The Blog

A week or more of working with Vivir mi vida

Claudio Poblete

One of my most popular posts last year was how to use Marc Anthony’s Latin Grammy-winning song Vivir mi vida to stage Spanish Class Idol in a novice class.  A few people have asked me directly, and the topic has been brought up enough on Edmodo, about more clear directions of how to teach the song.  If I were blessed enough to have a novice class right now, here’s what I would do.  I would string these activities out over the course of at least a week; adding the integrated performance assessment would certainly take longer.

    1. Play first half of song Vivir mi vida as an intro.
    2. Brainstorm a vocabulary list of activities students in the class like to do.
    3. Students take 5-10 minutes to illustrate their vocabulary list.
      Then, review this list each day by asking students to talk about the words with a friend for 3-5 minutes. Example: ¿Te gusta bailar? No, no me gusta bailar, pero mi hermana baila. Tiene clases de baile.
    4. Introduce the target skills.  My target skills are:
      I can tell other people what I’m going to do.
      I can make plans to do something with a friend.
       Write them on the board and then tell a story in Spanish.  As an example:
      One of my students
      and
      (someone they like, Duck Dynasty guy or Taylor Swift or Spiderman)
      are comparing schedules to make plans to
      (something they like to do, hunt ducks or shop at Forever 21 or bungee in the Grand Canyon).
      But they can’t seem to get a time together because:
      person A: “¿Qué tal el lunes a las 4?”
      person B: “No puedo, voy a ir al dentista.  ¿Qué tal el miércoles a las 7?”
      person A: No puedo, voy a practicar el vóleibol. ¿Qué tal el viernes a las 10?
      and so on, especially incorporating the activities your students like to do and/or crazy activities that incorporate this vocabulary (such as, instead of just ‘bailar’ why not ‘bailar en un charco de chocolate’?).
    5. Play the chorus of Vivir mi vida.
      See if some of your more outgoing students will try singing.
    6. Get students’ help in telling the story in 3rd person.  ”Taylor va a…. Julia va a…”
    7. Play a video of Vivir mi vida.
      Sidetrack! How does Marc describe himself at the beginning? This is great authentic novice-level stuff! How can your students describe themselves like this in four sentences?
    8. Incorporate another authentic resource, someone’s schedule or something, perhaps a concert schedule: “Marc Anthony va a cantar en… el (fecha)…”
    9. Play chorus of Vivir mi vida and get students to sing (or lip-sync, I don’t care as long as they’re involved).
    10. Students make a list of activities they’re going to do this week, one each day (recycling days of the week, can also recycle times).
    11. A few volunteers sing their activities instead of the ones in the chorus of “Vivir mi vida” with song video.  They could even fit everything within a phrase:
      “Voy a jugar…el basquetbol… el lunes a… las cuatro, la la”
    12. Students talk to a partner with the question
      “¿Qué vas a hacer?”
      to find out what they’re doing. Students make a grid/chart of what they’re doing and what the partner is doing.
    13. Students use “va a…” to report what the partner is going to do.
    14. Play the whole song of Vivir mi vida and see if students will try to sing.  Perhaps point out some other vocabulary they might know.
    15. Have students mingle and talk again, this time to everyone in class until each pairs up with someone who is going to do one of the same items from his or her list.  So, students partner up based on commonalities.
    16. Students use “vamos a…” to report what they are both going to do.
    17. Students try to sing chorus of Vivir mi vida using “vamos a” phrases, and/or try to do the chorus as
      <point to self> “Voy a bailar,”
      <point to partner> “va a bailar,”
      <point to both> “vamos a bailar,”
      la-la-la-la
    18. Integrated performance assessment: students choose among a set of schedules.  Student chooses activities to participate in and makes plans with me or with a friend (if they have higher proficiency).  Student writes out the schedule both of us are going to use, to show when we are going to do the same activities, and when we might do different activities.  (I might use a schedule from a festival, or a map of a theme park.)

If you use these plans, let me know how it goes!  Were there problems?  What great tweaks did you make?

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March 25, 2014 3 Comments

Putting a number grade on proficiency-based assessment

I’ve gotten this question several times lately and it’s made me remember I sort of blogged on that when I wrote about taking the leap to standards-based assessment but I should go into it a little more.

So, you’re ready to move to proficiency-based assessment and standards-based grading, but if you’re assessment is focused on telling students where their proficiency is hitting and what they can do to improve, what do you do when you’re required to give a number grade?

