Step 6 – Assess student mastery

Hard skills:

The raw scores from the previous May 2018 exam session were used as a reference against which to evaluate the impact of Decoding after only one semester of teaching.

Results from the mid-course assessment show that student scores are generally much higher. The lowest scores are not as dramatic and are closer to the pass mark, while the highest scores surpassed those from the previous exam session. The gap between lowest and highest score is also smaller. 

With specific regard to the Word Formation exercise, the interesting data here is that for the wrong answers given in May 2018, students came up with ten variations (most of which were non-existent in the English language). On the other hand, after Decoding, despite their low scores, students not only identified the correct part of speech, but also had a maximum of two variations where the meanings were very close.

The data at the time of writing is still incomplete as the final exam for this cohort will take place in May 2019.

Soft skills:

  • Less vocal students began to speak more in class and defend their position in discussions.
  • After the Horror Street Movie©, students were much more open with each other and would unconsciously use English colloquial expressions among themselves.
  • Students experienced groupwork and alternative/creative strategies in this  class, slowly coming to value them as useful tools
  • Students took the initiative in groupwork sessions, physically changing seats and choosing to work with different people.
  • Students became more critical of the online dictionaries they were using and became more resourceful in finding the answers they were looking for, e.g. Facebooking a friend in Australia to understand how they would use a particular word or expression.
  • Students felt comfortable to come to the front of the class and use the microphone to speak to/with their peers.
  • Students began to talk to their group of peers rather than to solely to the teacher – whether to clarify or correct information.
  • By sharing their work (mind maps, UoE exercise, Movie), students became more confident, e.g. they either shared the same questions, doubts, fears, or something that only they knew and could teach to their peers


“What’s in a name?” Decoding in English language teaching

1. Bottleneck to learning

Language can be considered as a whole unit. In addition to the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing), critical thinking and reasoning skills as well as the ability to refer back to past experiences and background knowledge are also important. In other words, there is a close interconnection and interaction between the cognitive and emotional aspects of language.

This case study is based on a course taught in the final year of a three-year degree in Languages and Modern Cultures; the module concerns English Language and Translation. The course is divided into three modules: 1) Translation; 2) Listening; 3) Reading and Use of English. The latter two modules are known as the lettorato inglese modules. That is, a language lab with a mother-tongue lecturer which runs for 20 weeks over two semesters. The emphasis is on practical language acquisition (hands-on/group work) rather than theoretical (grammar rules/lectures). The teaching style is informal to ensure that all students feel comfortable participating.

Each lesson lasts 2 hours and is repeated twice a week so as to widen participation. There is not a minimum requirement for attendance, in fact it is not at all compulsory to attend lessons and students from other departments as well as members of the public can participate in classroom activities. Decoding was used in the Reading and Use of English module, mainly during classroom activities.

In this course, students are encouraged to move away from the school-based approach of memorising sets of rules and endless vocabulary lists. Instead they are supported in developing a more intuitive and even playful approach to language acquisition which contextualises their learning in a more holistic way. For example, after modelling and practicing new forms, students are asked to take part in role-plays or discussions which use the target language either in a more natural way or at least in a way that feels more real to them.

It is worth mentioning that rather than viewing all of the courses they study as individual or separate units, students are required to view them synergistically. For example, a word learnt in a literature class can be recognised and understood in a newspaper article, for example, and eventually used in a conversation. This nurtures a certain idea of ‘ownership’ whereby language becomes a part of the person and their cultural identity/heritage (transition from the singular to the global).  In fact, participating in speaking activities not only consolidates previously acquired knowledge, but also improves communication skills which can later be transferred across the disciplines and into the workplace. A reluctance to do so therefore links in with referring back to past experiences (creating meaningful memories) and critical thinking skills (knowing when to use a word and its possible effects on the listener) mentioned earlier, thus coming full circle.

The final exam for Reading and Use of English module is the one which most students have difficulty passing at the first attempt. It assesses comprehension of a text through gap-fill exercises (multiple choice, word formation, cloze). Some of the language competencies assessed include knowledge of grammatical structures, collocations and vocabulary.