Academic journal article British and American Studies

The Gaps That Speak for Themselves or How to Create a Cloze (T)

Academic journal article British and American Studies

The Gaps That Speak for Themselves or How to Create a Cloze (T)

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

What we call a cloze test today was first introduced in 1953 by Wilson Taylor as a method of assessing the readability of a text, i.e. how easy or difficult it is for a reader to understand written discourse. He called this approach "the cloze procedure", which he defined as "a new psychological tool for measuring the effectiveness of communication" (Taylor 1953: 415). The intriguing aspect of his definition, in my opinion, is that he did not just attempt to define a new concept, but he appeared to set high aims for it right from the start: "If future research substantiates the results so far, this tool seems likely to have a variety of applications, both theoretical and practical, in other fields involving communication functions" (ibid.).

Looking back at what he then called "future research", one cannot but be amazed (as no doubt Taylor himself would be) at the rush of excitement and enthusiasm, on the one hand, and scepticism or reservation, on the other, that his urge was able to stir amongst workers in the field of language testing. Since not even the briefest overview of the literature on the pros and cons of the cloze procedure would do any justice to either side, I will first focus on a concise presentation of this procedure, including different types of cloze tests, with their advantages and disadvantages. This will be followed by a discussion of a cloze test I created for classroom use with my MA students of linguistics.

2. The cloze procedure

The cloze procedure is theoretically grounded on the findings in Gestalt psychology, the central tenet of which is that we are able to "acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world" (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia). The term Gestalt (which in German means "shape") was also used in connection with the concept of closure, denoting a shape which - though physically incomplete or fractured - will nevertheless be mentally perceived as complete and meaningful. The word cloze was then derived through back-formation from closure.

The picture of a Dalmatian dog below is a very common example of such an incomplete shape that can nonetheless be easily perceived as a meaningful whole.

I have always felt that the irresistable appeal of this law of closure or Gestalt effect for educational psychologists must lie precisely in the marvellous ability of the human brain to grasp what our eyes fail to see, to see the unseen - as it were. This feeling is also supported by Brown (2002: 109): "It is not difficult to get people to try taking a cloze test because of the human need to fill gaps (closure) which appears to be almost a compulsion among students" (italics mine).

2.1.The fixed-ratio cloze

In its original, purest form, a cloze test consists of a written fragment from which single words have been omitted at regular intervals, leaving blanks which the test-takers have to complete. This standard type is variously called the fixed-ratio/rate cloze, the random-deletion cloze, etc., with the most common options being every 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th word. The ideal intervals at which deletion should occur have also been a matter of debate, but there is a general consensus among researchers that the shorter the distance between gaps, the more difficult it is for the test-takers to find a correct or suitable filler.

Note: Reconsidering the fragmented image of a dog given earlier, we can now see how deceptive this analogy can be, as in that case, the closer the gaps are, the easier it is to acquire a correct (i.e. meaningful) perception of the whole. The only explanation I can think of is that the incomplete image of the dog stands for one test item in the cloze test, while all the dots (bigger or smaller) represent the different clues surrounding the gap in the test, which are relevant in helping the test-taker to retrieve the missing word.

It is not difficult to identify the main advantage and disadvantage of the fixed-rate cloze: this cloze test type is the easiest for the test writer to produce, since all s/he has to do is delete words at regular intervals; on the other hand, it can result in a number of gaps which are both virtually impossible and/or unnecessarily difficult to fill in, like names, numbers, creative or rare collocations, etc. …

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