• Common Challenges and Goals for Final ESL Conversation Speaking Tasks

Oral exams PART 1 COVER

Imagine that it is nearing the end of the term, and you’ll soon need to decide which of your Level 4 students are ready to pass to Level 5 (or even good enough to skip Level 5).

As a student-centered teacher, a large percent of class time has been devoted to pair and small-group activities. Although you tried your best to give attention to each student during these activities in order evaluate their skills, you will now need to justify their final grades.

You are feeling some anxiety about this due to reactions some students and even fellow-teachers have had to your decisions in the past. Most students have not questioned their grades, and colleagues have been satisfied with the students that you have promoted. However, there have been some tense moments.

  • A few students who failed were upset. They felt that they should have passed because they were rarely absent, did all the assignments and made an effort. They questioned how accurately you could have evaluated their skills in a class with 15 students working in pairs and small groups.
  • A couple of students who had been less than serious about attendance and assignments and preferred to monolog or just chat in groups, accused you of failing them because you didn’t like them rather than based on their skills.
  • The previous term, the Level 5 teacher expressed concern that two students whom you had promoted didn’t seem to have the proper skills for that level.

In this Part 1, we’ll look at what ESL Conversation-class teachers should consider when trying to decide how they want to approach the responsibility of passing or failing students.

Things to consider when choosing a process for determining whether or not students should be promoted to the next level.

Consideration 1) What are the logistics?

Time teacher energy SHOT

Consideration 2) How can students demonstrate their skill level at the end of a course?

Lower-level students should be able to initiate and sustain a short conversation in English with another person about everyday life and general topics.

Beginner sustain SHOT

Higher-level students should be able to initiate and sustain a short conversation with another person about a variety of topics, for example, about current events, and about their culture or country, Also, especially for Advanced students, they should demonstrate that they are able to actively participate in a group discussion of three or more members.

Intermediate sustain SHOT

Consideration 3) What conversation skills should students be able to apply?

Students at lower levels (Level 1, 2 and 3) should be able to apply these following techniques, but the degree to which they use these will depend on the level.

During the conversation, the students should be able to:

  • give responses to show understanding (e.g., “I see”)
  • ask for clarification (e.g., “What did you say?” or “I don’t understand”)
  • ask follow-up questions (extra questions with who, what, why, when, how, where, etc.)
  • express ideas with details (the length of statements and the number of sentences will depend on the level of the student).

The difference between the levels is the amount of time that would be expected to engage and the degree of application of conversation strategies.

Intermediate-level students (Level 4) should be able to:

  • use techniques to get more information (e.g. asking follow-up questions).
  • use techniques to ask for clarification.
  • show that they are understanding others.
  • begin to include some details.
  • interrupt someone politely in a conversation.
  • speak fairly smoothly without many unnaturally long pauses.  They also shouldn’t be so concerned about speaking with such grammatical accuracy that they are hesitant to speak.

Advanced-level students (Level 5) should be able to:

  • initiate and sustain a conversation with one to three other people for ten to fifteen minutes on such topics as everyday life, current events and/or their culture or country, and end the conversation naturally.
  • clearly communicate their ideas.
  • show that they are understanding others by using understanding responses and asking follow-up questions.
  • speak smoothly with few unnaturally long pauses.
  • sustain a “short monolog” on a topic within a discussion for a minute or two.  (For example, the student might tell a short story about an experience that they had.)
  • encourage others to contribute to a conversation/discussion by asking questions about their opinions.
  • interrupt others politely in a discussion.

As mentioned above, in my next posting, I’ll describe four options for procedures that teachers can follow to determine which students should be promoted. When I present the procedures, I’ll consider the time, teacher’s energy, effectiveness, and credibility.

David Kehe

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