In the field of teaching Chinese as a foreign language, research has heavily tilted toward proficiency tests, whereas testing as a vital component in Chinese curriculums has not received adequate attention. At the 2011 ACTFL conference, I organized a panel with colleagues from MIT and Dartmouth, concentrating on testing in teaching Chinese and highlighting its potential functions in implementing objectives. The issues we looked into included the following questions: (1) What are the roles of testing in teaching? How does testing impact the quality of a course? (2) Specifically, what should be tested in Chinese teaching? What discrepancies do we find in current assessment? How can we make testing more reliable? (3) Besides measuring performance and achievement, how does testing help students get committed to a course and fulfill objectives as expected?
My own presentation focused on tests that were designed as an interpreted portion of a Chinese curriculum. In the process of teaching, we set teaching goals to enhance all the four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I argued that to ensure the teaching goals to be accomplished, carefully designed tests are necessary. For example, if we feel speaking skills are important in our curriculum, the instructor must design relevant tests so that the objectives will be achieved. In other words, these tests will not only serve as a measure of students’ achievement, but also as an effective guide for students. By doing the texts, students will be guided to achieve the objectives set by the instructors, and to accomplish what is expected by the curriculum. From my own teaching experience, the most effective tests will be a wide range of a variety tests and quizzes, aimed at different skills. These tests will include not only the formal tests based on units, but also small daily quizzes and after-class homework. The key in deploying such tests and quizzes is the good bookkeeping of the scores. We have to make sure every score will account for the final grade. So it is crucial for an instructor to always keep good records of each of the students’ test scores.
The other two panelists, Tong Chen from MIT and Aimin Li from Dartmouth, also discussed their experiences of using tests both at Middlebury Chinese School and their own programs. They raised the necessity of evaluating tests frequently with the necessary adjustment of test forms and content. Our panel attracted a lot of audience, as attendees pointed out that this subject was enlightening to their own teaching. Some even wanted to use our model for their teaching when they went back to their institutions.
Besides our own panel, I also listened to a number other panels. What most interested me were: the panel on Second Life in Teaching Chinese headed by Prof. Xie; the panel on graded reading chaired by Prof. Chu; and the panel on Teaching Chinese through interactive and collaborative online social networks chaired by Prof. Yao. These new tools and concepts in teaching Chinese I found exciting and maybe useful for our own programs at Yale.