Summative Language Assessments
Kindergartners Calvin Cisneros and Angela Whitbread join in a class exercise in Diana Stovel’s Dual Immersion class at Rorimer Elementary School in La Puente on Thursday May 31. 2012. Rorimer Elementary is graduating its first class of sixth graders to come through Spanish immersion program. Principal Liz Leon recently won an award for bilingual administrator while the PTA president also got an award from CABA. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Durflinger)

While language assessments are a large part of the foreign language classroom, not all tests are created equal. This was one of the major topics of discussion during #langchat on Thursday. Although everyone had a different opinion about the importance of summative assessment tools for language teaching, we could all agree that they are often necessary and required to do on a regular basis.

Goals of Summative Language Assessments

It became clear quickly that summative language assessments are extremely personalized to the classroom and the teacher. Reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and general classroom knowledge were concepts mentioned by quite a few participants, while others focused their language assessments on the three ACTFL performance standards of interpersonal, interpretive and presentational abilities. @Tiesmgraf said, “I think the best summative language assessments are integrated performance based assessments that assess all three communication modes.”

Presentational Language Assessments – Pros and Cons

One of the key areas that were discussed was the topic of presentational summative assessment tools for language learners. Benefits of this method include preparation for presentations in other courses and college, in addition to having to have a much better grasp on the concept in order to teach it. Presentational language assessments can also be ways to assess both the listeners’ and speaker’s summative knowledge. @CoLeeSensei suggested doing this by having a student present and then encourage listeners to ask questions in the target language.

On the other hand, teachers agreed that this style can increase student stress levels. @Placido said, “Nerves were always a problem for me at school, so I sympathize.” This brought up a wonderful idea for a presentational style that was less emotionally risky for students. @Katchringa suggested students in small groups act scenes in the target language instead of more stressful individual presentations.

Performance-Based VS. Written Language Assessments

Many of the #langchat participants differences between active, performance-based summative language assessments and written exams. @Espanolbartlett said, “To me these types of assessments should be performance based. What can they actually *do* with the language?” @Placido advocated for performance assessments as well: “I try to assess different modes on summative. Performance assessments allow [the] most flexibility!”

Still, there were many teachers who found that written and multiple-choice language assessments provide important benefits. @Cadamsf1defended this choice, saying, “I think there is a place for [multiple choice questions] so that students [can be prepared] for exams.” Other benefits of written summative exams included listening comprehension, essay writing preparation and advanced grammar and vocabulary skills.

Differentiating Language Assessments

Clearly, #langchatters decided that providing choices and levels for students is the best practice for creating effective summative assessments. @Placido got some positive attention for her use of “choice boards,” which allow students to choose their own approved language assessment. She said, “[Students can create] a question, a photo, they draw own cartoon, a sentence starter, list of questions. The possibilities are endless!”

In addition to allowing students to choose their language assessment options, ways of differentiating for varied skill levels were also discussed. While lower levels talked about the advantages of using images and creative summative assessment tools for language classrooms, upper levels focused more on test preparation and attention to detail.

Language Assessment Tools and Tips

  • @SenorG has students prepare graphs about countries studied during the unit and present their findings in the target language.
  • @Msfrenchteach creates a listening assessment with associated readings and essay questions.
  • @CoLeeSensei does an in-class “Show and Tell” where students present a concept of interest and then she assesses the presentation in addition to the discussion of the listeners afterwards.
  • @Espanolbartlett encouraged #langchatters to try the “One stay, two stray” method of doing simultaneous presentations. In this method, one “expert” learns about a subject and rotating groups of two students come to the station to hear the presentation.
  • @Katchiringa suggested a post-novel assessment where students create a movie poster or trailer for the novel.
  • @Placido illuminated her “Twitter Wall” concept for both formative and summative language assessments. Students post as they read through the novel and create artifacts from the complete wall.
  • @SenoraCMT introduced the idea of using Google Voice for speaking language assessments. This program can be set up so that students can call in to a private number and leave an oral assessment message.
  • @Cadamsf1 suggested having students use Voice Thread to create virtual portfolios.

Other Resources

International Human Development Indicators – For studying demographics of different countries
WIDA Language Proficiency Rubrics
DELF Discussion Rubrics (@CoLeeSensei)
NCSSFL “I Can” Self-Assessment Rubrics
ACTFL-Based Performance Rubric (@SenorG)
ACTFL Integrated Performance Assessment Manual
Desktop Cooperative Learning Strategies: San Juan Unified School District

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

iPad Curious Learners by Fancy Jantzi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Fancy Jantzi 

Ipad Curious Learners, Fancy Jantzi. January 24, 2011. Penn Laird, Virginia, US.

