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by Erica Fischer on Nov 11, 2011

Assessing Individual Students in Language Class

assessing individual studentsThis past Thursday on #langchat, participants discussed and shared ideas on a very challenging topic, “What strategies help you accurately assess individual students?” The debate was lively and lots of great tips were spread around, and we’ve included highlights and a summary of the chat below.

Thanks to all our participants for your great ideas — your participation is very much appreciated! Thanks especially to @DiegoOjeda66 and @CalicoTeach for moderating the chat for the night.

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How Do Assessments Benefit Students?

Before deciding to assess individual students, it’s important to understand why we assess students in the first place. Kids need feedback to improve. We assess students to find out what they know and are able to do (@katchiringa), as well as to provide feedback to students on their progress.

Assessment without feedback is meaningless (@suarez712002), so it’s important to include feedback methods with every assessment tool. Many of the tools provided below allow the two to be combined for every assignment, making our lives as teachers that much easier.

For more resources or tips on providing feedback, check out our past #langchat on how to provide effective feedback in the classroom.

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How Do Assessments Benefit Teachers?

Assessment is important for teachers. Formative assessment helps to tell us if we need to alter our instruction to meet our language goals and objectives (@pamwesely). Assessment should be a part of every minute of every class — “Are they with me?” “Are they on track?”

Assessments help us to determine what we are doing well and what we need to know so we can alter our curriculum to meet our goals. They help us to collect data so we can reflect on our progress (@DiegoOjeda66).

Techniques to Assess Individual Students

Participants shared a wealth of ideas on the best assessment methods in the classroom, with particular regard to our topic: accurately assessing individual students. Some methods are best for oral assessment, while others are suited for writing or to assess multiple outputs. In all cases, try to use authentic assessments as much as possible.

Assessing speaking

There are lots of methods to assess students’ oral proficiency, and it’s a good idea to mix it up to keep students engaged and performing. Perhaps the best method is to keep the class atmosphere safe and comforting so students are empowered to talk (@DiegoOjeda66). In this way, you can assess many students throughout the day.

Google Voice is great for quick oral assessments. @lovemysummer will leave a prompt as an outgoing message and ask students to record their answer over Google Voice. @klafrench uses Google Voice for narrative or presentational speaking. Students have to record messages using vocabulary or sentence constructs that they learned in class.

Voki, Vocaroo and Blabberize are also fun tools for students to record a spoken assessment with, and Blackboard‘s “VoiceBoard” feature is a similar tool that also works great.

With these tools, let students record an assessment, then record your own to give them instant feedback. With Google Voice, you can also send students feedback as text messages or emails. @petreepie’s students love this feature.

These tools are great to use because you can use them with small, 1:1 classes or with large, 30+ student classes. @klafrench has over 100 students and loves to use Google Voice for their spoken assessments. It takes a good deal of time to go through, but she says the amount of feedback combined with the ability to listen to students’ production multiple times makes it worthwhile.

Flip cameras work well for recording presentational speaking (@suarez712002). To assess the students, use assessment rubrics like the JCPS World Language Assessment rubric.

When discussing or talking about a subject, @muchachitaMJ will use several balls to play Hot Potato . With five balls, when the music stops, five students have to express their opinion on the subject. This is great for large classes as well, though be careful that the students don’t get too rowdy!

  • This is great with a beach ball as well. Cover the ball with questions in the target language, and students answer the question facing them when they catch the ball (@petreepie).

Large classes are always difficult to handle, especially when it comes to individual assessments. Not only do you have to find time to assess each individual student, but you have to keep the other students involved at the same time!

  • An effective speaking activity for large classes is Kagan’s Inside Outside Circle (@AudreyMisiano).
  • @cadamsf1 divides classes into thirds and grades each group individually.
  • @muchachitaMJ uses stations in her classes for students, and one of the stations is a small group having a conversation with the teacher. This gives kids more chances to speak and less pressure when doing so, while allowing other students to pursue other objectives.

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Assessing writing

There are several techniques to assess students’ written work. While often time-consuming, written production is one of the best-suited assessment methods for individual assessment.

For short, quick answers by students, @NinaTanti1 uses individual dry erase boards. Students love using these in class.

Try creating a list of questions for each chapter and assigning them to individual note cards, then give the note cards out to students as bellringers (@kaleestahr). For more great participant-suggested bellringer ideas, check out this previous #langchat on quick motivators and warm-ups.

To assess and grade writing assignments, @lovemysummer created an editing guide containing codes for common errors and how to improve on them. It’s also a good idea to create a list of the three to five most common errors and address them together in class the next day.

When assessing written work in large classes, such as essays, @DiegoOjeda66 suggests allowing peer editing. He usually lets students work on paper for these assignments, and provides guidance and examples at the beginning of the year.

For formal written assignments, @katchiringa has students submit written work through Microsoft Word, and then she will make comments and corrections using Word’s “Track Changes” feature. Students can then review the digital copy.

@DiegoOjeda66 likes to use Twitter to assess individual students. Check out his wiki with lots of ideas on how to do so.

Regularly written journals are great for assessing students’ progress over time (@pamwesely).

PhotoPeach is a fun video tool that students can use to make writing assignments or assessments, maybe summarize a unit. At the end, you can provide notes and feedback on their product (@klafrench).

Assessing reading

Reading assessments don’t have to just be question and answer sheets. Participants shared several other ideas to assess reading comprehension.

@NinaTanti1 suggests asking students to give you synonyms of words in the text.

@petreepie likes asking students to create an alternate ending to the story or text — great way to assess writing at the same time!

Another suggestion by @petreepie is to get students to act out the story or write about their thoughts or feelings on the text.

@katchiringa believes in art as a comprehension assessment that’s fun for the kids, too. Have kids draw what happens in the story or some of the characters.

@muchachitaMJ gives students multiple texts on a related unit and asks them to relate to her the main idea and some details.

Assessing multiple skills

VoiceThread is a great Web tool that can be used to assess students’ speaking, listening, reading and writing — and communicate with them to provide quick feedback.

#langchat teachers have long been fans of Glogster to create multimedia posters on different subjects.

@BevSymons uses the same pre- and post-unit assessments, both oral and written, to look at students’ learning and achievement for the unit.

RCFU: Random checks for understanding. Use random checks to see if the students are following along and understanding the course content. There are lots of ways to quickly check comprehension.

  • @katchiringa uses popsicle sticks with students’ names. Choose a stick, ask a question.
  • @NinaTanti1 asks students to raise fingers depending on how much they understand.
  • @lovemysummer uses a scale of one to five. Five means “I get it and can explain it to someone who isn’t here.”

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Resources and Links

Thursday’s #langchat was full of great ideas and resources, and I’m sure everyone can take some good tips out of it. If you weren’t able to make it to the chat, or don’t see some of your favorite strategies or techniques, please share your thoughts below — we’d love to hear from you!

#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.


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.

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