Compilation of developmental profiles in early language learning at public schools: Assessment tools as a link between educational standards, curricula, teaching and learning

In cooperation with the University of Teacher Education St Gallen (PHSG) and the Scuola universitaria professionale della Svizzera Italiana (SUPSI)

Responsibility: Prof. Thomas Studer and Peter Lenz (RCM), Prof. Wilfrid Kuster and Prof. Mirjam Egli (PHSG), Gé Stoks (SUPSI/DFA); research assistants: Katharina Karges, Anna Kull and Dr. Evelyne Pochon-Berger (RCM), Dr. Thomas Roderer (PHSG), Daniela Kappler (SUPSI/DFA); 2012-2014

The language strategy developed by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) in 2004 and the HarmoS resolutions (educational goals) from 2011 are currently undergoing implementation at schools throughout Switzerland. The strategy prescribes the introduction of a first foreign language by the 5th class (corresponds to the 3rd class in the earlier educational system) at the latest, and the introduction of a second foreign language by the 7th class at the latest. Schools must also provide for and promote the development of multilingual skills in schoolchildren. A further important aspect of implementing the strategy is the introduction of identical basic requirements – as in minimal standards or basic skills – throughout the whole of Switzerland. Educational monitoring will then control how well the objectives have been met.

This strategy forms the backdrop for the current project which is concerned with research activities and development strategies in several interconnected areas:

  • The project will compile and describe developmental dimensions (progress variables, constructs, see Wilson, 2005) which play a critical role in language teaching practices oriented around the EDK strategy of 2004. The basis of the project includes theoretical findings, the description of learning aims (including HarmoS educational goals and the curricula), aspects of learning by doing, and empirical data on actual learning. Interactive and productive communicative language skills (speaking and writing) including their so-called "enabler competencies" (e.g. vocabulary) are the core issues; practice-based assessment of these skills will be combined with a diagnostic assessment. The project also describes selected crosslinguistic skills which are often called aspects of "multilingual competence". In this area, particular attention is given to an appreciation of languages and cultures, and the ability to develop learning strategies. The local language spoken at school will also be taken into account. The resulting descriptions of developmental dimensions are intended as guidelines to help the various persons involved with language teaching – especially teachers and learners, but also parents and educational policymakers – better understand the progression of learning.
  • Assessment tools will be developed to identify the relevant skills. These tools will be geared to actual classroom situations and can be used independently by both teachers and learners. Because the tools stand in a specific relation (which will be created over the course of the project) to developmental dimensions, the tools are expected to be suitable for both diagnostic and formative purposes: based on the information resulting from using the tools, relevant learning feedback and learning feed-forward can be given for teaching practices (Black, Wilson & Yao, 2011). Owing to the fact that the assessment tools are intended to be applicable in diverse teaching scenarios and textbooks, they have been developed to generate "moderately bite-sized" information and pointers on learning progression.
  • In order to make assessment and feedback instruments available for use in public schools, a server environment that can be used via the Web (at the outset, as a prototype) will be developed. The open-source system TAO (Testing Assisté par Ordinateur) – which in future will be used at Swiss schools and for other evaluation purposes (PISA, the HarmoS system evaluation) – will be developed for use in formative assessments. The server-based assessment and measurement of student competencies has several advantages, including the capacity to compile and interpret data that a) lead to a continual optimisation of the instruments and b) increasingly enable researchers to achieve solid findings on how students' competencies develop.