It is critical that adult students be properly placed otherwise they will quickly lose interest and drop out. If the material you present in any level ESL class is too easy, students will become bored. If it is too hard, they will not return for the second class. Regardless of the placement technique used for adult students, the first impression is an important one. Many adult students come to the ESL classroom with a lot of fears. In some cases their last experience with school was a negative one (e.g. they may have left school as teenage drop outs). Consequently, it is very important that the teacher establish a friendly, enthusiastic rapport free of any academic pretense. This friendly social approach is especially important for the more undereducated adults. Even though their fear level is very high, it can be broken down by a friendly smile and pleasant small talk.
The most common method of assessing adult students' oral proficiency in order to place them in appropriate classes is to engage them in a brief oral interview. For non-literate students this approach is particularly valuable. The following questions are appropriate for this interview:
At all times be relaxed and friendly with the students. Make them feel comfortable. Reassure them that this is for placement purposes only and it is not an examination. Repeat the question or statement if necessary. You may clarify a response or even prompt the student to help them feel more at ease. If they give a correct and clear answer in English, give them two points for each item. If they give an unclear, inappropriate answer give them one point. For no answer give them a zero. Add up their points for a total score.
Students with a total score of about 0-10 should probably be placed in a beginning class. Those with scores of about 10-20 should be in an intermediate class and those who score above 20 should be in an advanced class. These scores are only estimates and the examiner must use his judgment in determining the class that could be appropriate for each individual, especially those whose score fall near the breaking points. A sample oral assessment instrument is located in Appendix N. What is your name?
In addition to oral assessment and placement, it is very important to assess the literacy skills of your adult students. There are two aspects to this assessment, first determining if the student is literate in his native language and second finding out if the student has some writing skills in English.
To assess the literacy skills of the individual you are interviewing, simply ask them to write the answers to the questions that appear on the reverse side of the placement instrument (see the samples in Appendix N.) Encourage the students to write their responses in either English or their native language whichever they find easiest. (You may need interpreters to assess the level of your students' native literacy.) Again, make your students feel comfortable. Repeat the fact that the purpose is only to place the student in an appropriate class. Encourage them to answer as many as possible. NOTE Be sure that the students write their own answers to the questions on the page. Sometimes the relatives or friends may want to help the student. Obviously this totally defeats the object of the assessment process.
The literacy assessment instrument is not to be used as a diagnostic tool; rather its purpose is to distinguish the literate adult student from the totally non-literate student. ESL curricula for these two very distinct groups must be developed to meet their specific needs.
Once you find out that you have a group of students somewhat literate in English, then you may need to evaluate their literacy level. There are a number of ways to do this. You may want to administer a cloze procedure, or a dictation test.
One test that has proven successful in determining written English ability is the cloze test. This test consists of a written passage that has missing words. The student is asked to supply the missing words.
Choose a passage of 100-150 words from the text that you commonly use for beginners in your classroom. Try to get a passage that does not use many uncommon words or many proper nouns(names of specific people, places, etc.). A paragraph from the Reader's Digest or a 7th or 8th grade textbook might be appropriate if you choose an article that deals with a subject most adults would be acquainted with. Leave the first sentence of the passage as it is, but eliminate every seventh word in the rest of the passage and put a blank of standard length wherever a word is eliminated. Put a number in each blank. (See Appendix L for an example.)
Have students read the entire passage silently without writing anything. Then have them read the passage again and write a word by each number on their paper that would be appropriate for the blank with that number. After they have done this, they read the passage again to themselves with the words they have chosen and then hand in their papers. When you correct these papers, give one point for every word which the student supplies that is identical to the missing word from the original passage. Other words may seem appropriate to you, but experiments have shown that your placement will be essentially the same if you only accept the original word. Scores should be computed and the students divided into groups according to scores. Those with low scores would form the beginning group. Those with perfect or nearly perfect scores should be screened out to form a more advanced class.
Choose a passage of about 100 words from a commonly used text in your classroom. Tell your students to listen carefully. Read the passage out loud to them at a normal speaking rate to give them an overview of the passage. After this first reading, let students ask questions about the passage and write one or two of the most unfamiliar words on the board. Now, tell your students to write what you read. Tell them that you will read slowly, but that you will not repeat anything. Read the passage again pausing every 5-9 words (at places for normal speech pauses, such as at the end of phrases) so the students have time to write. Do not repeat any phrases. Finally, read the passage a third time at a normal speed and have the students make any corrections or additions they desire and then have them turn in their papers. To score the papers, simply put a check for every word left out, every error in grammar. Count the number of checks and give the paper that score. You can then divide the class according to scores. Those with the most checks would be in the beginning group. Those with fewer checks would be in the intermediate group. Any with very few or no errors would be in an advanced group. (Quite often you will discover that the students fall very naturally into groups.) If you are offering more than one class, you can divide the students into separate classes.