Tilstrekkelige ferdigheter i norsk? Kartlegging av minoritetsspråklige skolebegynneres språkferdigheter
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The goal of this study is to investigate the language proficiency of five L1 Russian-speaking first-grade students learning Norwegian as a second language in school, and the use of different forms of assessment. I also discuss how the language proficiency of minority students can be assessed in school. This gives the study two objects of research: the students’ language proficiency and the schools’ assessment practices. The Norwegian law of education ensures language minority children’s rights to adapted education in Norwegian until they are sufficiently proficient in Norwegian to attend mainstream schooling. This gives every child individual rights according to his or her level of proficiency in Norwegian, which makes the operationalization of language proficiency a significant issue in assessment in school. The study answers two research questions concerning language proficiency and two questions concerning assessment. In terms of language proficiency, the research questions concern how minority students’ language proficiency can be assessed in light of the school’s chosen education program, and which correlations there are between L1 proficiency and proficiency in Norwegian. As regards assessment, the main question relates to how an assessment test made for L1-Norwegian students will work for language-minority students, and, as a followup question, how students’ language proficiency can be assessed through conversation.
Two theoretical strains are of particular interest: theories of communicative language ability and theories of language awareness. When language ability is assessed in the first grade, language awareness is a central part of the assessment, because language awareness is considered a key aspect for the development of literacy skills. Yet language awareness is often not mentioned in models of language use. In the theory section an alternative model for description of language proficiency is presented, which includes language awareness and therefore provides a good basis for assessment of first-grade students’ language proficiency.
The study has a qualitative approach, i.e. case studies. The data consist of the case students’ oral storytelling, a standardized test, conversations about pictures, examples of students’ reading and writing, interviews with students and teachers, external teachers’ assessments and observations.
The analysis has two main focuses: description and assessment of language awareness, and description and assessment of text proficiency. Language awareness is investigated by means of a standardized test. According to the test score the students have a low degree of language awareness, which would normally indicate that the students have difficulties in acquiring the skills of reading and writing. This result is not, however, consistent with the assessment of literacy skills, which shows that four of the five students can already read and write at an ageappropriate level in two languages and using two alphabets. A qualitative analysis of the conversation in the test situation indicates that the low test score is caused by other elements than a low degree of language awareness, and that this test is not useful for assessing these students’ language awareness.
Text proficiency is studied by investigating the students’ retellings of stories in Norwegian and Russian. Analyses of narrative proficiency and cohesion in the stories show great variation in each student’s proficiency in the two languages. The students’ opportunity to demonstrate their text proficiency in a certain language is dependent on some degree of mastery of the linguistic structures of that language. Assessment of text proficiency in the language the student knows best gives an indication of the student’s actual proficiency, independent of language proficiency. This has implications for teachers’ adaptions in class. In the study of text proficiency, attention is also directed towards the adults’ scaffolding during the students’ retellings. The analyses illustrate that the adults adjust their language in interaction according to each student’s needs. Categorization of the adults’ utterances indicates which language elements the students need to develop, and therefore clarifies the needs for individual adjustments.
The final chapter of the dissertation comprises a discussion of which forms of assessment may be useful for the assessment of language-minority students' proficiency in Norwegian.