THINKING ABOUT ASSESSMENT (part 2) – A follow-up on Thinking About Assessment… Again)
Having decided that we were going to pilot the alternative assessment program, we had to inform students of our plans, and listen to what they had to say about it. We were ready to “abort the mission” in case of rejection. They accepted it with no reservations. Still, it was to my surprise that, at the end of the first lesson, one of them came to me and said (in L1, of course, as this is the beginner group) “See you next class… but you will only see me because you told us we won’t have to take that final test.” It took me a couple of seconds to grasp the meaning of what she was telling me. She went on: “I’m too old to suffer with tests. In my life, I’ve taken all the tests I needed to take… Now, I’m interested in learning!”
And that was what we needed to know that we were on the right path. The focus had naturally shifted from teaching and testing to learning. The learners had assumed their rightful place at center stage, taking control of the process. “Now, I’m interested in learning!”
Lately I’ve been following Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener’s blog on ‘Demand-HighTeaching’, and two of their questions really hit a nerve: How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning? How can I shift my attention from “successful task “to “optimal learning”? Well, this was exactly what we wanted to explore in our “assessment quest”.
Anyway, back to my tale to tell… After the first evaluation of their oral performance, we decided to give them a weekly “assessment opportunity”. On week 4(of 10), the focus was “Listening”.
In the past we had been cautious of venturing into evaluating the listening skills with the adult groups. Adults are afraid of listening, terrified by its unexpectedness, petrified by the possibility of failure. Adults are interesting language learners; they bring a whole lot of baggage with them:
- Their beliefs, more often than not tainted by their previous language learning experience – usually their formal learning of the mother tongue (which they had already acquired in their childhood), with the grammar exercises, linguistic analysis, etc.
- Their personal history. Your student is most likely a self-respecting human being, a skillful professional, someone who undoubtedly has a lot to teach you, who can tell a number of success stories, and learning English is not one. At least not yet.
- Their needs and expectations: They ‘ve come to us because they want to be part of the world who can speak English. That is the question, isn’t it? “Do you speak English?” or “Can you speak English?”
Anyway, assessing their Listening skills, after no more than 12 (twelve) classroom hours, for most of them twelve contact hours. How do you do it? Preferably without any extraordinary acrobatic feat, just keeping it simple and structured, with the appropriate scaffolding, and making sure that the lesson is designed focused on enabling optimal learning, while providing you – teacher – an opportunity to assess whether the goals have been achieved, and how far they have been developed.
Here is the step by step:
1. We had previously explored the following exponents:
- What’s his/her name? His/Her name is…
- Where are you from? I’m from…
- Where is he/she from? He’s/She’s from…
- Vocabulary: countries
2. On the second lesson, I showed them a PPT with international celebrities… At first I showed a photograph and asked the questions ‘What’s his name?’ and ‘Where is he from?’ (before revealing the name and the flag) Here are some samples:
3. After two or three samples, I invited the students to ask the questions: ‘X, ask Y.’
4. Then, they worked on their books, which brought an information gap activity. Both students had pictures of six people. One student had information on three of the people (names and countries of origin), while the other had to look at a different page, where they had information on the other three. The structure and vocabulary was very much the same as my PPT had prompted: What’s his/her name? Where is he/she from?
5. Next, they were asked to look at an incomplete dialogue – again from the book, and work in pairs to predict what was missing.
6. After a couple of minutes, I asked them to listen to the dialogue and check if they had made the correct choices.
7. Just before giving them the listening task, I replayed a recording from the previous lesson, and they repeated the names of the countries.
8. Next, I gave them the worksheet with the following task:
They heard the following dialogues:
A: Hello! I’m Luis, from Mexico.
B: Hello, Luis. I’m Akemi, from Japan.
C: Hello. My name’s Charles. What’s your name?
D: Hi, Charles. I’m Mike. I’m from the United States. Where are you from?
C: I’m from London, in England.
D: Oh, yeah? I’m from Chicago.
E: Hi, I’m Loretta. I’m from Sydney, Australia.
F: Hi, Loretta. I’m Jason. I’m from Australia, too.
E: Oh, wow! Are you from Sydney?
F: No. I’m from Melbourne.
They were graded both on the correct country, and the correct spelling of the country’s name.
As you may have noticed, nothing fancy. The PPT could have been easily substituted with good old flashcards. I used written and audio material from the book. My main worry was to make sure they were “comfortable” when they got to the listening task. The listening element was introduced with the dialogue (steps 5/6), but they had the chance to predict what they were going to hear before they heard it. It was safer that way.
They also had plenty of meaningful and varied practice on the target piece of language. The dialogues they heard were, in a way, familiar to them. In this lesson, before getting to step 8, they were given at least three different opportunities to produce and listen to the names of the countries, as well as the language structures surrounding them.
Now, the important thing is that this lesson was, as the first one I described here, not designed to test. It was designed to teach, it had learning at its core. The assessment opportunity was created, but it only took as long as those three short dialogues – which, by the way, they heard only once.
So, once again, I invite your input. How do you see this project? Can you help us by suggesting activities and procedures we can use with these pilot groups? We are counting on your thoughts, your suggestions, your criticism… We are waiting for you!