of a language learner
by Scott Shelton
information about Beatriz is taken from an informal interview
between her and I as well as from a learner profile sheet
that she completed herself. (Appendix A)
is an eighteen-year-old first year university student from
Madrid, Spain. Her major course of study is computer engineering.
According to Beatriz, English is not only important for her
because of the reading involved in her current studies, but
also for future job prospects as well. She is an attentive
and sociable student but because of her demanding university
studies, and being her first year as well, she often comes
to class tired and mentions lack of sleep as the reason. She
is the youngest of two daughters and her sister also studies
began learning English at the age of three while attending
a bilingual Spanish-English school for young learners. She
attended the bilingual school until the age of twelve at which
point she began attending regular Spanish state schools. She
has been a student at International House, Madrid for three
years and passed the Cambridge First Certificate exam two
years ago. During her high school years, she spent three months
in Canada as an exchange student and last year went back to
study English for the summer. She is currently attending class
to prepare for the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English
and she has approximately ninety-percent attendance.
(2000:168) describes 'learning style' as:
individual's preferred ways of going about learning. It is
generally considered that one's learning style will result
from personality, including psychological and cognitive make-up,
socio-cultural background, and educational experience.
Beatriz over the past seven months, she appears to be quite
self-contained and although she works well in pairs and groups,
she is just as happy to listen to the teacher, and take notes.
In order to better determine her learning style I asked her
to complete both a learner profile and needs analysis (Appendix
A & B), and two additional questionnaires (Appendix C
& D), which were designed to determine favored learning
the sources mentioned above, Beatriz stated that she preferred
working in pairs to other options, learned better by 'being
in physical contact with things', liked learning through problem
solving, listening, reading, and taking notes. She prefers
to be corrected 'later, in private' to 'immediately, in front
of everyone', and feels somewhat uncomfortable having others
see and be asked to comment on or correct her written work.
was shown to be well balanced in the primary senses; Visual,
Auditory or Kinesthetic which people use principally in learning.
was also shown to be a 'concrete' learner by scoring highest
for this type at 76% in a questionnaire based on learner types
taken from findings reported by Willing (1988) found in Nunan
(2000:170). She scored similarly in the 'authority oriented'
type at 73%. This was followed by 66% in the communicative
learner type. Her lowest scoring was in the 'analytical' learner
type, scoring 56%.
information is in line with my observations of Beatriz in
class and I believe is also somewhat representative of her
age. Being a teenager, she has still to fully develop her
preferred learning styles and learners of this age group often
feel self-conscious about being 'criticized' or corrected
in front of others. Having said that, I find Beatriz to be
an attentive, well-balanced learner.
(1999) cites the work of Gardner (1985) and defines motivation
as consisting of effort, plus desire to achieve the goal of
learning, plus favorable attitudes towards learning the language.
distinction is made between integrative (or intrinsic) orientation,
which occurs when the learner wishes to identify with the
culture of the target language, and instrumental (extrinsic)
orientation, which occurs when motivation arises from external
goals, such as passing exams, financial rewards, or furthering
a career. LittleJohn (2001) adds a third category: success
in the task, which is a combination of satisfaction and reward.
is motivated to a large extent by the exam at the end of June
as well as continuous encouragement from her father. This
points principally to instrumental or extrinsic motivation.
However, Beatriz also cites being able to communicate in English
as a source of accomplishment and hopes to travel again to
Canada or to the U.S. and work for a year when she finishes
her university studies. This suggests integrative or intrinsic
motivational factors as well. In class she is visibly motivated
when she does well on a particular exercise and vice-versa.
test-validity and reliability
diagnostic test is defined by Huges, (1990:13) as a test used
to identify students' strengths and weaknesses and is intended
primarily to ascertain what further teaching is necessary.
Language Test Construction and Evaluation (1995:171) the authors
divide validity into two areas, internal and external. Internal
validity relates to studies of the perceived content of the
test and its perceived effect while external validity relates
to studies comparing students' scores, which measures their
ability gleaned from outside the test.
validity is broken down into:
Face validity: the test's surface credibility or public acceptability.
- Content validity: the representativeness or sampling
adequacy of the content.
- Response validity: how individuals respond to test
External validity is explained through the terms:
Concurrent validity: the comparison of the test scores with
some other measure taken at roughly the same time as the test
such as candidates self-assessment, or teacher or other specialist
Predictive Validity: a concept of validity meant to predict
how well someone will perform in the future, beyond the test,
and which is common with many proficiency tests.
CAE demonstrates both face and content validity. It is recognized
by the majority of British Universities for English language
entrance requirements. Pre-testing plays a central role in
the making of the test, as it helps to ensure all versions
conform to the test requirements in terms of content and level
of difficulty. The CAE falls within Level four of the ALTE
framework, being proof of the necessary language level needed
to work at a managerial or professional level or study at
university level, an example of its concurrent and predictive
validity. (CAE handbook: 4-6)
Prodromou (1995) refers to the 'backwash effect' as the direct
or indirect effect of examinations on teaching methods. Positive
backwash may occur when classroom activities clearly relate
to the test and the student. Negative backwash can occur if
reference to the test is abused and there is an over reliance
on its extrinsically motivational effect at the expense of
sound classroom procedures (which are intrinsically motivating
to the student).
of a test is a test of its consistency. The circumstances
in which the test is taken, the way is which it is marked
and the uniformity of the assessment it makes are important
elements in judging test reliability. In Communicative language
teaching, Weir (1990:32) warns that:
might prove to be a sterile endeavour unless care has also
been taken over test reliability.
to the CAE handbook (2000:4-8), the exam is constructed, administered
and marked in such a way to ensure uniformity and reliability.
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