We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Nov 5, 2013

7 Questions You Should Be Asking About Language Speaking Assessments

Question mark sign by Colin_K, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Colin_K 

World language classrooms revolve around understanding and participating in a new language. For many teachers, there are still many questions about how to assess speaking activities, prepare students for success and incorporate technology into speaking lessons. On the latest #langchat, participants responded to 8 vital questions when thinking about speaking assessments. They also shared some great ideas for how to engage students in the target language through oral communication.

1. What Kinds of Speaking Assessments Are There?

There are two main types of speaking assessments: formative and summative. Formative assessments are done as a vital part of the learning process. They check up on skills that have been taught to ensure the student is progressing in the right direction. Summative assessments are usually more extensive, with the goal of allowing students to show what they have learned over a unit or semester.

Examples of Formative Assessments:

Interpersonal Speaking. Group or partner speaking activities are a good way to informally assess speaking proficiency. @dr_dmd said, “I also walk around with a clipboard to tick off criteria as I listen in on groups. Easy to keep checking in on all kids.”

Presentational Speaking. Sharing out information from a group activity in the target language is a great way to assess presentational speaking without putting undue pressure on the student. @tiesamgraf said, “For presentational mode- it’s practice, practice, practice – with tools/support slowly being removed for more independent speaking.”

Examples of Summative Assessments:

Interpersonal Speaking. Having students interact with you in a one-on-one situation is one of the most common ways to summatively assess interpersonal communication. @klafrench said, “My summative are mostly individual. They prepare in advance, or at least the ones who worry about proficiency do!”

Presentational Speaking. Having students perform a skit, a debate or a report are all ways that summative assessments can be presentational. Technology makes this even easier, as apps like Audacity, GoogleVoice and Evernote allow students to record these presentations beforehand. @dr_dmd said, “In my BIG classes, I need to be creative to get to all students. If presentational, I use Google Voice or Evernote app.”

2. How Often Should You Have Speaking Assessments?

The answer to this question completely depends on your district, classroom and individual students. While some #langchat teachers do formative assessments on a daily basis, others do formative assessments once or twice a week.

Summative assessments are slightly different. Depending on the number of units in each year, and whether your school is on a quarter, trimester or semester schedule, you could have as few as 2 and as many as 12 summative assessments each year! For example, @klafrench has 3 each semester, while
@CoLeeSensei has one every 2-3 weeks depending on the unit. The key to remember is to have enough summative assessments to allow the students to exhibit their new skills effectively, without rushing students who are not learning at the same rate.

3. How Do We Prepare Students for Speaking Assessments?

Many #langchat teachers agreed that preparation is the key to having a successful speaking assessment. Scaffolding information, allowing time to practice and even having students script their responses gives them more confidence in their speaking.

Some of the best ways to prepare students for speaking in the target language are:

Providing daily speaking warmups. Bellringers or opening activities that activate students’ prior knowledge are a great way to get them ready to use their speaking skills in the classroom. @msfrenchteach said, “For speaking quizzes, students prepare by practicing possible scenarios daily. I give them prompts when we are in practice mode.”

Designing a helpful word wall. It gives students confidence to be able to see helps if they begin to struggle in an assessment situation. @klafrench said, “I am really using my word wall this year. Lots of common verbs in past and present. Helps get them started in speaking in class.”

Teaching test-taking skills. A great way to prepare students to succeed is to teach them skills and tools for when they freeze up during a speaking assessment. @CoLeeSensei said, “We also practice how to assist/rescue or rework your points so ‘panic’ does not occur during a summative.”

Allowing practice with scripts. Although most world language teachers agreed that using a script on a summative assessment is not ideal, they agreed that it is a good way to help students feel confident on formative assessments. @klafrench said, “If they have written a skit with a partner, they can [use notes]. But, when it is formal, no notes.”

4. How Do We Keep Them On Task During Speaking Assessments?

When class sizes are large, it is hard to find ways to keep all the students on-task all of the time. While group formative assessments may require you to constantly move from group to group to assess proficiency, summative assessments may require your full attention on only a single student. Managing both of these needs can be very challenging.

World language teachers shared a few of their favorite ways to keep students on task for both summative and formative assessments.

  • @CoLeeSensei said, “I often use a quick ‘self assessment’ rubric that includes “did not use English.”“
  • @CecileLaine said, “Keep self-motivated kids in the back and kids who need your “support” in the front helps some.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “Moved my desk back into quads this week. MUCH more of a team spirit and interaction. I see no change in noise level, so it works.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “Another classroom management strategy during speaking assessments involves giving the students well thought-out tasks. Failed and learned more than once!”
  • @crwmsteach said, “Ask for students immediate feedback after all presentations. What did you see or hear that made a presentation better? No names, just honest feedback.”

