Category Archives: Assessment

Finals time again

I’m in one of those walking-on-water teacher moments, when a plan comes off way better than I had any cause to hope.

It’s finals week for seniors. This year, all my students are doing my favorite final: the ten-year reunion.

The kids are very ready for this (oral) final, for many reasons. We’ve done Star of the Day. We’ve talked about the highlights of living in cities and about some of the problems cities around the world face. We’ve interviewed guests. Recently, I thought of some questions students might ask classmates ten years hence, and I asked kids for their suggestions before I unveiled mine. Theirs included, “Are you happy?” and “What are your dreams now?” as well as “Why did you choose to live where you are?”

Students are to bring pictures, but they don’t have to, as support for their talks. They will speak in small groups (we might have food and drinks on the official final date to further the idea of a party), and I will hang at the edge of groups making notes on a checklist.

Today, two seniors had to begin the process early because of AP and IB exam interference with their last week of school. We divided the class in two, and each group reunited with the seniors separately. Some kids used the list of questions we had devised, but many asked natural questions that arose, and a few asked clarifying questions, as I did.

I loved it! These are kids who were reared on Storytelling, but we haven’t done much lately. I was touched that they reverted to flights of fancy, even though they are so mature. I was first blown away by the abilities of my senior boy who talked about living on the moon after his parents unexpectedly passed away. He had fathered a child, but had not married. He was a doctor, and that made living on the moon interesting because of the different kinds of ailments that arose there. He was ready, however, to return to the Earth, because he never got to see his child in person, and because he had mostly recovered from the depression that hit him after losing his parents and the ending the relationship with the mother of his child. The senior girl had married Putin (who was now 77), was living in a house built on a bee that she had met in Canada (though I didn’t ever hear why she went there). She had ten children, though one had fallen from the rooftop of the flying house and perished. She had studied French in Mexico during college and liked the flexibility of living on a flying house. (Her story didn’t quite earn a solid “Holds together” grade – see #2, below.)

Both kids were perfect first presenters. Putin’s wife had pictures, and the other student didn’t, so that gave kids both models. In both groups, students asked questions eagerly, and laughed or responded sympathetically where appropriate. One was a second-year student, and the other a fifth-year, yet they both managed the assignment at appropriate levels. It was easy to follow the rubric (a checklist), and everyone seemed relaxed. The only worry: we spent the entire class hour on the final with just these two. Granted, part of the hour was a review and improvement of the “rubric” (a checklist). And we took some time to move the tables around, but both students talked for about twenty minutes. I think that these will go faster as students get tired, but we will have to make sure the groups rotate a bit faster with more speakers.

Our checklist rubric had four parts to it:

  1. Comprehensibility: none/some/most/all
  2. Story holds together: not/a bit/mostly/completely
  3. Three or more details on at least four topics (circle): relationships, work, living situation, travel, hobbies, post-secondary education
  4. Language variety demonstrated (so that it can’t be all “this is a…”): description of belongings; what has been positive/negative; history; current life; motivations.

Students changed “family” under #3 to “relationships.” They added travel as well. I took a note from Bill Van Patten’s book, so #3 and 4 are “can’t/with effort/easily.” #4 disguises my checking for grammar: description requires adjectives, positive/negative requires impersonal (dative) forms, history requires past tense, current life requires present tense, and explaining motivation requires complex sentences.

I gave the students language samples of what I was expecting to hear in #4, and a couple kids pointed out that they would all be covered if they planned to answer our questions.

This final gave me a real sense of what kids can do with language at these levels. The format made it possible for them to be comprehensible. I could tell where they’d worked out a few parts of their presentations, but the ongoing questions at the “reunion” made it impossible to memorize everything. Stress was low, laughter high, and I am now looking forward to the rest of these.


Classroom Portfolio Creation

I mentioned earlier that I created a portfolio template for my students. Next weekend, I’m going to be teaching a workshop on the subject.