I inherited a passionate hatred for grades from my dad, a brilliant, creative homeschooler and certainly the most influential person in my life.  A number on a piece of paper doesn’t tell me anything.  Or rather, maybe it tells me everything, but I can’t interpret it.  Perhaps it’s trying to tell me how much sleep the student got last night, or whether his eyes wandered to the girl’s paper one desk over, or to the girl herself, or that he bombed his calculus quiz last period and hates the world right now.  Maybe it says he turned the assignment in three days late.  Maybe it says he didn’t understand the directions.  I don’t know.  For sure what it doesn’t tell me is what I really need to know: what can he do with language?

Following some work I did with the excellent teachers involved in developing curriculum for the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools (quickly becoming the gold standard in district curriculum development – I am blessed to collaborate with these teachers!), I developed my own proficiency-based performance assessment rubric.  But I get a question at times about how I put an actual grade on it – there isn’t a place on the rubric for a grade.  That’s by design.  If a grade doesn’t tell me anything, it tells my students even less, so why would I write it on their assignment?  I choose instead to give them much more helpful feedback, like what structures and word choices they’re using well and how they can push themselves to the next level.  They know exactly where our expectations are and how they can meet or exceed them.  It’s empowering.

However, I do have to put a grade in a gradebook for my school.  We’re required to give a certain number of grades, in categories of “daily” and “test,” per quarter.  So what do I do?  Well, I sort of copy the JCPS model there too.  Here’s a snapshot of how they assign grades:

grade conversion

So you can see, meeting expectations is a B.  Students have to exceed expectations to receive an A.

But I have to put an actual number.  How do I come up with the number?  If a student is meeting the expectation in all major areas (vocabulary use, structure, comprehensibility, and comprehension) the grade is right in the middle of B.  For us, with 80-89 being a B, that means an 85.  I move the number one way or the other if students tend lower or higher in one or two categories.  So if they’re meeting expectations in two categories and exceeding them in two categories, the number is closer to A.  If they’re meeting expectations in one category and exceeding in three, they can receive a low A.  Does that make sense?

The number will also move one way or the other depending on how students do in the minor categories, language control and task completion.  These areas might become more important depending on the subject.  In AP, task completion is actually much more important than in the lower levels because it’s scored so critically on the exam.  So if my students  in AP ignore some task requirements their grade will move more than if they were in level 1.

So, in my class, exceeding expecations overall earns an A, meeting expectations earns a B, approaching expectations earns a C, and you’ll see that my last catogory in the “score” box is “Unsatisfactory: I need considerable improvement before I try again.” What happens there?  Well, in my class, this score earns a failing grade, and failing a performance assessment is not an option for my students, so it means they have to redo the assessment.  Every time.  I do not allow a grade of “Unsatisfactory” to stand.  Also, I allow students to redo any assignment that receives “Approaching expectations.”  Especially in the advanced electives, I get students who are very focused on receiving As in their courses and they languish over a C.  So they can redo any assessment scored lower than “Meeting expectations.” I do not allow students to redo a  ”Meeting expectations” assessment to try for “Exceeding expectations”- I simply am not willing to try to work that into my schedule.

How do students find out what their grade was?  They actually have to log into our online gradebook (RenWeb) to find out.  Some students who don’t bother with it never find out what their number grade was on a particular assignment.  Is that a bad thing?  Not in my opinion.  If I didn’t have to give it I wouldn’t – why would I care if they know about it?

One last thing: what are the expectations?  You can see above what JCPS’s expectations are.  Mine are very similar. Keep in mind I teach in a school with small, sometimes very small, class sizes.  Our stated expectations are:

  • Level 1: NM first semester, NH second semester
  • Level 2: NH first semester, IL second semester
  • Level 3: IL first semester, IM second semester
  • Level 4 (AP): IM first semester, IH second semester

Here’s another aspect of the beauty of this system:  it’s flexible.  If my expectations don’t work for you, you know what works for you.  Even more than that, when they don’t work for me and my students, I adjust them too!  I actually have had students achieve consistent Advanced Low proficiency in their fourth year.  The factors involved there seem to have been a combination of a very strong foundation in level 1 (Level 1 teachers please stay the course!) and a high aptitude.  One of these students missed a quarter of her senior year due to illness and then scored a 4 on the AP exam.  But you know and I know that not all students are like that (and that is okay).  Then came this year.  The students I have now in AP (4th year) had a very piecemeal Spanish 1 and 2 class.  Then for at least half their Spanish 3 class I tried to force my intermediate curriculum to work for novice students instead of adjusting for them.  Right now in some categories they still perform at novice high.  If I maintained our stated expectations, they’d be getting low grades on everything and get very discouraged.  So, I adjust.  This semester in AP, “meeting expectations” is not intermediate high, it’s intermediate mid.  You know your situation and your students and you can adjust accordingly.

