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FL751.Assessing.Literary.Skills

FL751.Assessing.Literary.Skills - Assessing Literary...

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Assessing Literary Interpretation Skills Sylvie Debevec Henning State University of New York, Plattsburgh ABSTRACT Along with other foreign lan- guage colleagues, the author has been par- ticipating in a comprehensive assessment proj- ect. Having accepted the principle of assessment based on proficiency rather than fact-acquisition for the four language skills, the group tried to apply the same principle to literary interpreta- tion. ACTFL has no rating scale in this area, so the author undertook to elaborate one. The four levels of the author's scale are based on a graduated arrangement of interpretive ac- tivities, each composed of an action and a textual or contextual component. Since literary inter- pretation requires strong reading comprehen- sion, the novice level presupposes an intermedi- ate-high level of reading comprehension. The notional components are sequenced from the specific and concrete to the general and abstract (e.g., from plot events to temporal structures). They are also arranged to move readers out of a self-oriented (biographical) perspective into a more world-oriented one (e.g., from character description to the work's relation to its socio- cultural or historical contexts). Finally, the com- ponents are increasingly self-conscious. The functionsprogress from recognizing and distin- guishing through describing to understanding and finally to analyzing critically. The same textual/contextual component may appear at several levels, each time, however, matched with a different action. The group is here concerned with the assess- ment of interpretive proficiency, not coverage. Consequently, the focus is on literary com- ponents that can be used to interpret any work, both as a coherent textual structure and as an ele- ment in larger contextual frameworks. Along with other foreign language colleagues from five branches of SUNY, I participated in a project,' 'Comprehensive Assessment in Discip- lines," headed by E. Thomas Moran of SUNY- Plattsburgh and funded by FIPSE. Our goal, as stated by Moran, was to "devise assessment strategies that identify comprehensive learning and development" for students majoring in foreign languages and that could serve as' 'alter- natives to existing nationally standardized tests." The project considered' 'student assessment not in a narrow and technical sense that simply denotes testing," but rather as "any methods that provide educationally relevant informa- tion" about student learning (6, pp. 6-7). Sylvie Debevec Henning (Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University) is Professor of French and Chair of the Depart- ment of Foreign Languages and Literature at State Univer- sity of New York, Plattsburgh. We decided to assess six skills fundamental to foreign language study: oral proficiency, writing, reading comprehension, listening comprehen- sion, cultural awareness and literary interpreta- tion. Our emphasis on skills does not mean that we neglect content; content "mastery" is measured within the context of skills. It does, however, allow each participating department to maintain control over its
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