Assessing oral language skills at primary school entry

Submitted by: Rosária Rodrigues Correia
Abstract: Although the development of oral language skills is common to the curricula of both preschool and primary school in Portugal, as Pinto (2010) states “traditionally, oral language is not regarded as a skill to develop”, contrary to what happens in terms of teaching reading and writing. However, oral comprehension and expression correspond, according to Sim-Sim (2009), to “a primordial use of language, while reading and writing are secondary competences.” Thus, we assume that both oral and written language are important aspects to develop in primary school and that a better knowledge of oral language, which children acquire first, will enable better written language skills (Sim-Sim, 2009). Our goal was to assess, upon primary school entry, the dimensions of language knowledge that are related with learning to read and write, so that we could identify possible difficulties in the development of reading and writing and propose didactic choices to teachers. To evaluate the language knowledge of 59 students attending first grade in a semi-urban center, we used the battery Identification of Linguistic Knowledge Skills (ILKS) (Identificação de Competências Linguísticas (TICL). The battery assesses four language areas: (i) lexical knowledge - 64 itens; (ii) morphosyntactic knowledge - 27 items; (iii) oral memory for verbal input - 19 items; and (iv) Ability to reflect about oral language - 24 items. The 59 students attended preschool for 3 years, have no special education needs, speak Portuguese as mother tongue, and their age range between 5 years and 10 months and 6 years and 11 months. The TICL is a criterion-based battery (Viana, 2004), which allows us to assess how well students fare according to an established mastery of the domains tested and, in this case, 70% of items presented a difficulty level above .75 – which indicates an easy level (Viana, 2004). Results show that 36% of students had results below the expected level for their age, which suggests that a high number of students may present difficulties in developing reading and writing skills. Results in each language area will be discussed, as well as implications for practice.

Keywords: assessment, oral language, reading and writing, primary school

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