Blog post written by Melisa Lopez
Assessments have not always been equated with the most joyous of occasions. However, Jason Fritze said during the ACTFL panel that assessments should be moments of celebration for all students as they show not only us, their teachers, but themselves what they are capable of! During Carrie Toth’s session at iFLT, she discussed how assessments can highlight what students can do with the language they’ve acquired. Assessments don’t have to be daunting; they can be super fun!
Textbook curriculum doesn’t allow you to get to know your students, and Carrie said that knowing your students is the key to creating a quality assessment. First and foremost, assessment is not the same as a test. An assessment is simply a measure to assess where your students are and provide an opportunity for teachers to share with students where they can grow. Assessments shouldn’t be scary, and students shouldn’t feel like they are put on the spot!
Speaking assessments are hard. They are hard for students because it’s the skill that they probably feel the least confident in, and it’s hard for teachers because who has time to listen to hundreds of recordings? Carrie allows her students to present in partners or through a gallery walk. If the students participated to the best of their ability, she awards them full credit! She goes around and listens to each student and makes little notes of what she hears. If she doesn’t hear everyone the first round, she has them rotate around the room or do a “practice round” on FlipGrid! She makes sure to always praise the students who are actively participating and remembers that the student who produces paragraphs of speaking is the anomaly. This is SO true of most programs. I only have my students for four years, and they struggle with speaking! Gallery walks have made them so much more confident as it gives them plenty of opportunities to interact with their peers without the pressure of a one-on-one with me!
Carrie also discussed writing assessments in her session. She always gives students a choice in medium. It assesses the same skills, but the assessment allows the students to decide how they want to present their writing. They could write an essay, create a play, write a book review, or even create a blog post. The possibilities are endless!
The tricky part of writing assessments is that some students are not strong writers in their first language. We have to teach them what a paragraph truly is, and we can use the proficiency descriptors to help keep them from asking how many words they need to use or how long the paragraphs should be. They can refer to the previous feedback that we’ve given them to help push them to the next level.
One of the biggest takeaways that I got from Carrie’s session was to grade smarter not harder! So many times we can get brought down by the amount of grading that we have to do, and it can seem never-ending at times. Carrie utilizes completion points through exit tickets. She might have students write 5 questions about the story they told in class, listen and draw 5 scenes from the story or make the story into a comic. These points can be 5-point formative assessments, and the bigger summative assessments will have the most valuable points at the end of the unit.
Speaking and writing assessments are great tools in the upper levels, but in lower level classes, Carrie says that it’s okay to lean on interpretative skills in reading and listening! Build lots of opportunities for students to produce language only when they are ready. We don’t want the output to be forced!
Finally, Carrie reminded us that it’s up to us to help students know how to up their proficiency game! Be their supporter and give them freedom to take some risks! Through the right assessment, they will be able to shine!
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