Conference Asessment with a magic touch

Language Magician Conference
© Uli Hesse

Final conference of the THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN project on May 19, 2018 in London
 

That Saturday morning something strange happened at the University of Westminster in central London: 150 magicians gathered in its venerable halls with the aim to make language learning and testing as entertaining as possible. Dark blue magic hats could be spotted in seminar rooms and lecture halls.

The final conference for THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN project under the auspices of Goethe-Institut London turned out to be a great success for organizers, project participants and delegates – despite fierce competition from the royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle and the FA Cup Final.

Deputy Minister of Education David Pérez-Dionis from the Canaries and deputy head of Goethe-Institut London, Dr Georgia Herlt, had already signed an agreement the day before to introduce the assessment tool THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN on the Canary Islands. He explained: "We believe that the acquisition of a foreign language is a crucial aspect for the social and economic development of our region."

Dr Julio Gimenez, head of department at the University of Westminster’s Professional Language Centre, opened the conference. Representatives from European embassies in London have been involved in the project from the beginning and welcomed the delegates: Dr Susanne Frane, deputy head of the section for culture and education of the German embassy; Dr Gonzalo Capellán, education counsellor of the Spanish embassy and Mara Luongo, adviser for Italian from the Italian consulate.

Karl Pfeiffer, Director of Educational Links at the Goethe-Institut London, led through the day, while language advisor Roma Schultz, also from Goethe-Institut, oversaw the conference’s organisation together with Domini Stone, Network for Languages London Regional Manager at the University of Westminster.

René Koglbauer - the Executive Director of the University of Newcastle's North Leadership Centre - was looking forward to an in-depth dialogue on assessment tools. His keynote speech focused on innovative ways to assess student progress: "Key essence is to understand the learning process. If we want to improve the learners, they need to understand how they can improve.”

He sees a need for discussion as to whether The Language Magician could possibly be explored for different levels as well. According to René Koglbauer, the strength of the game is its use of computers: “It's an alternative approach to assessing and I think therefore it's motivational. Students will engage more actively in the process of this assessment task.”
 
LEARNING TO DEFEAT THE EVIL MAGICIAN WINIVIL
The game is now available for free on THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN website and as an app. It took three years of development and testing at primary schools with over 2000 children in the Canary Islands, La Rioja, Leipzig, Perugia and London before its release in March 2018. The award-winning Austrian digital agency Ovos developed it.

It helps primary school teachers to test level and progress of their class at the beginning and end of a school year - and without students realizing that they are being assessed. They choose their own avatar and turn into a sorcerer's apprentices who have to free their animal friends from the curse of the evil magician Winivil who has turned them into door knockers. The students need to complete linguistic tasks and demonstrate their listening, reading and writing skills. One pass takes about 35 minutes.

All delegates were able to give it a try from the students’ as well as from the teachers’ perspective. The teacher’s dashboard offers data in real time - an entertaining and innovative tool to assess learning progress without resorting to grades. At the end, each student receives a certificate.

THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN is available in German, Spanish, Italian and French for British students and English as a foreign language for German, Italian, French and Spanish students. Working papers and other teaching resources are available in all five project languages. They aren’t used to prepare for the exact questions, but to playfully introduce the children to story, characters and activities. Educational advisors demonstrated how teachers could use these resources during the conference.

The game lures students in with simple tasks. The challenges become more and more demanding, so that teachers can better analyse their language skills. To avoid frustration, students are guided from task to task, even if they make a mistake. It requires about 50-70 hours of language learning before attempting level 1. Two levels are on offer.

“There is nothing comparable on the market", confirmed Prof Norbert Schlüter from Leipzig University, who presented his research results at the conference. He hopes that every language teacher in Europe will use this game. His enthusiasm was shared by many of the delegates and project participants, such as education consultant Juan Manuel Melgar Jiménez of the Canaries Ministry of Education: „The final conference in London has been a great opportunity to meet people around THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN. A first step to continue with a magical resource for our teachers!”
 
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
THE LANGUAGE MAGICIAN is based on the European project of the same name and funded through the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Program Key Action 2. The project’s aim is to create a transnational cooperation for foreign languages in primary schools. This innovative gamification of the learning progress has been developed with highly qualified project partners from four European countries (Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Spain) under the lead of the Goethe-Institut in London: Involved are the Association for Language Learning (UK), University of Westminster (UK), Leipzig University (Germany), University of Reading (UK), Università per Stranieri di Perugia (Italy), Università per Stranieri di Siena (Italy), Education Ministry in La Rioja (Spain), Teacher Training Centre of the Education Ministry in Tenerife (Spain) and the Embassy of Spain in London.
The Deputy Minister of Education of the Canaries, David Pérez-Dionis, underlined that the project links the institutions of different countries. “We are currently pursuing a strategy in the Canaries to internationalise education at a non-university level. Our agreement with the Goethe-Institut will help us with that.”

Vocabulary and tasks are based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages as well as on textbooks and materials used in the participating countries – and, naturally, on the experiences of teachers and language advisors.

Prof Norbert Schlüter and his team from Leipzig University have been conducting research since the pilot phase using anonymous raw data: “We looked at the individual task formats and checked whether the quality of the answers was correct, so that language skills can be tested accordingly.”
They then fed their findings back to the development team, which gradually modified the tasks. Other research projects focus on vocabulary recognition and differences in performance and motivation. The latter determine when the students drop out of the game: “Almost all learners go through the first three floors. That declines to 95 per cent on the third floor”, explains Prof Norbert Schlüter. “The first slump happens on the fourth level: Only 50 per cent of learners finish it. And a maximum of 40 per cent are present on the fifth floor - that's the writing test; even less in some languages.”

Finally, Rubén Barderas presented a delicious European menu for the classroom: From Spanish Salmorejo soup over Italian Frese Calabresi - tomatoes on crusty bread - to potato salad and Croque Monsieur, completed by Old English Trifle. Each participant received a small cookbook from chief organiser Roma Schultz’ magic cauldron before this catchy tune echoed across the corridors: “Language has the magic, the magic power, save them from the Wizard's, the Wizard’s tower…”