Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Dynamic Assessment of Advanced Second Language Learners

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Dynamic Assessment of Advanced Second Language Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article reports on the implementation of diagnostic assessment in an advanced Spanish language program at the university level. Particular attention is given to the use of dynamic assessment practices as a way to assess language abilities, intervene in learning, and document learners' growth. Dynamic assessment is conceptually based on sociocultural theory, specifically on Vygotsky's notion of Zone of Proximal Development (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Minick, 1987). Assessment procedures conducted with third-year Spanish language majors are described with the purpose of illustrating the potential of dynamic assessment for second language learning contexts. Students took a five-part diagnostic test. Two parts of the test, the writing and speaking sections, were conducted following dynamic assessment procedures. A qualitative analysis of the results shows that dynamic assessment allows for a deeper and richer description of learners' actual and emergent abilities, which enables programs to devise individualized instructional plans attuned to learners' needs.

Key words: advanced language learners, dynamic assessment, language assessment, language acquisition, program evaluation

Language: Spanish

Introduction

University second and foreign language programs have been increasingly concerned with the assessment of their language majors. While language proficiency assessment of first- and second-year university students has been the focus of many studies over some decades now, studies on the language abilities of advanced language learners have been limited.

This article reports on the implementation of diagnostic assessment to beginning Spanish language majors (third-year).1 The specific focus here is on the use of dynamic assessment (DA) practices as a way to measure language abilities, intervene in learning, and document learners' growth. DA has been used as an alternative means of assessment in educational settings for several decades. Its conceptual basis is rooted in sociocultural theory, specifically in Vygotsky's notion of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). A fundamental difference with nondynamic types of assessment is the active role taken by the examiner during the testing situation. Discussions and applications of DA to second/foreign language contexts are yet scarce, but promising (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Poehner, 2007).

This study frames the use of DA procedures into the larger context of language program evaluation through learners' outcomes. First, the study presents previous models of assessment of language majors. Then the principles and procedures of DA are discussed, followed by a review of studies that have applied DA to second language (L2) contexts. Finally, the study describes and proposes a comprehensive plan for assessment in an advanced Spanish language program as a model to diagnose language ability. The introduction of dynamic procedures during the writing and speaking sections of the assessment receives special attention. In particular, the analysis shows that DA allows for a deeper and richer assessment of learners' actual and emergent abilities, which enables programs to devise individualized instructional plans in accordance with learners' needs.

Assessment of L2 Majors, Why and How?

There have been several reports on the assessment of the language proficiency of undergraduates, mostly concerning beginning- and intermediate-level learners completing general university language requirements (Chalhoub-Deville, 1999; Freed, 1984; Teschner, 1991). Studies of assessment of L2 majors within university programs have been rare. Liskin-Gasparro (1995) reported on plans for assessment of language majors at two institutions, as follows. A plan designed by the University of Iowa (the Iowa Model) proposed to conduct an oral proficiency test, to carry out a writing assessment based on two compositions, to hold exit interviews with graduating seniors, and to collect information by means of questionnaires to majors and alumni. …

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