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Title: Assessment of primary Chinese EFL learners' oral and aural language skills and the relations to the national English curriculum standards targets
Author: Lian, Xi
ISNI:       0000 0004 8502 7949
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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In recent years, the governments of many non-native English-speaking countries are incorporating English as a foreign language (EFL) programmes into primary school curricula at increasingly lower grade levels. However, despite an increasing number of young EFL learners around the world, relatively little contextualised research has examined the assessment practices and the learning outcomes of young EFL learners at the primary level, especially in East Asian countries. This study aimed to investigate the assessment of the oral and aural language abilities of Chinese primary EFL learners from two key grade levels (i.e., Grade 4 and Grade 6) in relation to the set targets articulated by the National English Curriculum Standards (NECS). More specifically, this research examined how teachers actually assessed their students' oral and aural abilities in classrooms; which assessment activities were used in the classroom and how these activities related to the NECS targets; and what outcomes students could actually accomplish regarding speaking and listening upon finishing Grade 4 and Grade 6. To provide an in-depth, contextualised and comprehensive picture of both the assessment process and its outcomes in the Chinese primary school instructional setting, a mixed-methods research design was employed, combining quantitative analysis of teacher and student questionnaires and student individual assessments with qualitative analysis of classroom observations, and teacher and student focus-group interviews. Four EFL teachers, 106 Grade 4 students and 116 Grade 6 students from two local Chinese state primary schools participated in this study. The main findings are as follows. First, the EFL teachers tended to assess students' listening comprehension and oral production skills at the level of both vocabularies and sentences; however, students' oral and aural skills at the discourse level were relatively less frequently assessed. In addition, the assessment activities that were employed were organised as teacher-centred, and they were textbook-dominated. Second, two main sets of factors, subdivided into external and internal factors, were found to influence teachers' interpretation and implementation of the curriculum targets. The external factors included the provision of adequate resources and support; contextual constraints (i.e., large class sizes with mixed-level students, limited instructional hours) and washback effects of the junior entrance exams. The internal factors mainly concerned teachers' English proficiency and their professional pedagogical knowledge and skills. Third, in terms of students' actual performance on the two external individual assessments in alignment with the NECS target levels, fewer than half of the students in Grade 4 and Grade 6 were judged by a panel of local expert teachers to have achieved the NECS listening targets at Level 1 and Level 2, respectively. With regard to speaking skills, fewer than half of the Grade 4 students were classified as qualified candidates at Level 1, but more than half of the Grade 6 students were judged as qualified candidates at Level 2. Therefore, the study's overall findings indicated that the NECS targets were underachieved in the two sampled state primary schools; furthermore, these findings presented a number of implications for pedagogy, resources and support, and assessment, as well as directions for future research.
Supervisor: Murphy, Victoria ; Evangelou, Maria Sponsor: Chinese Scholarship Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Education