Assessment Part 3 – Building Assessment Preparation into a Syllabus


Over the past few days I’ve been talking about assessment. So far I’ve focussed on how we can make assessment of benefit to our students and explained the process I used in implementing my speaking test. In the final part of my assessment blogging trilogy I want to talk about how we can prepare students for speaking assessments in every lesson we do, not just for the two weeks before they take the tests. I also want to discuss how, for public school conversation teachers in Korea, the NEAT presents us with the opportunity to add a real, demonstrable value, to our jobs.

In case you haven’t read my previous two blogs I’m going to explain what the NEAT exam is. The NEAT exam is a new format of test being introduced by the Korean government; its primary aim is to assess every Korean student’s English ability before they apply for university. A wider goal is for it to replace the plethora of other English ability tests used in Korea. It is an important step because for the first time ever Korean students will have a speaking element in their national English ability tests (which provides the acronym for NEAT by the way). I believe it is basically going to be Korea’s equivalent to IELTS and TOEIC.

This is of particular importance to all the native English teachers (NETs) in Korea as previously there was often the complaint from both the NETs and the Korean community that our lessons had no real objectives or targets. Our job was to simply teach conversation. Without any real focus or goal it has always been hard to design a syllabus, to have any real long running themes guiding our conversational lesson planning as there was no target to aim for. The NEAT test changes that, and  in doing so has made me realise my lessons over the past three years could have been that bit more practically relevant by building in activities that practice the skills needed for speaking exams such as IELTS, TOEIC and now, for students in Korea at least, NEAT. I’m certainly not saying that our conversation lessons should be teaching to these tests, but that we can introduce activities the help prepare our students on a lesson by lesson basis, as opposed to the two weeks before their exam.

I don’t even think making these changes would have been a difficult thing for me to introduce to my lesson planning; in fact, it would probably have made the process a lot easier. Instead of wondering how I was going to fill that last 10 minutes, I could have created an activity similar to one the students would likely encounter in a speaking test, using the test format as a template.

I’m going to look at this more closely in relation to NEAT, identifying quick examples of the type of activities that could be inserted into lesson plans to help the students be as prepared as possible without ‘teaching to the test’. I do think such methods could be equally applicable to students around the world who might have to take IELTS, TOEIC or any other speaking proficiency exam, but are in a conversation class not specifically targeted at formal assessment.

NEAT Question Type 1 – Story Telling

–          Personally, I use a lot of short films in class to help stimulate the student’s imaginations. There are two things I could have done here; firstly, I could have given them stills from the film and either had them predict what would happen or have them write a short summary of what did happen.

–          For lower level students, I could have them make the pictures for each other, and then their partner makes the story.

NEAT Question Type 2 – Graph Description

– Students could survey each other; they make questions they would like to ask each other on the topic of that class, and from the results make a graph. They could then present their graph to the class.

– Students could predict how many class mates are wearing grey socks, blue socks, red socks, green socks, then as a class make a chart, give a very simple description and whoever had the closest prediction gets a prize.

NEAT Question Type 3 – Advice Giving

– Students could secretly write on a piece of paper problems they currently have in their life. They then make it into a paper airplane, everyone throws it to the other side of the room, they then plan the advice they would give and some are read to the class.

– For lower level students I think this is the most difficult category, but they could start off with simple statement like “the man should eat breakfast”. (Any better suggestions for this one are particularly welcome!!!)

NEAT Questions Type 4 – Conversation

–  This is the easiest to introduce, and I’d be surprised if most teachers don’t already. For high level students creating a role play where one student is a character in a film, book or one of their favourite famous people and the other an interviewer is just one of hundreds of options.

Identifying in the objectives of our lesson plans or syllabuses this relationship between the activities and the assessments our students will likely take in the future could prove to be very worthwhile. One reason for this is that it strengthens our position with our employers. If we demonstrate to our employers, whether it be the Korean government, an academy director or our students and identify the links between our lessons, the practical usefulness AND assessment they can only be happy. I really think this is true even if they are not taking classes directly towards a certain type of speaking assessment. Secondly, these exams have been designed to test certain communicative skills that are deemed important by professionals in the field, for me, this provides reassurance that the skills are likely to be transferrable to common every day communication.

In relation to Korea it’s really important we start objectifying the need for our role here. Government cuts are reducing the jobs available for native English teachers on a monthly basis, this could be one way we can turn that around.

Well that’s about all I have on assessment! The past two months planning, implementing and reflecting on the speaking tests I’ve been conducting this semester has been a massive eye opener for me regarding just how much there is to think about. Assessment isn’t a simple thing; I hated it when I was a student and so if we are going to put our students through it I think it’s important we give them all the support they need while make the process as fair and useful for them as we can.

Once all my students have finished their speaking tests I’m going to be getting feedback from them on what they thought of the design. I can’t wait to find out what I can learn from them and whether they were won over from the plan, memorize, recite tests they were used to and wanted at the beginning of the process.

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