Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Taking Charge: Teacher Candidates' Preparation for the Oral Proficiency Interview

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Taking Charge: Teacher Candidates' Preparation for the Oral Proficiency Interview

Article excerpt

Abstract: Within second language education, concern over teachers' content knowledge has typically manifested itself as concern over the teacher's target language proficiency. In increasing numbers, teacher preparation programs are turning to ACTFL's Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) for measurement of this proficiency and using OPI ratings as high-stakes tests of readiness for teaching. This study reports the results of a survey of 734 teacher candidates on how they prepare for this assessment, both individually and in their training programs. The results of the survey reveal significant differences in study strategies between candidates who score Advanced or above and those who score below that targeted range. The more successful candidates use more discourse- and culturally rich sources for language input and spend considerably more time using the target language outside of course requirements. Candidates provide useful guidance to teacher educators on what helps and what hurts their efforts to be successful.

Key words: assessment, oral proficiency, preservice teacher preparation, standards, survey research

Background

Teacher quality and teachers' content knowledge have remained top priorities over the past several decades in the discussions of educational policy and reform (e.g., Carnegie Corporation, 1986; Holmes Group, 1986; Smith, Desimone, & Ueno, 2005; Wenglinsky, 2002). Most generally agree that a key, if not the key to better learning for students is better teaching (Darling-Hammond, 2000), and clearly teachers' content knowledge, while elusive in its categorization and its measurement, is integral to teaching. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) calls for a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom, which is defined as a teacher with full certification, a college degree, and demonstrated content knowledge in the subject being taught. The meaning of this final attribute, "content knowledge," is a source of considerable debate. It is surprisingly unclear what rank content knowledge plays in the making of a good teacher, yet all can agree that the French teacher who cannot speak French will not be a successful teacher of French. Grossman, Wilson, and Shulman (1989) defined content knowledge as "factual information, organizing principles, central concepts" and therefore as a subset of the broader construct of subject matter knowledge (p. 27). For the world language teacher, content knowledge may include analyses of works of art, themes of literature and film, grammatical structures, and cultural events. However, within second language (L2) education, concern over teachers' content knowledge has typically surfaced as concern over the teacher's target language proficiency.

For better or for worse, testing of teachers' knowledge on a variety of fronts is now a common feature of the educational landscape. Fortunately, foreign language educators have been leaders in the arena of assessment of complex content knowledge by virtue of their early work on the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), an integrative test of target language speaking. The first oral proficiency guidelines were published in 1982, and the OPI's proficiency scales were developed at that time out of the Foreign Service Institute levels of oral proficiency (Clark & Clifford, 1988) and revised in 1999 (Breiner-Sanders, Lowe, Miles, & Swender, 2000). The ACTFL's current OPI is a tape-recorded interview conducted by a trained examiner that consists of five stages: a warm-up, level checks, probes, role-play, and wind-down and is designed to efficiently elicit a ratable speech sample.1 Test takers take the OPI one-on-one either in person or by telephone, and Swender (2003) found that scores did not vary significantly between those two formats.

ACTFL joined forces with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in 2002 to participate in accreditation reviews of teacher education programs. …

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