It is important to understand that Functional Skills English Speaking, Listening and Communicating assessments are not as organic as some presume. Careful consideration for planning the assessments and learner preparation needs to be done.
Assessments are contextualised to the needs of the learners by the tutor / assessor.
- Letting learners choose their topics for discussions and explanations / talks / presentations is good but be supportive in helping them make that choice. Choosing a topic they have little knowledge of may make their task harder. Ensure all learners are in agreement on the topic too.
- Learners tend to do better in assessment when they are assessed with others at a similar level. For this reason, we do not recommend learners from Level 1 and 2 working together unless there is no choice. This is also true within levels. Stronger learners may dominate discussions, again making it more difficult for others to achieve.
- Learners need to be given planning and preparation time based on the level of the assessment they are taking.
- Ensure learners are familiar with the assessment being recorded, if the live assessment is to be recorded.
- Ensure the learners are aware that it is an assessment and just as important as the reading and writing elements.
Developing Speaking Listening and Communicating Skills
Learners’ Speaking, Listening and Communicating skills need to be developed in the classroom environment in the same way that reading and writing skills do. This can be done both discretely and by embedding activities into lessons.
These can focus on awareness raising and improving specific skills.
Learners may well need support on turn taking and polite interruptions, asking questions and follow up questions and developing their listening skills.
These give the learners the opportunity to practice their skills and develop their confidence.
Examples of Discrete Activities
To give the learners the opportunity to ask questions for clarification.
- Learners are put into pairs.
- One writes, one runs.
- On a piece of paper on a wall at the other side of the classroom, write the following example sentences:
- Look at the two boys over there. They’re very happy. Their friends are happy too.
- The learners then read the sentences and run over to their colleagues and dictate the sentences back to them. The winners are the first to finish with no mistakes.
- The writer needs to be able to ask the runner questions to ensure that the words are spelt correctly and that their answer has no mistakes.
Follow Up Questions
To give the learners the opportunity to develop questioning.
- To the whole group the tutor makes a simple statement such as I like dogs.
- Then each learner, in turn asks a question, but the question needs to be based on the previous answer. e.g.
- T - I like dogs.
- L1 - Have you ever had a dog?
- T - Yes
- L2 - What type of dogs did you have?
- T - When I was growing up I had poodles.
- L3 - Why poodles?
- T - Because I was allergic to dog hair and they were a breed that doesn't lose their fur
- L4 - Are you allergic to anything else?
- T - Yes, feathers.
- L5 - How did you find out you were allergic to feathers?
- T - My parents and grandma had budgies and they set off my asthma, and so on.
The aim is to make it the longest possible line of questions. After a couple of goes (not in the same lesson), you can then get learners to do it all by themselves.
The Importance Of Listening
This activity shows the importance of listening, or the sense of being listened to, for the speaker.
- Pair the learners up and send one half out of the room. Tell them they are going to describe their best holiday ever.
- Go back in the room and tell the learners who will be listening to raise their hand every time they stop listening intensely to the story.
- Tell both groups that there can be no verbal interaction between them other than their stories.
- Monitor as they come back in and tell their stories and see how hard it is when the other person raises their hand without them knowing why.
- After feedback discuss the importance of actually listening and how it affects the speaker.
- Repeat the other way round and change the stories to their favourite hobby and the reason to raise the hand to being something they agree with.
This shows the learners to be more aware of how the listener affects the quality of the story telling.
Speaking, Listening and Communicating activities can, and arguably should be, embedded into every session. Here are some ideas for this.
Start of the session
- The tutor / assessor demonstrates good positive interaction when welcoming the learners, including polite introductions and questioning
- Ask the learners to paraphrase instructions before activities to improve listening skills and their ability to summarise verbally.
- Learners can discuss the topic of a reading activity and make predictions regarding what they are about to read. Learners then read to check their predictions.
- If learners are reading a text, they can star an interesting part of what they have read. They can then discuss in pairs what they starred and why they think it is interesting.
- Learners engage in a group discussion on the topic they have read about as an extension activity, possibly responding to a tutor devised question.
Preparing for Assessments
Learners should be preparing for their Speaking, Listening and Communicating assessments. Here are some ideas for this.
Every session is a preparation session
- By doing some speaking and listening activities in every session, every session is a stepping-stone to their assessments. Once the assessments are close, you can then show the learners how much they have practiced.
How much discrete preparation
- Less can be more. If you give the learners ten hours, they will take ten hours and you will not really see any benefit of it in terms of the quality of work. Better to give then two hours to do their research, it focuses the mind.
- Personally, I do not advocate the use of PowerPoint for presentations, except for visuals. For me, learners spend too much time on this (see above) and not enough on what they are going to say. It also tempts them to read from it. Better to use cue cards with bullet points on it.
- Learners need to practice their assessments, either with mocks or smaller, less formal sessions. They can use the feedback from this to really develop their skills.
- Encourage the learners to watch and learn from others or from videos of past assessments.
Ideas from other practitioners
As part of my research for this, I asked other practitioners on social media for their ideas. Here are some of the best:
'I like the learners to do a mock assessment in a group. They give each other feedback on a marking scheme and learn so much. They can then go into groups and peer support.' - Helen Costa
'Regularly engage students in topical conversations ahead of time so that they are practiced in sharing thoughts and ideas.' - Kathryn Best
'Watch videos and ask students to write down what questions they would ask to try to develop questioning skills.' - Rachel Alexandra
'Always ask the learners "What else could you say or ask?' - Helen Costa
'Be interested in their thoughts and ideas - this builds confidence.' - Kathryn Best
Remember, there is a wealth of support out there.
Chris Briggs, Sector Manager Post-16 English and Maths