If you’d like to be a guinea pig for the directions, could you respond? I will send you a link to the workshop document, and you can try it and let me know whether it is comprehensible (for a person who already does Google Apps).

You’ll need to have a Google account, but you don’t need to have created websites. I’m hoping that I can talk some people through this, while those who are a little more savvy can plunge ahead on their own.

In this day of data collection, I’m trying to make something easy to control.

Portfolio Assessment

Our district has recently implemented SGO’s: Student Growth Objectives. I am planning to use a portfolio to help demonstrate student growth (and to help set baseline numbers). I’m kind of excited about this. At ACTFL, I will be sharing how to create a teacher website, but I have decided that I’ll show how to set up a class portfolio template instead and demonstrate that it’s really the same as setting up a class website.

Here’s what I’ve set up for students. You can open it and click on “Use this template,” make your changes, then go into Settings, Manage Site, General, and tell it to save as a template so your kids can try it too. There’s help from teacher Anthony Devine embedded on the site, and if you want to do something but can’t figure it out, just google “How do I …” and you’ll probably come up with the answer. Or ask me in the comments below. Over the next few days, while I’m traveling, I probably won’t answer, but I’m doing the same presentation at our state conference in EEK three weeks! so it will help to know anything you want to know but can’t figure out.

I don’t like technology pushing me but I’m going to keep it simple. Students did a fast write in class one day, typed it up for homework (with all the mistakes), and then opened this template from their google drive, and made their first post on the writing page. Just that easy, just that quick. Fifteen minutes’ worth of lab time. We’ll do a quick-time audio on a story next, and they’ll paste that into their speaking page with a picture. They get to seek out their own reading, as directed. I really like it when we don’t spend valuable class time learning the technology. They can tweak things at home, and my plan is to have one of each (reading, writing, speaking, and maybe listening) at the beginning of each quarter, and at the end of the year. That should show kids their progress.

New Assessment Categories

I’ve been researching this week as I am “home alone” in my new town. Today I’m watching the IndwellingLang/ Musicuentos Black Box Videocast #2 about Bill Van Patten’s article on Mental Representation and Skill.

At 4:37, there is a description of what “skill” is as it applies to language:

1. Interpretation (reading, listening)

2. Expression (writing, speaking)

3. Negotiation (conversational interaction, turn-taking)

I’ve been using the three ACTFL strands lately for my grading categories– Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational–but I think I might switch to the three parts of the skill of using a language that Van Patten mentions here. The third would include what I always think should be part of a language class, despite the fact that it’s behavior. (I’m a Marzano fan.) Speaking a language correctly does require that you’re waiting for your turn as well as participating, whether that is with short answers or longer questions.

What do you think? Up until now, Presentational has taken up very little space in my overall percentage for students at the beginning level, and it has increased with the language level being taught. But that meant that speaking and writing were in two of the big categories (interpersonal and presentational).

If I use these Van Patten categories, speaking and writing would still be limited as a percentage of the grade at the lower levels. Otherwise I was having two of the big categories attend to something that I wasn’t even really marking in level 1 for the first semester.

(I hate grades.)

PS I want to participate in more discussion about the three questions Slocum Bailey raises at the end of the video.


As those who are FB friends with me know, I had a culinary accident that made typing finals a bit rough. (Also interfered with a musical performance, but all went well there.) I had to depend on creative ideas and having an exchange student help me because I wasn’t going to be able to do what I’d planned.

New rule: don’t procrastinate when writing finals. I’m going to plan and write my semester 2 finals in January. Hmm. Will it happen?

And just so you know, I’m dictating this to my phone. Not typing. There will be no edits except to put in missed punctuation.

For the reading/listening portion of the final, an exchange student typed up a MovieTalk-inspired story based on a Simon’s Cat video. I made five levels of assignments to go with it, once I’d also collected twelve screen shots. I also painstakingly made changes so that there was a parallel reading of a little girl bothering her mother from outside the bathroom.

