Topic 9: Assessing vocabulary and grammar Assessing Grammar

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TOPIC 9: Assessing vocabulary and grammar
Assessing Grammar:
Before we go into the assessment of grammar, we have to make clear the definition of grammar. According to Larsen-Freemans concept, grammatical knowledge includes three interconnected elements: (1) grammatical forms or the structures of a language; (2) the grammatical meanings of those forms; (3) their pragmatic meaning or use in a given context. (p.294, Brown) She focused on the form, meaning and use of grammatical knowledge.
Over the years, with the great changes of the methods adopted in teaching grammar, the focus on grammar has changed. The Grammar Translation Method emphasized learning the grammatical structures of the language, ignoring the importance of communication ability; the Direct Method emphasized that grammar would be learned through exposure and interaction and it neednt to be taught by purpose; while the Communicating Language Teaching focused on meaning and fluency, along with teaching grammar. Today, through the correct use of grammar in communication, learners knowledge of grammar can be evaluated and assessed.

ssessing Vocabulary:

Words are the basic elements of a language. Without knowing words, learner cannot know sentences, paragraphs and texts. But what exactly vocabulary is.
There are different ways to define words. Firstly, words can be identified as tokens and types. Tokens refer to all the words in the sentence or paragraph, while types mean words of different forms. Secondly, words can be classified into function words and content words. Thirdly, larger lexical items, like phrasal verbs, compound verbs or idioms, are also frequently tested in the vocabulary tests. Finally, Nattinger and Decarrico identified prefabricated language which is used at disposal for communication. They identified four types of lexical phrases (p.306, brown): (1) ploy words (short fixed phrases performing functions, such as wait a minute); (2) institutionalized expressions (longer utterances, such as nice to meet you); (3) phrasal constraints (basic structure phrases with slots, such as as far as I know); (4) sentence builders (fixed framework phrases for a sentence, such as not only but also).
According to Chapelle, the definition of vocabulary ability includes three components (p. 308-309, Brown): (1) vocabulary in context (the meaning of the words should be viewed with the linguistic, social and cultural environment. For example, to table has different meaning in British English and in American English, referring to to discuss now and to defer, respectively); (2) fundamental process of vocabulary acquisition (how words are organized in learners brains and how learners gain access to knowledge of vocabulary); (3) metacognitive strategies (all language users adopt them to manage communication. For example, some second language learners use the strategy of avoidance uncertain vocabulary or the strategy of paraphrasing a word when they are not sure of their knowledge of vocabulary).
The next, Brown introduces some steps that we can take to design a vocabulary test. He mainly describes four steps (p.310, Brown), they are: (1) clarify your purpose (clarifying the purpose of the test helps teachers evaluate the results in relation to the intended use of the test); (2) define your construct (defining the construct or the ability that teachers want to measure); (3) select your target words (what kind of vocabulary can be chosen in the test. Teachers confront the choice with high-frequency words, low-frequency words, specialized vocabulary and subtechnical words); (4) determine mode of performance (there are two modes of performance. One is recognition or comprehension, and the other is recall and use)

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