What does dictation evaluate?

I have a question about dictation. I’ve been looking at various rubrics that Susie Gross and Jason Fritze  have created to evaluate students, and I wanted to come up with my own that I could show to my department colleagues. I want to win them over to the idea of making fluency the main objective of our language classes.

So I made up my own rubric for the Speaking classes I teach, then went to the teachers who “teach” listening and asked them how they evaluate their students. Two of them said they have students do dictation, but they were unable to tell me exactly what dictation assesses. Accuracy in spelling, perhaps, but what’s that got to do with listening?

Both teachers have students do listening clozes, but again they were vague as to exactly what this evaluates.

It seems the listening teachers are focused on micro listening skills, at the word level, and they’re missing THE big picture – comprehension. (Excuse me while I gnash my teeth.) UNLESS! dictation (and/or listening cloze exercises) actually test comprehension.

What do you think? What does dictation tell you about a student’s language ability? I realize that many TPRS teachers may not, in fact probably don’t, use dictation to evaluate students, but rather as yet another way to provide repeated CI, as indeed I do.

I’d like to think  my colleagues have sat down and thought about exactly how dictation evaluates comprehension: that they are not  just giving dictation because, well, that’s what listening teachers do.

Another colleague, thinking off the top of his head, decided that dictation does not evaluate comprehension because you could write down what you think you are hearing without understanding it. Also, how could you tell from a correct dictation, that the student understood the meaning? You couldn’t.

Instead of giving dictation, fill-in-the-blanks and other tests that just test micro-listening skills (i.e. at the word level), teachers could be giving lots of comprehensible input and repetition.

3 thoughts on “What does dictation evaluate?”

  1. Thanks, Jim.
    I think one important value of dictation is that it reinforces grapho-phonemic recognition. I was surprised to find that many of my students who did well in the PQA or storytelling activities, who remembered the vocab we used, etc., made many elementary errors in writing. This is obvious, really: although everything new had gone on the board, I hadn’t given them any CI in reading. I just assumed they knew most of the words. In fact, more than 50% of what I write on the board is not new vocab for them; but they have not acquired these words, they are not able to use them in writing or speaking, and don’t recognize them when they are said. They only recognize them in writing. They recognize them, but they cannot produce them correctly, even in dictation.

  2. I agree that dictation does not evaluate comprehension, nor should it try to. It is, for me, simply a way for students to hear the language, preferably language they heard the day before repeatedly, in a different context and try to process it visually and produce it physically on paper. To whatever extent kids are trying to translate in their heads is of little importance to me in this activity. Rather, I want them to focus on the spelling, the little stuff like contractions and preposition placement, things that aren’t focused on as much during our intense CI sessions. I am guessing that more students that we think are indeed comprehending the language when dictation is taking place.

    Regardless if they are or not though, we always go over what was dictated, translate it together, and then do some more Q&A with it if interest is there. Sometimes I may have them write the rest of the story from where I left off with the dictation (as I usually only dictate one paragraph, read: the first location, of the story from the day before).

    Sometimes I wonder at the value of dictation. But, I do like that it switches things up for kids, and I think they really get something out of it. They also like the break of having to comprehend what I’m saying, I’m sure. It’s a nice break for us teachers also.

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