09 SES 03 A, Assessment in Language Education: Early literacy, oracy and spelling
This paper reports on how teachers, across subjects in tenth-grade in Norwegian lower secondary schools, give meaning to oral competence (oracy) and the assessment of oracy. The aim is to detect what the teachers understand as good oral competence. In addition, the article aims to capture the teachers’ inter-disciplinary and implicit construct of oracy. The purpose of this article is to gain insights into teachers’ reasoning and judgement behind the oracy construct as a key competence in lower secondary education, and thereby give teachers a voice on opinions of standards related to this competence, which is found in the National curriculum.
The background for the research is the latest school reform in Norway where the teachers’ professional assessment of oral competency is presumed to be based on curriculum standards, after LK06 reforms where oral competency became a key competence (Norwegian Knowledge Promotion, 2007). The new curriculum as based on the OECD’s work on the DeSeCo competencies (OECD, 2005). The key competencies (oracy, writing, reading, mathematics, and ICT) are expected to be taught and assessed across the curriculum (Norwegian Knowledge Promotion, 2007). The integration of oracy as a key competency became the responsibility of each individual teacher, particularly since the curriculum was vague on assessment and instruction of oracy. Previously, the teaching and assessing of oracy has exclusively belonged to Norwegian as a first language (L1). As a result of the introduction of oracy as a key competence, oracy became something more than being able to express oneself in one discipline. Despite the political importance of oracy in the curriculum, and the fact that the teachers all have a teacher education degree, which to a limited degree includes assessment, it cannot be taken for granted that the teachers know how to define and assess oracy. In Norway, all students must pass one or several oral exams after lower secondary and upper secondary school. The high stake tenth-grade students’ final, oral, national exam is a performance assessment to find out whether the student can perform the task at hand. Additionally, the teachers also assess students’ oral competence and give separate oracy grades in some subjects (L1-Norwegian as a first language and L2-English as a second language). In order to have a fair assessment of the students, it is important that the teachers have a common understanding of the oracy construct. Since the oral, national exam is left administrated locally, it becomes especially important to find out whether or not a common construct of oracy exist among the teachers.
The purpose of this study is to find the teachers’ implied oracy construct as a key competence through examine the teachers’ reasoning and judgements behind the assessment. Classic rhetoric theory (Aristotle 1356a 2,3) is combined with test theory (Kane, 2006, Borgstrom, 2014) as analytic tools to interpret the interviews with the nine teachers. In order to obtain these objectives, three research questions are developed:
1) How do teachers define and assess oracy as a key competence?
2) What is the underlying construct?
3) What norm sources do teachers utilize in their professional judgement?
What the teachers are looking for when they are assessing is called a construct (Kane, 1999). In this research, the construct validity of oracy, which is addressed should perhaps be considered as a “quasi”-construct (Kane, 2009, Borgstrom, 2014). This implies that the teachers’ quasi oracy construct, is defined in relation to oracy in the school context. It is not a construct in psychometric terms, but an implicit quasi construct based on the teachers more or less tacit knowledge (Pollyani 1966, Kane, 2009, Berge, 2011, Borgstrom, 2014).