If you want to create a classroom culture that knows what proficiency is and works to improve it, you’ve got to incorporate that philosophy into your assessment.  I hope these scale ideas offer you a practical solution for doing so.

 

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March 4, 2014 9 Comments

AP Spanish final exam: Controversia navideña y Vacunas para niños

Grupos partidarios del ateísmo invitan a celebrar la razón, y no la Navidad, en estas fechas; cristianos responden con sus propios anuncios

If you’re interested, here’s my final exam for AP Spanish, addressing two themes we have incorporated this semester: religious celebrations, and healthcare challenges.

The exam includes a persuasive essay and an audio prompt for a speaking response.  In the persuasive essay, students are asked to discuss whether we should try to change other people’s opinions about holidays, specifically how their religion is incorporated into their celebrations.  The sources include a print report about an atheist organization’s controversial billboard in New Jersey, an infographic about whom Spaniards are asking for their Christmas gifts, and an audiovisual report about a Miami-area community holding a public celebration for la concepción de María against the town mayor’s wishes.  The infographic in particular is a neutral source and requires students to think about the Santa vs. Three Kings vs. no one issue.  To prepare for this type of thinking, we talked about my 4-year-old telling her classmate that there was no real Santa Claus (in my house Santa Claus is a fun story much like Cinderella) and he didn’t believe her.  (To clarify, she’s not supposed to do this – she has clear instructions not to talk about Santa at school!)

For the speaking response, my longtime cyberfriend Pilar (@mundaysa) recorded the prompt for me.  The audio is a mother in a doctor’s office who needs to get a vaccine for her child but can’t afford the doctor’s price.  My students have researched and discuss low-cost and free healthcare options in our area and should be able to use this knowledge to explain to the mother where she can get a low-cost vaccine for her child.

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December 11, 2013 2 Comments

Best of 2013: #8 – Novice high vs. Intermediate low

2013′s eighth most popular post is about telling the difference between novice high and intermediate low.  Be sure to check out the comments on the original post for more helpful distinguishing tips.

I got a question recently from a colleague who was having trouble pinpointing the difference between novice high and intermediate low with her students, especially in writing.

When it comes to writing, here are some keys that I think mean a student is consistently performing at IL and not NH:

  • Changing topics with relevance

A few weeks ago a student of mine wrote the same assessment everyone else did: invite someone to a party and talk about what’s going to be going on at the party. But in her (much longer) response, she talked about kids who weren’t coming to the party and what their excuses were, and whether the excuse was valid. In doing so she showed me variety of topics rather than just that she could talk about a party. In this case, the extra topics involved talking about school as well, but fit very well into the task.

  • Deepening vocabulary

If students are stuck in “me gusta” and “yo quiero” then they’re in novice vocabulary. When my students start trading “me gusta” for “me encanta” and then throw in phrases like “detesto” and “me da asco” (we do a lot of work on giving opinions in Intermediate level), then I know their vocabulary is becoming more intermediate.  More examples from my class are trading los dos for ambos and es de for se trata de.  I circle words as I read through that show depth of vocabulary and use them as an example to show students of how to push their proficiency here.

  • Sentence form

Intermediate students rarely if ever answer in fragments when they are not appropriate. My students often ask, because school trains them to, “Do I have to answer in a complete sentence?” The answer is not that simple. If I ask, “What’s that?” then the natural response is not usually a complete sentence. If I ask, “What did you do yesterday?” the natural response is often a complete sentence. Intermediate students more often than not do what would be natural for a native speaker as far as sentence structure. In presentational writing this usually means all complete sentences, unless, for example, you’re asking for something like photo captions, a type of presentational writing novices can typically handle better.

