Should oracy skills be assessed?

Richard Hull, Director, Talk The Talk


Last week, we finally saw recognition for the importance of oracy from Nick Gibb. He suggested that it is as important as the three Rs. Cue the tweets berating the removal of speaking and listening as a component of the GCSE English Language Grade in England…
But should oracy be assessed?
When it is – it’s not real life. Often the topics set down by exam boards for oral assessments are not the most awe-inspiring. I spoke with several students last week who were bored beyond tears from being asked to talk about social media… ‘Do adults not realise we are interested in other things!?’
But good oracy skills are so important. Good oracy feeds into literacy. Good literacy allows students to access the curriculum and the associated examinations.
But it all comes down to confidence. When given the platform, students will talk about what they know and have a passion for with great lucidity. But ask them to talk about something for which their knowledge has gaps it all falls down. So what to do?
Questions are the prevalent mode of interaction between teacher and student. They are an element of every type and style of lesson. They are a key process of providing appropriate stretch and challenge and are the quickest way to assess learning.
So why not question and discuss written work in more depth? Could we see a change of culture to incorporate regular classroom discussion following a piece of written work – led by the teacher using open questions?
Wouldn’t this allow teachers to firmly establish whether learning has taken place, plug the appropriate knowledge gaps and help to cement the learning within the minds of the students? Teachers should be free to use their expertise and common sense to use oracy in this way. Saves time. Saves marking.
Given Gibb’s desire to ban phones in schools, wouldn’t this culture change help our apparent screen-dependent students develop the valuable tool of communication for their lives beyond school?
Should oracy skills be assessed? No.
But oracy is a powerful tool for assessment.

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