a second language?

Workshop Presenter: Peter Ward

English for speakers of other languages is different from other subjects and in many ways, the medium is the message. When assessing English language proficiency, we are interested not so much in what learners are saying but in how they are saying it. Consequently, all assessment is authentic.  

A communicative approach which maximises students’ speaking is widely regarded as the most effective method of learning language. However, testing often focuses on written test papers. Furthermore, overt, isolated testing is not teaching or learning.  Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter. We as teachers are not fattening students, we are leading their learning.

How can we help language learners see and hear their progress, their strengths and their areas for improvement?

How do different cultures view tests and grades and how do we interact with this?

How can we lead the learning of the medium of language so that when students progress into a University course where they are contributing orally and submitting work in their second or third language, it is their message that will be noticed and assessed, not the medium in which they are producing it?

Attendees at this workshop will take part in activities commonly used in communicative language learning, involving discussion in pairs and small groups. Together we will look to answer some of the questions posed above. Minimalist image-focussed pechakucha-style slides will be used.  

Peter Ward teaches at AUT International House and Rutherford College Community Education Centre as well as being involved with other English language testing organisations. Originally from Christchurch, Peter has taught English as a second language for twenty years in New Zealand, Japan, Australia and Spain. He likes people, ideas and words.