  • Connections within sentences

IL students, especially in presentational writing, use more transitions between phrases and paragraphs: words and phrases like after, and so, and then, before, therefore, that’s why, also, besides, etc. Within sentences they connect phrases not just with ‘and’ and ‘but’ but also subordinating phrases like:

the boy [that was in the school] went…
[when I am sad] I go…
My sister [who is sometimes crazy] likes to…

Last month one of the topics for #langchat was how to set expectations for proficiency and communicate that to students.  @crwmsteach added a comment that is relevant to this discussion: “The difference between NH and IL is that NH students reach for short pieces of IL; IL students maintain these skills and occasionally slip backward to NH.” (expanded because I’m not limited to 140 characters here).

Assessing proficiency is a subjective task but the more discussions we have like this, the more we’ll have interrater reliability and communicate well with our students about where they are and where they’re going.

Foto: nivlek_est

 

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December 9, 2013 0 Comments

Using assessment to inform your teaching

Foto: Ludwig

Assessment has a lot of purposes, the least important of which is to give students a number on a report card.  Some that come to mind are:

  • educating students and parents on proficiency
  • helping students identify areas that need improvemen
  • keeping parents informed on their child’s progress, responsibility, etc.
  • showing administration what your class is doing and how they’re learning

But to me, one of the most important purposes of assessment, particularly formative assessment, is to tell me something: what are the persistent errors my students are making?  That’s some of the most valuable information I can use to inform the content of my class.  After all, isn’t this one of the areas of most-needed reform in education?  Students are assigned to do the same number of exercises every class and every night, regardless of whether they’ve completely mastered the concept or are doing it wrong over and over and cementing the error in their minds.

Here are some practical steps to take to use assessment to inform the content of your teaching.

  1. As you look through or listen to student work (or even casually listen to them in class), jot down prevalent and persistent mistakes.  Keep a notepad (or digital note or whatever) handy so you can make a note when the thought strikes.  If I don’t write it down, later when I’m planning a story or an activity I think, “What was that error 80% of the class was making in that assignment?”  For example purposes, let’s say that a majority of students are using “Yo es.”
  2. Plan to target input.  Develop a story or find an authentic source (or both) that uses your target feature.  I might plan to tell a story soon that involves two characters comparing their features, or a character who is making a profile for an online dating site, or a character who is helping his mom set up a Facebook profile.
  3. Plan a sentence starter with the target.  Begin a subsequent (soon) class by having the starter written on the board: Yo soy _____ pero [personaje] es _____.  Give a few examples.  I use funny characters instead of classmates to avoid giving any opportunity for insult, perceived or otherwise.  Examples might be “Yo soy baja, pero Michael Jordan es alto.  Yo soy blanca, pero Winnie de Puh es café.”  When most students indicate they understand the prompt, I toss a ball or stuffed animal or whatever (Garfield and a stuffed moose were our favorites, even with my seniors) to someone I know understands what’s going on and will be clever about it, to give another good example without them all coming form me.  That student looks for a volunteer to toss it to and the next student does the same thing.  They know they can volunteer, but they also know that everyone has to go so they might as well volunteer sometime.  With large classes, this will get old quickly and so you can divide it into 5-minute brain breaks throughout the class period.
    One interesting aspect is that students don’t know what I’m targeting here.  It looks like I’m targeting adjectives, maybe contrasts, maybe the connector pero, maybe masculine/feminine, but really it’s none of that.  I just want everyone to hear yo soy a couple dozen times.
  4. Play a game.  For example, students can have an unknown character taped to their back (Mickey Mouse, Justin Beiber) and they have to ask classmates yes/no questions with soy to try to figure out who they are: ¿Soy músico? ¿Soy alto? ¿Soy rico? ¿Soy animal?
  5. Do a follow-up assessment to see if things have improved.  Unannouced, begin class by asking students to describe themselves in four phrases, or to do so by calling your Google Voice number, etc.

Try this and see if you can’t improve accuracy on students’ persistent errors.  Do you have other ideas to use assessment to inform your teaching?

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October 25, 2013 3 Comments

Stop asking for unnatural language

Back when I used to ask for translation at the end of every test, I’d comb through that chapter’s vocabulary list to come up with sentences that would test the maximum number of words and target features.  Like this gem:

I saw a turtle with two heads in the park with my tall friend and my short friend on Wednesday.

No, seriously, you’ve done this too, haven’t you?

To linguists, one of the most astonishing miracles of language acquisition is that as children acquire language they suddenly begin to utter phrases and sentences they have never heard before.  It’s one of the ways we know this process is not like memorization.  And it reveals that the process of acquisition is nothing like translation.  Instead of asking for translation (a high-level skill our students aren’t terribly capable of anyway), just ask for language:

- What did you do last Wednesday?  Where did you go?  What did you see?  With whom did you go?

Another way we ask for unnatural language is to constantly demand full sentences.  This happens across disciplines.  I’m not sure why – maybe a carryover from elementary days when we were trying to be sure kids knew what a sentence was?  But get this: I just read a popular nonfiction memoir in which half the “sentences” are actually fragments.

I’m pretty sure our high school kids know what a sentence is by now.  Next time your students ask “Do we have to answer in complete sentences?” (I’m betting you’ve heard this a thousand times too), tell them to simply answer like they would answer naturally.  If you’re asking for narrative, you’ll get sentences when they’re appropriate.  If you’re asking what color a panda is, you’ll get black and white.  I beg of you, don’t take off points for the lack of a verb. You got your answer, and it’s natural, and it’s correct.  Students will develop real proficiency when we stop asking for unnatural language and let them simply respond.

Foto: Gema Campos Hernando

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July 10, 2013 2 Comments

Guest post: Coaching with choice

This semester I was blessed and honored to teach an amazing group of kids who were coachable.  Coming from an athletic background, this concept of being “coachable” is one of the most valuable traits that a coach can have in a player. The coachable player is one who may not have the best skills or natural talent, but is one who takes feedback to heart and does something with it to improve his performance.  I have had the benefit of working with some amazing coaches, and they have definitely influenced how I coach students as they learn Spanish.  It intrigues me that many of our high-performing students have lost this ability; they are so fixed on grades that they miss the journey and the pleasure of learning.
This particular crew came to me scattered all over the skill map.  Initially they were daunted by tackling this class–it’s taught almost all in Spanish, and it’s standards-based, so things like homework play a very minor role in their grades.  It was an uphill battle that still is not completely won to convince them that we wanted to highlight what they COULD do and work together on areas where they needed improvement.  Trying to convince them that they could make mistakes and still “score well” was a challenge too–they are so conditioned to the contrary.
All of this brings us to a tool that became one of my best strategies:  Choose Your Own Adventure.  Inspired by work done by Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (of this blog) and Laura Sexton (sraspanglish.blogspot.com) and a similar project I had done a long time ago, I decided to offer students choices in what they studied and in particular, the ability to choose activities that addressed their areas of needed improvement.  Based on last semester’s final exam data, it was clear that we needed to include more listening and reading into their studies.  We also live in a culturally rich area where the opportunities to speak Spanish are just a few steps outside their doors.  I developed a menu of options split among reading, listening, and culture/speaking, and students had to complete one a week for nine weeks.  The only restriction I placed on them was that they had to complete at least 2 listening and 2 reading; the rest were completely their choice.
I also encouraged them to pick almost any topic that interested them and to explore it.  My student who wants to be an architect was fascinated by Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and wanted to know more about it.  Great!  Two students fell in love with Fonseca and found out that he was coming to town, so they bought tickets (with parental permission) and went to the show…to find out that it was a 21 and over show.  That turned into a lesson in being a good consumer and how to ask for your money back :)  From a language perspective, many students just plain got better at Spanish because they were reading it and listening to it on their own time.  Finally, there is also something to be said for the fact that some of my struggling students looked at this assignment early on as something that they could be successful on, and that inertia carried over to other aspects of class.
Remember “coachable”?  Imagine what your class would be like if your students–or even most of them–were coachable.  That’s what happened in this class, and it was awesome.  Sure, students still struggled, but they invested in the process of improvement.  I am convinced that giving them choice, such as on this assignment, was a key part of this journey.  But don’t just take my word for it; here are comments that they made on the end of course survey:

