Assessing the impact of oracy on your students

Four reasons you might want to asses oracy - and how to do it

Amanda Moorghen Impact and Research Lead, Voice 21

One of the first questions most schools we work with ask is, ‘how can we assess our students’ oracy?’.

There are lots of different approaches that you can take. It all depends on the purpose of your assessment – keeping that clear in your mind will help you to choose the best method to meet your needs.

So how can we assess oracy?

Four reasons why you might want to assess oracy, and methods that balance practicality, validity and reliability in that situation. 

“Assessment helps children to learn”

You are constantly making judgements about students’ learning and using this as a basis to help them improve. Oracy is no exception. Try:

  1. Oracy-specific praise and feedback – praising students consistently and liberally for the oracy skills you are trying to embed raises students’ awareness of these skills and motivates them to begin using them. The Oracy Framework helps develop a common language.
  2. Peer feedback – it works best when students have a clear understanding of what they should be giving feedback on. For oracy, this often means narrowing the focus of the peer assessor – perhaps focusing on one or two specific skills, e.g. “turn-taking” that the class has been focusing on. Check out Talk Detectives!

Oracy is also an important means through which students can give peer feedback on other aspects of the curriculum. Find out more by reading Clio Chartres’ highly commended submission to Voice 21 and Oracy Cambridge’s Douglas Barnes Prize about high-quality verbal peer feedback on writing

“I want to prove that oracy works”

The best approach will of course depend on your school’s goals and priorities – what does oracy work for? You can use these two steps to make a plan:

  • Choose and measure an outcome -If your motivation for prioritising oracy is to improve literacy, existing tests or reading age assessments are great outcome measures. If your goal is improving behaviour, you could measure recorded incidents in the playground, as Laura Fletcher did in her Voice 21 Impact Project looking at the impact of oracy on playground disputes. You can then look at the progress students make, and compare cohorts as your oracy provision improves. 
  • Understand what role oracy played – in almost all cases your outcomes will be influenced by lots of things, not just oracy. So, you need some way of capturing the role of oracy. This might be very complex, (e.g. taking part in an RCT) but it could also be very simple, (e.g. asking staff/students about oracy’s contribution towards your outcome).  

“I need to provide evidence of learning”

In the absence of ‘something in the books’ there can be pressure to demonstrate that learning happened. Try:

  1. Capture direct evidence of talk happening (videos and audio recordings) – Try sticking QR codes into books with links to recordings of talk, so that parents and other teachers can access the recording easily.
  2. Capture indirect evidence – provide evidence of the role your talk task played in that sequence of learning. E.g., if students are going to use a discussion as a launchpad for a piece of writing, save their drafts/notes or feedback showing how the talk informed the writing.

“I want to know if they’re getting better”

There’s no single test or measurement to capture every aspect of oracy, just as there’s no single way to assess students’ written work. Here are three ideas:

  1. Quality of classroom discussion – record a discussion, and then use a tool like ‘The Teacher Scheme for Educational Dialogue Analysis’ (T-SEDA), which helps you monitor different types of spoken contribution. You might want to narrow your scope to a smaller number of types of talk that are of particular interest (as Rachel Mayes did in her winning entry to the Douglas Barnes prize).
  2. Assessing individuals– The Oracy Assessment Toolkit, developed by Cambridge University, offers a series of tasks to assess students’ performance against the Oracy Framework. You don’t have to use every task, and you may not want to assess every student in your class, every time you’re checking in. The Toolkit also comes with a range of exemplar videos.
  3. Valuing every voice – one concern you might have is whether all students’ voices are heard in your classroom. You could use a simple diagram, as in this example from a Harkness discussion, to monitor participation ‘live’. Similarly, you could count the number of turns taken by students during a discussion. It’s often also possible for students to create these sorts of records of their own talk, using ‘Talk Tokens’ or a simple tally.

A final word

There are no simple, quick-fix answers to the question, ‘how should I assess my students’ oracy?’ However, a combination of the methods described above should enable you to both understand and demonstrate the impact of a high-quality oracy education on your students. As you explore them, consider the following three questions in order to help you choose and refine your approach:

  • Practicality: is this assessment approach practical, given the amount of time you have available for oracy assessment? (And have you allocated enough time – is it comparable to the time you spend assessing things of similar importance?)
  • Validity: is your assessment capturing the sort of talk you’re interested in?
  • Reliability: is this assessment method reliable enough for the importance you’re placing upon it? (The higher the stakes, the more reliable the assessment needs to be – but we use relatively unreliable testing in low stakes contexts all the time, because that’s often the trade-off we need to make to get useful information.)

Let us know if you try any of our top tips for assessing oracy by tagging us on Twitter @voice21oracy or emailing us at [email protected]

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