In order to answer the research questions answers have been searched for in the teachers’ own experience based knowledge. Knowledge was expressed through a phenomenological approach in individual interviews with the teachers (Van Manen, 2014). The nine interviews, which were conducted in the spring of 2016, are the primary data. The goal is to describe the teachers’ experienced reality with the assessment of oracy across subjects and its’ underlying construct (Kvale & Brinkman, 2015). In order to be able to grasp the teachers’ immediate perceptions of the assessment of oracy as a key competence, the semi-structured interview guide was not given to the subjects in advance. Nine tenth-grade teachers from two different, larger, urban, lower secondary schools in Norway were interviewed through semi-structured interviews, which gave room for following-up questions. The interviews will give some insight into the teachers’ doxa knowledge, which in return is an important source to the teachers understanding of norms. The subjects were four female teachers and five male teachers, ranging in age from being in their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties. The teachers were ranging in experience from novice teachers to well experienced teachers. In order to find the teachers’ notion of oral competence as a key competence, teachers from all subject disciplines were targeted. Almost all teachers at the lower secondary level in Norway teach several subjects. As a group the teachers represents almost every single subject taught at the lower secondary level. All teachers except from one had experience from being an examiner or a co-assessor at the oral as well as the written tenth-grade national exams. Eight of nine were examiners, co-assessor, or both in the spring of 2016 on these exams. An interview guide with 28 open questions provided the basis for the interviews. The duration of the interviews varied between 19-60 minutes. First, the material were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Second, textual units, relevant for researching my objectives, were identified, coded and placed in groups. The categories were: oracy definition, assessment of oracy (quality and frequency), assessment of oracy in logos, ethos, pathos, and teachers’ norm sources. Third, a common meaning was generated from the content of the textual units, and findings were validated by systematically comparing categories and content. In terms of ethical considerations, detailed characteristics of the participants are left out, the materials are handled anonymously, and the study is approved by the Norwegian Centre for Research Data (NSD).
These results represent oracy as a key competency across a number of subject. The content of the utterance is the most valued part of oral competency. The teachers value a complex oracy construct, which is consistent within subjects. The teachers develop a unified oracy construct through their culture and traditions when given freedom to practice through vague policies. This study add knowledge to the field of the teachers’ professional judgement. The teachers’ professional judgement has been regulated and affected throughout history through reforms (i.e. LK06), and an increased call for more assessment both at the international level, the national level, and at the local level. Although, the teachers in Norway have been subjects for increased calls for assessment and reforms, the Norwegian core curriculum gives the teachers freedom to choose and autonomy in their practices. The Norwegian teachers can in other words be said to be self-regulated and autonomous. The Norwegian core curriculum has been criticized for being too vague, and hard to understand. However, the teachers’ oracy construct has developed through time in the teachers’ own cultures and practices. It seems like the construct of oracy can be a result of the long tradition of oracy in each subject tradition. Additionally, it seems like when teachers are empowerment through freedom and autonomy, they naturally develop a common ground for their assessment practices. The rhetorical vocabulary has been an asset in order to detect the teachers’ professional judgement and judgement standards. Rhetorical skills such as the ability to display character (i.e. etos), have emotional influence on the audience (i.e.patos), discuss, argue (i.e. logos) etc. matter in the assessment process. The results indicate that each subject has an inherent construct of oracy, which is very similar to the common construct of oracy, which originates from a number of subject domains.
Literature: Aristoteles, 2006 (ca.33fvt.). Retorikken. Oslo: Vidarforlaget. Berge, K. L., Evensen, L. S. & Thygesen, R. (2016). The Wheel of Writing domain for the teaching and assessing of writing as a key competency. The Curriculum Journal, 2015. Vol.0, NO. 0, 1-18. Borgstrom, E. (2014). Vad raknas som belagg forskriveformåga? Ett textkulturellt perspektiv på skriveuppgifter i den svenska gymnasieskolans nationella prov. Sakprosa 1-34. Bøhn, H. (2016). What is to be assessed? Teachers’ understanding of constructs in an oral English examination in Norway (PhD dissertation). Oslo: University of Oslo. Kane, M. (2006). Validation. I:R.L. Brennan (Red.) Educational Measurement, 6, s.17-64 Kvale, S. & Brinkmann, S. (2015). Det kvalitative forskningsintervju, Oslo: Gyldendal. Luoma, S. (2004). Assessing Speaking. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Norwegian Knowledge Promotion, (2007) Udir. Oslo Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. London. Routledge. VanManen,.M.(2014) Phenomenology of practice. Meaning-giving methods in Phenomenological Research and writing, Walnut, California.
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