  • I liked it because it showed how Spanish is used through everyday activities
  • I didn’t like it that much, but that could be because I did not do many of the fun ones
  • I liked that we could choose what we wanted to do. I didn’t like that it was every week. Maybe you could give people the option to do things that aren’t on that sheet, let them come up with their own activity.
  • I liked how we had the freedom to pick whatever we wanted and it helped me learn a decent amount
  • I liked how it encouraged me to experience Spanish outside of class, but I felt like I couldn’t do some of the adventures, so I was stuck with the same few.
  • I thought it was a good idea but some of the choices could have been better, some seemed a lot easier than others and some like going to restaurant took too much planning
  • I liked how we could chose anything and research it and it immersed me into Spanish culture and I learned more about the language
  • Most of the stuff I would have done on my own anyways so I liked it
  • I thought choose your own adventure was fun and helped me in general. I liked all the options I had, but I didn’t like when we had to do one when we already had a lot of homework that day because it made me fly through it faster than I should have.
  • It was cool being able to do the thing you wanted to
  • “I liked choose your own adventure, especially all the different opportunities to learn about different Spanish cultures. My favorite one was getting to try different foods.
  • I did not like choose your own adventure.  I did like the easy ones though.  I didn’t like having to do one every week especially when i ran out of the easy ones.  I would add more options for the adventure.

And finally, one student said he “improved everywhere considering where I started from” and cites Choose Your Own Adventure as the tool that was most effective in helping him learn Spanish.Reading these comments, I find it interesting that several students did create projects of their own, but some of their classmates in the same period are asking for the option to do exactly that.  It was an option available to all.
My evaluation:  The feedback is strongly positive, and the intangible effect of a positive vibe in the classroom was critically important to me.  I will definitely emphasize the option of creating your own assignment more, perhaps by highlighting those who do.  I will also try to include them in adding more options for their menu.  I’m interested to see what we can do about turning this into a paperless or at least less-papered project.  Their feedback is so helpful, even those who didn’t like it, because even the coach has to be coachable for a team to win.

By Bethanie Carlson Drew.
bethanie carlson drew
Bethanie studied athletic training/sports medicine because she wanted to… and Spanish because her dad made her.  After working in college athletics, she realized that she liked Spanish after all and that it opened doors that she couldn’t have envisioned, thereby proving her dad right.  Twenty years later, she is still teaching high school Spanish and loving it, especially treasuring the sweet spot moment when her students are able to be themselves, but in Spanish.  She fled the snowy tundra of the midwest 15 years ago to live in magnificent North Carolina where school is cancelled if a single flake falls.  She is married to an amazing husband and they have two incredible kids and Natalie, the wonderdog.

Foto: Comisión Nacional de Cultura Física y Deporte Conade

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June 12, 2013 3 Comments

Screencast: Photopeach

My favorite way to wrap up AP Spanish, after the exam, is to do a project we call “21 important things.”  Students do a slideshow on Photopeach using, at least:

  • 21 photos with text, illustrating things important to the student
  • No simple sentences
  • At least half the photos from creative commons, properly sourced
  • Music in Spanish
  • Appropriate use of narrative
  • Appropriate use of transitions
  • Well-integrated idiomatic expressions

I used to have some very good examples of this but alas, Photopeach suffered some data loss last summer and lost all of them.  If you’re interested in using this fun and easy tool, however, here’s a screencast showing how it works.

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June 8, 2013 0 Comments

Communicative grading made easier

I can write all I want about how much I dislike traditional worksheets and multiple-choice questions, but we have to admit they’ve got something going for them: they’re easy to grade.  Do you ever feel like there’s a battle between wanting to do more communicative assessments and dreading how long it’s going to take you to grade them?  I have definitely been there.

Here are some tips I’ve learned to make grading communicative assessments faster and easier without compromising validity.