Students looked at the screen shots while I told them the story, while asking questions. That was to make sure that they understood the story and what the pictures were of. Then the final began.

First, the students labeled the correct picture when I told the story out of order. (They got to watch the 2-minute video for laughs and to make doubly sure they understood the story.) Then they got a copy of the story with questions in English. They answered the questions in Russian. That way I knew they understood the questions, but I didn’t want them answering on the basis of seeing the story!

Next, they all had to create QAR questions about the story. Level 1 kids could choose English for questions. Level 2 and up had to ask in Russian. They didn’t have to answer their own questions. Level 3 and up had to add a certain number of words to the story that changed it, improved the writing, or added details. Level 4 and up had to compare that story with another one.

This worked out because I could see what kids could do with exactly the same material at all levels, and because I got to make copies of the same three pages for all Russian classes.

If anyone wants a copy of the screen shots of the Bathroom story, I will happily email it to you when we get back from break, or by noon on Friday 12/19. Just say so in comments.

I can do it!

Thanks to Toni Thiesen and Christine Lanphere’s table talk at ACTFL, I have more ideas about how to use Can-Do statements as I teach.

Either Toni or Christine (sorry, can’t remember which) gives students a “can-do bubble sheet” to kids at the beginning of a unit. The kids pick three of the can-dos that they want to master. They write a reflection about how they plan to learn them, and at the end of the unit, they write up how successful they were.

I’ve been using the can-do statements in a much less structured way. But as I’m writing my finals, I figured out how to use a bubble sheet with the can-do statements to help kids prepare for the oral part of their semester final. I’ve put 15 can-do statements (with one blank one) on a page. My year one students are going to pick between 12 and 15 to demonstrate for their final. They get to organize them in whatever way they want: they can work them all into a story that they will tell, or they can put symbols onto a picture or presentation to guide them. Whatever they do, it will be scanned or turned in electronically to become a part of a class powerpoint for presentations.  Here’s a picture of their bubble sheet:

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 3.19.12 PMI will advise them that they can tell a story with a lot of dialogue, or they can just demonstrate each piece one at a time, whatever suits their style. Each day until we have our final, we’ll do five minutes’ worth of different activities for them to practice and feel secure about this final: inner/outer circles, highlighting the ones they have done; time in the lab to scan or send their pictures and practice with partners, volunteers coming to the front and showing their stuff. But I will also give input each day so that students hear all of these things from different points of view, with different pictures.

We’ll also have listening and reading sections for the final. I don’t assign writing on finals because we have to have our finals graded so quickly.

While I’m on the subject of Can-Do statements, I realized I’ve learned something. We’re learning a Russian New Year’s song, one we practice every year. We always talk about the story of the little tree, but because of the Can-Do statements, I decided to be more transparent about our goals with the song. The song starts with talking about where the tree was born. We’ve talked about where people were born in class, and this was a wonderful opportunity to connect that. Then it goes on to how she grew up in the forest, later how she slept in a snowstorm and finally how she got all dressed up to come to the party with children. A bunch of the Can-Do statements I have in the bubble sheet came out because of thinking about what students could do if they used vocabulary from the song, or if they told the story of the song. It has everything, from season, to holiday, to weather. It’s pretty cool! I don’t think of myself as “doing” units successfully, but by planning around this song, I realize that we are pulling a lot of pieces together here at the end of the semester.

Rubrics: speaking and interpersonal skills

I sent our TPRS teacher group the post on the final that I’m giving my advanced kids, and Karen C. sent me back a wonderful speaking rubric. Karen is the composer of the short-story and novel projects, and her ideas are always well thought out and elegant to use.

Here is the rubric. 

While I’m at it, here’s the Interpersonal Self Evaluation Rubric that I got from someone and tweaked a little. If it’s yours, please say so. I am deeply sorry that I separated the author and the original project. (The source may be somewhere on this blog.) I changed it from 10 to 12 points, because it was missing the “Answers questions” line, and I needed that. You might want to focus on just certain areas on a given day. I find that things are slipping a little at this time of the year, and kids straighten up when I refer to parts of the rubric.