5. How Do We Provide Them Feedback?

@natadel76 said, “The million dollar question: How do we provide students with feedback during these quick daily practice sessions? Interpersonal student-to-student interaction is a challenge for me to orchestrate AND provide meaningful feedback at the same time.”
Providing feedback is a necessary part of the learning cycle, especially feedback that is relevant and timely. @CoLeeSensei said, “I don’t think you can hit all at once – sometimes I stand near a group – oral feedback or quick ‘correction.’“

The idea of constantly being on the move was one that took hold of the #langchat conversation. @dr_dmd said that his students compared him to a “shark,” because he is always “circling.”@SenoraDiamond55 took this concept even further, hinting that world language teachers should be actively participating with students. She said, “My philosophy on talking and movement with students: if you’re not working with them, you’re working against them.”

Other great ways to give feedback are:

@msfrenchteach said, “I have an area of the room set up like a café. Two students at a time meet me there for speaking quizzes.”
@CoLeeSensei said, “I grab my rubrics from DELF – and tweak as necessary depending on task.”
@tiesamgraf said, “I have made it a point to sit outside their circles and try to collect 3 or 4 specific feedback items for after the activity.”
@dr_dmd said, “Feedback during warmups is possible as we circulate around the room and prompt with level 2 questions and answers – suggest new words, phrases.”

6. How Do We Have Appropriate Expectations About Speaking Assessments?

Often, one of our biggest weaknesses is in making sure our expectations are within the realm of possibility. Too often, we expect students to be able to remember and accurately represent the lessons that have been taught, without taking the individual into consideration. @KrisClimer said, “I have to remind myself when I get frustrated that they are 3 month olds, linguistically speaking.”

So, how can you have more reasonable expectations for your little language babies?

  • @crwmsteach said, “In the Novice level, put more emphasis on quantity. As their level increases, include more complex and accurate language.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Novice speakers have limited level 2 language skills, and as we learn to converse on a theme, they can predict what the assessments are about.”

7. What Are Some Speaking Assessment Ideas That Really Work?

  • @Ashida_Linda said, “For practice I often do a “speed-dating” style line-up. Ss speak to each other 1 min, then switch partner. Gets them up and moving. The activity often ends with a whole class report out. That way students feel more prepared to report out, more prepared for assessment.”
  • @Sra_Kennedy said, “I do a matching game where students have to get 3 of a kind cards by asking other students questions.”
  • @SrtaTeresa said, “I like “show and tell” presentations in which the students get the chance to talk about an object that’s important to them and why.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “Using images (thematic) help to provide opportunities to recycle and practice – I like to encourage word associations.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We did a Year 4 debate today on school uniforms (yes or no). They self-assessed practice and debate – I also assessed debate.”
  • @klafrench said, “I have a scenario and rubric. Then students record using Quick Voice. They e-mail me their recording.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “When I decide to interview students myself, I have small group work going – reading assessments, writing assessments, or project time.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “I love infographics – great idea to use as prompts – they work well for compare/contrast convos.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Spontaneous communication assessments can be done often. Keep index cards for each student – write score on the card when called – easy!” @Ashida_Linda said, “Yes! And index cards can be used to call on students randomly for report out after small group practice.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “The best assessment is the simplest one — not mapping out every little detail of the exchange leaves room for improvisation.”
  • @Sra_Kennedy said, “@dr_dmd Students repeat, practice in pairs and play interpersonal games where they have to use the language chunks learned to win.”
  • @crwmsteach said, “For students to use target language, keep daily surveys. Lower levels can ask questions and record short answers. Upper levels have questions or topics and time segments to use the target language.”
  • @cocamanar said, “For structured practice with different partners, use a random partner generator on computer. It gets their energy up, and helps students branch out.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @CoLeeSensei, @msfrenchteach and @dr_dmd, for keeping us on track and asking us all of these awesome thought-provoking questions. There were a few key ideas that we didn’t cover in our summary this week. If you’d like to read what we missed, check out the online archive for a full transcript.

As always, we wouldn’t have #langchat without amazing teachers like you. If you have an idea for a future chat, please share your ideas with us! It’s great to have new and fresh perspectives on how we can become better language teachers.

Additional Resources

Pursuing Authentic Assessment in the Classroom – My 3 Rubrics
PALS: Performance Assessment for Language Students
The Art of Teaching Speaking
Kagan Strategy: Inside Outside Circle
Visual Learning – Visual Cues
Stick Pick
Performance Based Assessments (Laura Terrill)

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy