The nature and impact of portfolio-based language assessment (PBLA)

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Abstract

The nature and effects of PBLA were investigated. I examined LINC program evaluations, government-solicited assessment reports, PBLA research, and other PBLA-related documents. I discuss the features of PBLA and its reported effects on language outcomes and teacher and student attitudes. I found that the government did not provide a rationale for PBLA and that the results of research did not support the introduction of PBLA. I also found that PBLA is neither standardized nor portfolio-based as claimed. It is costlier, more time-consuming, and appears to have more teacher pushback than the approach it replaced. Regardless, there is no evidence that the LINC program has improved students’ language skills before or after the implementation of PBLA

In 2010,  Continue Reading →

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Learning-to-write and writing-to-learn in a foreign language

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In this paper, I will demonstrate how the reciprocally-supported development of linguistic knowledge and writing expertise can be achieved in a college-level foreign-language classroom. To that end, I will address the theoretical interplay between systemic functional linguistic (SFL) concepts and task-based language teaching (TBLT) as a means to enrich the fields of teaching writing in a foreign language. To date, SFL approaches to second language (L2) pedagogies such as TBLT have been rather rare in second language acquisition (SLA) research. Due to the traditional boundaries between the disciplines of SLA and L2 writing (Ortega, 2012), language development (the writing-to-learn dimension) and writing development (the learning-to-write dimension) have been investigated separately (Manchón, 2011). This article therefore argues that for some of the core yet still insufficiently explored issues in the fields of SLA—the reciprocally-supported development of linguistic knowledge and writing expertise—linking the SFL theory to the idea of TBLT may help language teachers to develop a more realistic idea of how writing can be taught on the one hand,  Continue Reading →

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Writing
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The effect of first language on intelligibility

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This study consists of two parts. The first part is the report of two experiments carried out to see the effect of a shared first language (L1) on second language (L2) intelligibility. The concern of the investigation was specifically pronunciation and phonological factors. The second part deals with pronunciation errors of Mandarin and Vietnamese speakers that are motivated by their respective phonological systems, thus providing help with designing pronunciation teaching materials.

The study was started with the following research question: Do English learners understand each other better in English when they share the same first language? This L1 effect is sometimes referred to as Interlanguage Speech Intelligibility Benefit (Bent & Bradlow 2003) and it is not a new question,  Continue Reading →

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Call for papers: Perspectives on precarity in TESL

Special issue of Contact

Precarious work is a reality faced across many employment sectors in this age of the ‘gig economy’. Given its susceptibility to and dependence upon a variety of factors (economic trends, political shifts, linguistic developments, policy decisions, etc.), the TESL field is, and has always been, particularly impacted by this reality.

This special issue of Contact seeks to explore this phenomenon from the perspectives of a variety of sectors in the TESL field. Submissions are welcome from TESL professionals in the post-secondary, LINC, private language school, and teacher training sectors. We also welcome perspectives from business, politics, and economics.

The issue will be guest-edited by Jeff Brown, PhD, professor at George Brown College.  Continue Reading →

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Editor's Note
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Perception, production, and perception–production: Research findings and implications for language pedagogy

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When we are born our perceptual systems are capable of discriminating sounds that occur in English, Spanish, Hindi, or any other language. During the first year, our perception begins to zero in on the particular set of sounds that are contrastive in our native language(s) (L1s) (Kuhl et al., 2006). For example, a child whose parents are L1 English speakers will pick up on the fact that /b/ and /p/ are contrastive in English (e.g., “bet” vs. “pet”) and that the major difference is in the burst of air that occurs when the stop is released (i.e., there is a stronger burst of air, or more aspiration, on /p/ than /b/). A child whose parents are L1 Hindi speakers will pick up on this contrast,  Continue Reading →

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Why teaching Second Language listening is difficult and how to use bottom-up listening strategies to teach listening more effectively

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Listening is the skill that most of our students feel the least confident about and the least control over in terms of what they can do to improve. It is also the skill that is the most widely used, both in academic and non-academic contexts. For these reasons, we owe it to our students to show them how to become successful English language listeners.

Second-language listening is difficult for several reasons, most of which stem from the differences between oral and written channels (Brown, 2011). These include perception problems, issues of memory and attention, and strategy choice.

Perception problems arise because speech is fast and transient; utterances are spoken quickly, and they disappear. We don’t pause to separate speech into distinct words;  Continue Reading →

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Shadowing for language teaching

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In the past decades, shadowing has become quite popular in Japan and in other Asian countries. Recently it has finally caught the attention of researchers and language teachers in North America. The overarching purpose of this paper is to introduce shadowing for the sake of effective teaching. First, the basic idea of what shadowing is is explained. Then, shadowing in terms of listening practice will be discussed with its theoretical background, examples, and teaching tips. Next, shadowing as speaking practice, mainly for pronunciation development, will be discussed.

What is Shadowing?

The basic definition of shadowing is “a paced, auditory tracking task which involves the immediate vocalization of auditorily presented stimuli” (Lambert, 1992, p. 266). The metaphor of shadowing is the shadow that follows you on a street late in the afternoon,  Continue Reading →

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A mixed-methods study exploring perceptions of speech fluency

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Enhancing English language learners’ speech fluency is often a key learning outcome in communicative language classrooms. Notably, how fluent a learner’s speech is has been shown to affect how comprehensible it is (Derwing, Rossiter, Munro, & Thomson, 2004). For this reason, it is not surprising that fluency has long been an integral component of both high-stakes and low-stakes oral proficiency assessment rubrics (Fulcher, 2003). Decisions that are made based on the results of these assessments may have real-world implications on test-takers’ lives. Thus, it is important to understand which features of speech influence how fluency is perceived in order to enhance the validity of fluency assessments. In this study, although the participants reported that a wide range of temporal,  Continue Reading →

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Influences on emergent L2 writers

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As a grade-one teacher in a Toronto inner city elementary school for over 30 years, I have had the privilege of teaching a wide range of second language learners with a variety of different L1s. Most of these young learners were in the emergent writing stage. Emergent writing is a developmental stage of writing that all young L1 and L2 writers pass through. Emergent writers are beginning to understand that print carries a message and they may be familiar with many concepts about print simply from living in a print rich environment (Clay, 1988). These writers may use pictures, single letters to represent words, and inventive spelling to communicate their messages. Literacy acquisition in an L2 is a highly complex process,  Continue Reading →

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Let’s go to Tim Horton’s: A sample of a task

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The goal of this paper is to discuss the concept of a task as a pedagogical activity used in the second language (L2) classroom for the purpose of developing the communicative competence of L2 learners. The term task has been widely used in the field of applied linguistics (see e.g., Bygate, Skehan & Swain, 2001; Lightbown & Spada, 2010; Long, 2014; Nunan, 2004; Willis & Willis, 2007). The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs), a document that represents a Canadian language standard for teaching and assessment of English as a Second Language (ESL) in Canada, lists task-based instruction as one of its guiding principles (Center for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB), 2012, p. IX). In addition, Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA), a new type of assessment recently introduced in federally and provincially funded ESL classes in Canada,  Continue Reading →

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Speaking, Teaching, Theory, Writing
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Book Review: Formulaic language and second language speech fluency

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D. Wood. (2010). Formulaic language and second language speech fluency: Background, evidence, and classroom applications. London/New York: Continuum. Pp. 242, CAD$39.95 (paper).

Wood’s (2010) Formulaic language and second language speech fluency provides theoretical and practical accounts of speech fluency and pedagogical applications of formulaic sequences within classroom contexts. The book is divided into three parts including background, evidence, and applications. Through reviewing the commonly-cited literature, and with particular emphasis on longitudinal studies, the background section initially presents the reader with definition of fluency, associating it with temporal variables of rate (speech and articulation rates), quantity (mean length of runs), and pausing (silent/filled, locations, and length) as well as repair phenomena.  Continue Reading →

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Review
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Self-assessment for language teachers

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Students are very often encouraged to engage in self-assessment in the belief that this allows them to take ownership of their learning and contributes to the development of learner autonomy. Similar arguments apply to teacher self-assessment: by reflecting systematically on their competences, language teachers can become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and take more responsibility for their own professional development. In recognition of its value, teacher self-assessment is promoted in several education systems around the world; for example, the General Teaching Council for Scotland offers teachers a tool called a self-evaluation wheel. In other educational systems, such as Chile, teacher self-assessment is a formal component of teacher evaluation. In recent years, a number of frameworks have emerged which can support the use of self-assessment specifically for language teachers.  Continue Reading →

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