About two weeks ago, our colleague Lueli Ceruti wrote a really interesting blog post in the CTJConnected Blog. In short, her post described our reasons for questioning the way we assess our adult students’ EFL learning and our experimenting with what we have been calling the “alternative ass essment system.”
Basically, what is being proposed is that the assessment of our adult students’ learning be carried out in a more ongoing manner. The objective here is to make it possible for us all, teachers and students, to know how well students are learning in time for us to take action, if necessary, before the last day of class. Also, with this “alternative assessment system”, our student will hopefully get less anxious with the idea of being evaluated at the end of the module.
In Lueli’s post, she described the first assessment activity she did with her Thomas Flex group. Here is the first one my Thomas Prime 1 students and I experimented with. Thomas Prime is a Casa Thomas Jefferson upper-intermediate/advanced course designed for adult students.
The Thomas Prime 1 Experiment:
In week 2 (of 10), we covered the grammar lesson “Suggest ways to enjoy life more”, and students learned about the verbs “stop”, “remember” and “forget” followed by the infinitive and the gerund.
First, we read and discussed the text “Finding Balance”, which opens the second lesson in the book Summit, published by Pearson Longman. Next, by analyzing the examples of the focus verbs in the text, we tried to come up with the different meanings each of them had when followed by infinitives and gerunds. This information was recorded on the board, and right after that, the students compared it with the chart on page 5. They then did the exercise on the same page, and we checked their answers. I assigned an extra exercise on the focus verbs for homework, with the students being responsible for checking their own answers (They had a copy of the answer key).
At the beginning of the following class, after the students had worked cooperatively to check their answers in the fill-in-the-blanks in sentences giving advice, I told them about my sister, a girl who led a very stressful life due to her inability to find balance. The students then individually wrote five suggestions on a chart I gave them, and we agreed on the five best suggestions to give to my sister.
This is what the board looked like:
Before the end of the class, I collected the charts with the students’ sentences and assessed their work at home. I used to following rubrics as a guide.
Each of the sentences is worth two points.
a) Deduct two points if the student’s sentence does not make sense.
b) Deduct one point if the student makes a mistake with the target structure (verbs stop, remember, forget followed by the wrong verb form)
c) Deduct half a point if the student makes small mistakes (prepositions, articles, spelling).
We sent these suggestions to my sister, a Prime 3 student at the Casa, and I asked her to record a video segment to respond to the students. Here is the video:
Needless to say, the students really engaged in the activity and had lots of fun watching the response. The assessment was perfectly aligned with the learning outcomes and instructional strategies. As a result, my students didn’t even notice they were actually being assessed. Their major interest was in communicating authentically with my sister.