Advanced: final project

I let a lot of time go by between our monthly (April?) TPRS meeting at Jitters and this note. We talked about assessments and finals, and everyone shared what was happening in their classes. It was a pleasure to see everyone!

I promised I would send out the rubric for my advanced class’s oral final. I’ve tweaked it some with my kids; we came up with a check-off sheet rather than a rubric. They have to have a certain number of very limited grammar points correct, and the rest just has to be understandable.

The conceit of the final is a ten-year class reunion. The kids have to bring at least two pictures for each topic area and cover all the different pieces on the rubric. They will tell other kids their stories while snacking on potluck items. I haven’t decided whether I’m really going to try to listen to every piece from every single kid, or whether I will let them carry around a second rubric for other students to mark off, while I mark at least the grammar and one topic area from each student. In the past, I’ve found it fairly easy to listen to two or three kids at once because they’re all talking in groups.

The seniors’ finals went well. They presented their ten-year speeches to the entire class. One student had forgotten to get any pictures, so he used a presentation some other students had made of cute animals and had to work his entire talk around those pictures. It was quite entertaining, and he was very successful, but his presentation served as a warning to those who might otherwise think they don’t need to plan.

Here’s the link to the “rubric.” 

I told the kids that they have to ask questions of their classmates and respond to what they hear with interest, but I’m not going to be able to grade that.

I will have them all write as part of the final: they’ll write up some of their own story and some of one of their classmates’ stories. They’ll have the same grammar requirements and they’ll need to cover at least two topic areas completely in the written piece.

Grading: could a sympathetic native speaker understand the speech and writing. If so, they’re good to go!

Learning poetry

We’re two months away from our state Russian competition (which is why I’m filing this under “assessment”). I like this competition because kids realize that they are part of a big group learning the language. I don’t always love what I have to ask the kids to do (in terms of output) to prepare.

Thus I try to turn everything that I do into ways to use the information in stories. Verses (to be memorized) this morning were perfect for a first-year TPRS class: a doctor answers an elephant’s call about the tons of chocolate the elephant’s son needs.

With a TPRS class, such a poem is easy and fun for the kids to act out. We have the sound-effect people, the action people, and all our gestures. I included grammar pop-ups and alternative endings and completely different options for the animals and the responses. The kids pretty much learned the entire piece in about 15 minutes.

Then we played a game with pictures of the composers and Russian souvenirs that we’re going to need to talk about. The kids were all happy on the ground with the pictures and word cut-outs.

I love TPRS.

Last finals this week!

I’m on my way home from Bend, where I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful group of new colleagues as well as hanging out with my parents. Diane Brown rocked the house by getting up and trying out MovieTalk on a video she hadn’t even seen! That takes courage and a history of fine teaching. I wish I could have stayed longer (not only because it was warm and I hear it snowed up to six inches at home while I was gone).

I’m in the airport, taking a break from writing the reading part of a final on Quia. It’s a mix of questions that have to be aimed at three different levels in the intermediate class (officially, but who doesn’t have three different levels or more in any given language class).

I’m trying to start each final with novice-level questions: word recognition, single-word answers, simple questions. Then I work my way up to questions in which students have to be able to read a whole sentence, then strings of sentences, then paragraphs, and finally understanding time and organization. It’s harder than I’d expected to write a test that I want to be multiple choice and directed at different levels, while still personalizing and making it kind of fun. On top of that, I’m trying to keep it reading, not writing. I did put in some grammar questions, but they’re all centered around meaning. For the first time, I tried putting in contrastive-type grammar questions for those 4%-ers. We’ll see whether the kids like it or whether it’s horrible. Instructions tell the kids that they should not worry if they don’t get everything. My kids know that I analyze all the question responses to throw out bad questions, so I hope they view tests as a challenge, knowing that my goal is to show them what they know.