  • Whenever you can, grade presentational speaking at the time of delivery.
    Especially if you have large classes, Google Voice and videocameras are great tools to be able to get speaking assessments from all students without taking days to do them individually.  But consider doing as many presentational speaking assessments in class so you can mark as you listen.  For me, it’s just so easy to keep thinking yeah, I have those Voice messages to grade, but they’ll wait.  It feels a whole lot better when students (or at least half of them) have done it in class and I already have the grade done.
  • Resist correction.
    I know, we’re grammar lovers, and we want to mark every wrong verb ending and every incorrect vowel.  Resist, my friend! You will find yourself drowning in grading writing.  Remind yourself what your objectives were with the assignment and stick to that.  If you’ve been working on a pattern of errors lately, or you’ve recognized a widespread pattern of errors in class, mark a few of those and make a note to highlight it in class, but otherwise, put down the red pen unless you can give some useful proficiency-based feedback.
  • Speaking of which, note patterns of error and discuss in class.
    You give feedback that’s helpful to everyone instead of spending so much time targeting individual students.
  • Make sure you put specifics on your rubric.
    If you’ve told your students that you’re looking for certain things in an assessment, put those specifics on your rubric to keep yourself from getting distracted.
  • Assign fewer, better written deliverables.
    Many schools require you to have a certain number of grades per week or per quarter, but in my experience, that requirement, even when it’s there, isn’t terribly excessive.  Don’t fall into the trap I often do – grading more assignments just so there will be more grades in my grade book.  Think through a few very robust written assignments, the most time-consuming ones to grade, and limit the number you have.
    And along the same lines… 
  • Limit open-ended questions and make them count.
    One of my most popular blog posts is about using Spanish commercials on YouTube for cloze quizzes.  Several dozen Spanish teachers have signed on to this project and scripted commercials for anyone to use.  This type of quiz helps train the brain to separate words correctly.  But you shouldn’t leave it at the cloze.  At the end, ask a few well-chosen, communicative questions.  How are these two commercials different?  What kind of food are you like and why?  What two interesting ingredients would you like to see on a fast-food salad?  Don’t get too carried away; just ask a couple of these.  That way, you’re getting easy-to-grade output with the cloze, and a few higher-level thinking questions as well.
    You can do this with any quiz.  Quizzes don’t need to be long to be effective.  Make your questions better instead of asking more of the same.
  • Have students grade.
    Oldest time-saving trick in the book – when you are asking questions like cloze quizzes or with set recall answers, have students trade and grade, if this is allowed where you teach. 
  • Trust your system.
    You’ve committed to a communicative, proficiency-based classroom.  Trust what research and experience have borne out: those activities will improve your students’ communicative competence without you spending a lot of unnecessary time over-grading everything.

For more on making grading easier, check out some tips on spot-checking conversations and grading regular free-topic writing.  And enjoy your lighter load.

Foto: Drew Olanoff

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June 4, 2013 0 Comments

Novice high vs. intermediate low

I got a question recently from a colleague who was having trouble pinpointing the difference between novice high and intermediate low with her students, especially in writing.

When it comes to writing, here are some keys that I think mean a student is consistently performing at IL and not NH:

  • Changing topics with relevance

A few weeks ago a student of mine wrote the same assessment everyone else did: invite someone to a party and talk about what’s going to be going on at the party. But in her (much longer) response, she talked about kids who weren’t coming to the party and what their excuses were, and whether the excuse was valid. In doing so she showed me variety of topics rather than just that she could talk about a party. In this case, the extra topics involved talking about school as well, but fit very well into the task.

  • Deepening vocabulary

If students are stuck in “me gusta” and “yo quiero” then they’re in novice vocabulary. When my students start trading “me gusta” for “me encanta” and then throw in phrases like “detesto” and “me da asco” (we do a lot of work on giving opinions in Intermediate level), then I know their vocabulary is becoming more intermediate.  More examples from my class are trading los dos for ambos and es de for se trata de.  I circle words as I read through that show depth of vocabulary and use them as an example to show students of how to push their proficiency here.

  • Sentence form

Intermediate students rarely if ever answer in fragments when they are not appropriate. My students often ask, because school trains them to, “Do I have to answer in a complete sentence?” The answer is not that simple. If I ask, “What’s that?” then the natural response is not usually a complete sentence. If I ask, “What did you do yesterday?” the natural response is often a complete sentence. Intermediate students more often than not do what would be natural for a native speaker as far as sentence structure. In presentational writing this usually means all complete sentences, unless, for example, you’re asking for something like photo captions, a type of presentational writing novices can typically handle better.

  • Connections within sentences

IL students, especially in presentational writing, use more transitions between phrases and paragraphs: words and phrases like after, and so, and then, before, therefore, that’s why, also, besides, etc. Within sentences they connect phrases not just with ‘and’ and ‘but’ but also subordinating phrases like:

the boy [that was in the school] went…
[when I am sad] I go…
My sister [who is sometimes crazy] likes to…

Last month one of the topics for #langchat was how to set expectations for proficiency and communicate that to students.  @crwmsteach added a comment that is relevant to this discussion: “The difference between NH and IL is that NH students reach for short pieces of IL; IL students maintain these skills and occasionally slip backward to NH.” (expanded because I’m not limited to 140 characters here).

Assessing proficiency is a subjective task but the more discussions we have like this, the more we’ll have interrater reliability and communicate well with our students about where they are and where they’re going.

Foto: nivlek_est

 

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May 13, 2013 6 Comments