Chapter 9 Suggestions for Testing Grammar
In this chapter we explore: • The use of structured input formats for testing grammar • The use of structured output formats for testing grammar • The use of information that is an outcome of class activities as possible testing materials
Some preliminaries: A review of testing principles • Lee and VanPatten examined some aspects of test development that are important in this chapter as well. • They are reviewed here.
Washback effects • The washback effect refers to the relationship between what happens in class and how learners are tested. • Krashen and Terrell (1983) argue that if you want acquisition to happen in the classroom, then you must have tests that promote acquisition. • Tests should not be divorced from how one learns something.
Four criteria for designing a good test • Carroll (1980) identifies four general criteria in testing: • Economy refers to obtaining the maximum amount of information about what the learner knows or can do in as little time as possible. • Relevance: For a test to be relevant, it should reflect not only what has been taught but also how it was taught and learned. • Acceptability considers to what extent learners accept the test as valid. • Comparability takes into account how groups of learners perform on a test.
Structured input formats for tests • Guidelines for developing structured input and structured output activities: 1) Present one thing at a time. 2) Keep meaning in focus. 3) Move from sentences to connected discourse. 4) Use both oral and written input and output. 5) Have the learner do something with the input, or have other learners respond to the content of the output.
Input-based testing procedure • These same guidelines can be utilized in the construction of test sections. • The sample test following (Section A) uses an input-based testing procedure. • Note that meaning is kept in focus and that learners do something with the input.
Section A: John F. Kennedy or George W. Bush? First match the sentence you hear with the man. Then indicate whether or not you think it is a true statement. • Kennedy Bush • agree disagree 1. He was a great man. 2. He keeps strange hours. 3. His brother wanted to be president, too. 4. He hopes to change America.
Structured input and output • If an instructor employs both structured input and structured output activities in classroom lessons, then Section A will be consistent with the way the forms were taught and should therefore be both relevant and acceptable to the learners. • Whereas Section A tests third-person singular, Section B tests the first-person plural. • Meaning is kept in focus in two ways: • Having learners identify the frame of reference • Having the learners do something with the input
Section B • Indicate whether the speaker is relating information from his childhood or information about the present. Then decide if the information applies to you. childhood present This applies to me. This does not. • 1. We moved around a lot. • 2. We have two dogs. • 3. We ate dinner promptly at five. • 4. We speak when spoken to.
Third-person plural • In Section C, the choice of third-person plural is a deliberate one because Sections A and B utilize other forms. • By relating the sections in this way, an instructor addresses not only Carroll’s recommendation for economy and the guideline for “one thing at a time” but also a concern for completeness.
Section C • Listen to each sentence. Then select one of the time-related adverbials that can be added to the sentence you hear. Last Monday Right now Next week • 1. Terry and Pat vacationed in Hawaii. • 2. Terry and Pat will buy a house. • 3. Terry and Pat are preparing their taxes.
A question • Why would a test need to include input-based formats when you have already moved to output in the classroom? • A method that emphasizes comprehensible input and structured input in the instruction cannot then ignore these in the testing. • To do so runs the risk of making these instructional elements irrelevant as classroom practices in the minds of the learners.
Structured output formats for tests • Output-based formats that follow the guidelines for structured output activities can be combined with input-based sections. • An example of an output-based test format combined with input would be to add some structured output to Section B.
Section D • Indicate whether the speaker is relating information from his childhood or information about the present. Then decide if the information applies to you. Finally, explain how it does or doesn’t. Childhood Present Applies to me Does not apply to me • 1. We moved around a lot. • 2. We have two dogs. • 3. We ate dinner promptly at five. • 4. We speak when spoken to.
Test section D • As a test section, Section D meets the guidelines for developing structured input and output activities: • One thing at a time • Meaning is kept in focus • Combination of sentences and connected discourse • Combination of oral input and written output • The learners do something with the input • The test section also incorporates Carroll’s testing criteria: relevant, economical, and acceptable.
Being responsible for what happens in class • Grammar activities should lead students to exchange information with each other and with the instructor. • In this section, Lee and VanPatten encourage “washback effects” by suggesting that the information exchanged in class is appropriate for a test.
Using the classroom • Using the results of in-class activities as the bases for test sections reinforces the importance of interaction with classmates and paying attention in the classroom. • Using the content of classroom interactions on tests can be viewed as an extension of one of the guidelines: “Others must respond to the content of the output.”
Activity: Attitudes toward the government • Indicate the extent to which you agree with each statement. • 5:Strongly agree 4: Agree 3:Somewhat in agreement 2:Disagree 1. Strongly disagree • The government… • Understands us. • Helps us. • Controls us. • Ignores us. • Taxes us too much.
Adaptation • Lee and VanPatten propose to adapt this activity in two different ways as a test section. • We should give tests that encourage learners to engage in acquisition activities. • Tests should “teach” learners that paying attention to input and meaning-based activities is not just for fun but is critical for acquisition. • Section F encourages individual expression, whereas Section G focuses more specifically on the interaction itself.
Section F • Compare and contrast your classmates’ attitudes toward the government with your own by writing at least a five-sentence paragraph using us. Model: The class believes that the government understands us, but I do not agree. Understand Control Help Tax Represent Guide Ignore
Section G • We responded to the following statements in class. Select three of the statements to which the class had strong reactions and recount the information used to support the argument. • Model: The class strongly agreed that the government helps us. The examples we gave were student loans, Social Security, and Medicare. • The government… • Understands us Helps us Controls us • Ignores us Taxes us too much
Structured input activity • Activity Q was an example of a structured input activity. • It can be adapted for a test to hold learners accountable for the interactions they have had in the classroom.
Activity Q: State of mind • Find people in the class who answer “yes” to the following questions. • Do you get tense when speaking in Spanish? • Do you get nervous before taking a big exam? • Do you get angry easily?
Another adaptation • Note how Section H adapts Activity Q for testing purposes. • The learners are focused on a specific element of the grammar at the same time they are responsible for what happened in class.
Section H • Write a sentence for each of the following that describes how you feel in that situation. Then indicate who else in the class feels the same way you do. • When speaking Spanish, I __________. _________ also feels this way.
So far… • So far all of the examples to testing the content of classroom interactions have been output-based testing sections. • But there is no reason why an input-based testing section could not also test information exchanged in class. • The following could be used as an input-based testing section.
Section I • We have seen in class what Harriet does, doesn’t do, would do, and would never do. For each pair of sentences you hear, indicate which one is true for Harriet. • 1. Harriet would never watch a soap opera. Harriet watches soap operas. • 2. Harriet would never eat snails. Harriet eats snails.
Examining Section I • As you examine Section I, note how the learner must attend to the verb form as part of paying attention to the meaning. • The grammatical difference between would never eat and eats determines the truth-value of each sentence. • There is no better way of keeping meaning in focus than by working with the truth-value of information!
Summary of chapter 9 • Focused very specifically on testing grammar so that teaching is not viewed as somehow divorced from testing • Adapted the kinds of activities done in class to test sections • Took certain interactive classroom activities and created test sections based on those interactions