Modern language students know that tests are important. They know that the tests measure what the teacher considers to be important.
If students have a unit test that does not include a speaking component, then the students learn that speaking is not important. If the students have a speaking test, they know that speaking is important. If students have four unit tests worth 20 points and a speaking test worth ten points, then they discover that speaking is only worth half of what the other tests are worth.
Likewise, if students only have speaking tests at the midterm and at the final, they learn that these tests are not as important as the other tests that they have at the end of each unit. The regularity of the testing adds to its importance to the students.
In addition, the type of speaking test reveals the teachers’ priorities. If students have to memorize some lines of a conversation and repeat those lines, then the teachers’ emphasis is on mechanical or memorized speaking, not the interactive spontaneous communication of real life. In the same manner, if the teachers grade primarily on the grammatical correctness of each utterance, they focus on grammar, not communication.
A suggestion for changing speaking tests is to incorporate speaking “tests” into daily classroom speaking. As students speak with partners, the partners record the number of sentences that they say. After they are done speaking, the partners tell them the number of sentences and suggest other topics that the speakers could have included. For example, a student may describe a family member to his/her partner.
What do your tests reveal about the importance of speaking?
At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking. Students work in pairs to communicate and they usually assess each other.
My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at http://bit.ly/tsmash. It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.
At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity. My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash
My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at http://www.routledge.com/books/search/author/harry_grover_tuttle/