Langchat Summary: Total Participation Techniques in the Classroom

It was a great meeting of minds at this Thursday’s #Langchat. The newest member of the moderating team, @CoLeeSensei, was introduced.  In addition, a reminder was given to participants to be aware of the #Langchat winter break from December 20th to the 27th.

But, #Langchat was about much more than housekeeping items.  A lot of excellent tips and strategies were given about how to motivate student language participation in the language classroom.  Participants shared great ideas for how to engage with individual students, motivate stubborn non-participators and create engaging class times. 

Building a Positive Classroom Climate

#Langchatters decided that one of the most important elements for promoting classroom language participation is classroom climate. Many participants agreed that the feel of the classroom is almost as important as the curriculum that is being taught.  Classrooms where students feel safe in trying new words and making mistakes are a key element to building language participation. @Dr_DMD said, “Engagement comes more naturally when the classroom is a safe place to take risks.”@ KGallsEduSvcs agreed: “In my Spanish class, I tell students that they must make 250K errors before fluency. So let’s get cracking!”

Knowing the Students

Another key element for getting students involved is knowing the students and using their interests to build the lessons. @Brevkin suggested allowing the students to come up with their own language participation activities so that they have more buy-in for involvement. @SraTaylor10 said, “I start off class with a conversation that directly interests my 7th grade students: Who is a better singer, Justin Bieber or One Direction?’”

Other teachers talked about how personal relationships with students can keep them participating. @Trescolumnae talked about the importance of individual conferences with students in order to find out what motivates each individual student. @PamWesley said, “100% participation requires knowing each student well – are they grade-motivated?  shy? scared? bored? hate school?”

Motivating Defiant Students

An important topic discussed this evening was ideas on how to get obstinate students to increase their language participation. Members agreed that usually students have reasons for not wanting to be involved, either due to lack of skills, embarrassment, shyness or lack of basic needs. @MartinaBex said, “I have some kids who have too many unmet needs to participate…no sleep, no food, no love…I help where I can but it’s so hard!”

There were good suggestions on how to get these students engaged. A number of teachers encouraged language participation with prizes and praise for participating in class even small amounts. Some tried to use other students as positive peer pressure to encourage participation. Others made a habit of calling on non-participating students so that they could recognize the expectation of the teachers. @LauraJaneBarber said, “Establishing expectations at the beginning and enforcing them [is important].”

For stubborn students who continue to refuse, most participants agreed that giving them space was more conducive to maintaining the positive classroom climate. @SenoraCMT said, “I try to bring them in every way that I can and then I allow them to be spectators.” @Placido agreed stating, “I don’t force or act mean, but they need to look attentive even if they are holding back.”

Creating Effective Participation Lessons

Many #Langchat teachers said that engaging lessons are the best way to elicit language participation, even from stubborn non-participators. Some teachers stressed the importance of having an engaging opening activity or “hook” to get students interested and involved. Other elements, such as varying participation and classroom activities, incorporating technology like Twitter and PollEverywhere and focusing on appropriate pacing, were key to keeping students talking in the classroom. @SenoraCMT said, “I find that the more I do novel activities, the more they participate.”

Some of these “novel” ideas were shared for keeping participation at an all-time high:

  • Having students get help from a partner first, before asking the teacher for help.
  • Create a pen-pal or student information exchange program with students at the same level from other classrooms, schools or countries.
  • Incorporate music and movement into the classroom, even at the upper levels. @Martina Bex said, “[You] have to get the kids moving at some point, even for two minutes.” @SenoraCMT said, “They sing along or at least follow along and some even download to their own phones.”
  • Have a language participation ball or stuffed animal that gets thrown around the room. Whoever catches it has a chance to participate.
  • Encourage students to ask open-ended questions and answer with more than “yes” or “no.”
  • Small group activities such as “Think, Pair, Share” or small discussion groups are low-risk ways for students to speak with others in the classroom.
  • @SraTaylor 10’s “Come se dice” Box Activity.  Students who incorporate off-topic language participation into the classroom can put their off-topic words into a box. At the end of the week, the teacher pulls some of these words and teaches them in the target language.
  • Use a token or reward system for students to attain a prize or long-term goal. @Martina Bex has a Chile system where students can get tickets in order to become a singing ninja.
  • Large group activities such as “Inner Circle, Outer Circle” and group storytelling are fun ways for students to become familiar with each other and use their creative language skills.
  • Scavenger hunts throughout the classroom or school. Have students look for objects that are being taught in the target language and check them off their lists.
  • Share pertinent information in the language classroom. Teaching valuable information that students want to know about is a great way to get them asking questions and listening for answers.
  • Incorporate culture into the lessons. Cultural holidays and traditions keep students engaged, especially as they learn to compare and contrast with their own.

Additional Resources

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.