The advent of digital technologies and the rise of the internet have altered the way we read and write considerably over the past few decades, but it has also increased access to written texts and made them easier to produce, share and publish. And we are not just talking about posting on social media either. The rising popularity of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) and CLIL, or the use of English in the workplace means both students and professionals are increasingly exposed to written English. So despite the general perception that we are witnessing the demise of these skills, they very much remain a central part of how we study, how we work and how we interact. Consequently, assessing these skills is as important as ever for us as language teaching professionals.
One of the first things new teachers learn is that simply exposing students to lots of listening will quickly increase their ability to communicate orally. Even beginners armed with a very limited repertoire of vocabulary and grammar can often get their ideas across provided they generally understand what other people are saying to them. In fact, Feyton is often cited as estimating that listening makes up a full 45% of what we do in a language. So invariably the assessment of listening will be of paramount importance in the overall evaluation of our learners’ communicative ability. And yet it remains one of the most elusive skills to reliably test.
The original use of the term “literacy” is still commonly defined as the ability to read and write, but in its wider sense teaching professionals prefer to view it as a concept that brings together knowledge and competences in a given area of learning. We are all now becoming increasingly familiar with terms such as Digital Literacy or Research Literacy, as well as Assessment Literacy, which will now be the subject for a series of posts we are going to be sharing with you in the coming months, focusing specifically on the theme of Language Assessment Literacy, or LAL. Since the term first appeared at the start of the 1990s, there have been many attempts to define it, but we will use Pill and Harding’s simple yet concise definition from 2013, which considers LAL as a series of “competences that enable the individual to understand, evaluate and in some cases create language tests and analyse test data”.