Testing Speech Output

I wrote this to Jennifer in response to a question about how to test kids on speaking assessment, for those of us who must:
Ah, the speaking assessment. I lobbied very heavily in Denver Public Schools to abolish it at level 1 and they did. It saved them a lot of money at the district level and is an absurdity. No need to fight it, to tell the people that we need 10,000 hours for mastery and how we have only 125 hours of instructional time in a year (minus 50 for junk stuff in L1) and how kids are just plain unable to speak, any more than a small child, after that little time. [Even the autocorrect knows best, as it just corrected as I wrote that previous sentence to read “snail child”. That is the truth with speech output!]
No, we can’t fight that kind of thing. Just tell the kids not to worry, that you won’t count the speaking part much at all. Then don’t. They told you to give the speaking part, but they didn’t tell you how much to weigh it.
Greg in a recent comment mentioned some possible speaking activities, actually very recently. Maybe search his name in the search bar and look around.
Now, regarding the format: The classic thing we did in DPS was show them a picture. Well, then, if you are using ANATTY, you know how narrow and deep our stories go, with all the great reps possible in the Reading Options, which took me years to develop and refine like a lot of the other ideas in ANATTY, you could just give them a pic of a drawing they did right before the exam time, so it is fresh in their minds. The 21 reading options go so deep on reps, but reps that they are not aware of. Then practice with it, with that very picture, during the review period before the exam. No one said you can’t do that. During the review period, write the vocabulary in a corner and “accidentally” forget to erase the words related to the pic. Then have them practice with a partner during the exam period. They will look at the words. Walk around and listen as they practice. Then surprise them by saying, “Oh you did so well on the speaking!” OK let’s move to the next section of the exam!” Nobody said you have to administer the exam one by one. And if somebody objects (they never do bc admins are at this time busy running around putting out fires all over the building) to that type of speaking exam, tell them that it takes too long to give individual speaking assessments in one exam period and that you won’t take the time out to give it earlier bc according to the research speaking is not recommended early on. Even if a kid says nothing, which some will bc of toxic shame put on them by previous teachers not to mention that being a teenager is a toxic and difficult time anyway, you can tell them to come in later or the next day and speak a bit about the pic. Then if they still won’t talk, tell them “Well, just so you know, this part of the exam is only 1% so it won’t affect how you did on the exam.” Then let them go.
Or you could give anyone who challenges you on your policy for this part of the exam this article by our resident super-mind Nathaniel Hardt from the Primers hardline above:
Possible Response #2 to Supervisors Requesting to See Forced Speech Output in our Classrooms – Nathaniel Hardt:
First, in Massachusetts [maybe there is something similar in your state.], Stage 1 students are expected to “use selected words, phrases, and expressions with no major repeated patterns of error.” Sentences are not expected until Stage 2.
Students are not expected to reach proficiency stage 1 until the end of grade 4 if they start L2 in Kindergarten or 1st grade. (Those who start a sequential language program in grade 6 are expected to reach Stage 1 at the end of grade 8.) Stage 2 is expected to be reached in grades 8 (if they start in K) and 10 (if they start in 6th). So we allow quite a bit of time to transition from words into sentences.
Second, We use an interactive, student-centered process to teach the grammatical relationships to a particular verb (has). By focusing on “who?” we lead students to intuitively and automatically identify the subject of the verb (who has?). By focusing on “how many?” we are teaching numbers as well as helping them to unconsciously respond to the morphemes for number (-s in cuántos) and gender (cuántos vs. cuántas). [Note the combination of buzz words and linguistic analysis].
Third, we start simple and make sure that our students understand us. This will motivate them to do their best. If they do not understand they will become discouraged and give up. Their success in understanding will motivate them to speak.
Fourth, we work with complete sentences. A complete sentence is a conjugated verb and whatever is needed to complete the verbal idea. Structures used are very often either complete sentences or the kernels of a complete sentence. Working with your structures and family vocabulary a complete sentence that might be likely to develop is “He has a sister.”
Fifth, after declaring a complete sentence statement you use circling to help students process this complete sentence in a variety of ways. In the following example, the students must focus successively on the truth value of the complete sentence (yes/no) and on the object of the verb.
Statement: Tiene una hermana. (He has a sister.) [The teacher speaks in complete sentence]
Response: Ohhh!
Q. How many sisters does he have? [The teacher is helping students to process one aspect of the complete sentence]
A. One. [Important feedback: student is not responding in complete sentences, so teacher will model again, in the interrogative form]
Q. Does he have a sister?
A. Yes. [Normal conversation would not require a complete sentence here, but teacher keeps modeling]
Q. Does he have two sisters?
A. No.
That’s correct [encouragement]. He does not have two sisters; he has one sister.
Q. Does he has one or does he have two?
A. He has one. [The complete answer here is a complete sentence. Some students may be able to give this.]
By circling the verb you may find that more students are able to respond with a complete sentence
Q. He has one or he doesn’t have one?
A. He has one. [Complete sentence.]
Q. Does he need a sister?
A. No.
Q. Does have a sister or does he need a sister?
A. He has a sister. [Complete sentence with direct object noun.]
If we decide to name the subject we will be considering the complete sentence in yet another way. [Note that by calling it “modeling” we are showing that we are in touch with current modes of thinking. We are giving lots of meaningful input, but this may not register as essential for everyone.]
Sixth, although the focus is on a single complete sentence, circling challenges the students to process multiple complete sentences: He doesn’t have a sister; he has two sisters; he has one sister; he needs a sister, etc.
Seventh, the value of single word responses is that it allows the students to stay focused on the complete sentence utterance and not be distracted by word order, googling their brains for vocabulary, self-editing utterances for grammaticality, or deliberating the proper pronunciation. This is similar to using calculators to do the calculations in higher level math problems so that students can focus on a complete mathematical thought.
Eighth, when we speak to the students in such a way that they must try to understand the message, and not focus so much on responding to it in the target language, we engage our students in higher-level thinking that is natural. Forced speech output in language acquisition is unnatural and impossible. Speech output will eventually emerge but not because of rote memorization of complete sentences. Rather, we skillfully lead our students by playful analysis of many complete sentences to the point of spontaneously producing their own complete sentences because they have been listening and understanding. This requires far more time than we have in our classrooms, thousands and thousands of hours and, according to Dr. Stephen Krashen, the process is not even a function of the conscious mind. So trying to focus on speech output in class, especially in the early stages of language study, is futile, like trying to shine a light through a wall of rock. To quote Dr. Krashen on the subject:
“Language is acquired through comprehensible input. It is an unconscious process that happens when the learner is focused on the message, rather than the language itself.”
Related: https://benslavic.com/blog/speaking-assessment-game-tina/
There are other options that maybe Greg or Sean could help me dig out here, but this is a pretty long response already.



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