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by Erica Fischer on Sep 30, 2013

Assessing Student Choice Assignments in the World Language Classroom

20130308-FNS-LSC-0043 by USDAgov, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  USDAgov 

 
One of the common ways teachers involve students in the world language classroom experience is by allowing them choice in the kinds of assignments, projects and assessments they do. During last Thursday’s #langchat discussion, participants talked about the benefits of using choice, the important things to remember when creating choice activities and some great ideas for choice-based projects for the world language classroom.

The Benefits of Offering Students Choices

Most of the #langchat participants value the way that offering choices increases student motivation. @dr_dmd said, “Voice and Choice are essential ingredients to Project-based learning – always looking for ways to offer choice. Engages students.” @SECottrell said, “Motivation is the greatest factor in student success, and letting students direct their learning and practice is motivating!”
Not only is offering students choices a huge motivator, but there are a number of great learning outcomes that are related to offering alternative ways to assess or teach the same information.

Higher Levels of Creativity and Thinking – Students who have unique choices to share their knowledge engage more of their creative side and learn to think abstractly. Offering choices also allows you to activate higher orders of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Instead of just having students recall or summarize concepts, they can synthesize, adapt and evaluate their information.

Differentiation – By offering students choice, you are allowing them to show their learning in the way that is best for their learning style. Students who are musical learners, for example, can show their understanding of the concept by creating a song and performing it. This also works as a good tool for differentiating proficiency levels. While one student might choose to create a project that incorporates many in-depth vocabulary words, a lower-level student might be able to communicate the same information in a more basic way.

21st Century Skill-Building – A great by-product on using choice assignments with students is by teaching them valuable skills regarding technology, collaboration and innovation. @tiesamgraf also reminded us that “offering choice is also a great way to learn about new tech applications – students often have a lot to teach me :-)”

How to Assess Student Choice Activities

Since the projects and products of a single choice assignment activity can vary so much, the big question was how to grade all of them in a fair and uncomplicated way. There were a couple of different ideas that were presented as viable solutions.

Assess Proficiency, Not Task: When you focus on the proficiency shown in the task, rather than whether the presentation, project or paper includes certain things, grading become much easier and more authentic. @KrisClimer said, “It’s about proficiency, rather than specific vocab/structure, etc. They naturally use new struc/vocab/exp.”

Function, Not Form: @dr_dmd said, “One way to make this work is to focus on function not form – ie, language for communication, keeping in mind that accuracy IS important.” In this perspective, as long as students are able to sufficiently communicate the things they have learned, they are succeeding. By assessing proficiency first, you put the emphasis on real-world communication skills rather than vocabulary and language structures. @dr_dmd said, “When the prof assessments are done, they are aligned to I can statements – language functions, cultural contexts – open ended.” Some teachers didn’t agree with limiting the assessment to language function, though. @SraSpanglish said, “I guess I think objective should go beyond “communication,” especially for 21st century.”

Provide Clear Rubrics and Expectations: By using clearly defined proficiency-based rubrics, your students can see exactly what they need to demonstrate to succeed. @trescolumnae explained it: “Rubric focuses on the standards of lang/culture; students design products that will demonstrate what they know.” @CalicoTeach said, “Provide TL expectations that work regardless of task. Require some writing, speaking, and interpretive tasks that you evaluate.”

Other Things to Remember When Creating Choice Activities:

  • @trescolumnae said, “Design task around demonstrating proficiency and offer lots of possibilities/suggestions about how students might do that, and encourage them to develop others.”
  • @SraSpanglish encouraged teachers to have “students narrow down the problem THEY want to solve.”
  • @KrisClimer said, “I keep all writing tasks are open ended. I never say ‘You must include …’”
  • @trescolumnae said, “With choice boards, key is to decide in advance what you want students to demonstrate, then develop the choices around that.”
  • @SECottrell said, “Sometimes the choice can be in the little things and so doesn’t have to be part of the assessment.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “The key I’m finding at the novice level is scaffolding the inquiry like crazy, otherwise choice is almost a burden #langchat” @trescolumnae agreed saying, “Scaffolding is especially important if students aren’t used to having much voice and choice.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “Assessment and assignment choices need clear expectations and clarity of objective for students. It’s interesting to consider presentation choice, topic choice and assignment choices – but objective needs to be consistent.”

The Battle of the Wrinkled Paper

If communication is the most important part of choice activities, how important is presentation? This was a comment that sparked a huge discussion, with many people sharing disparate opinions. While many teachers agreed that communication is the most important part of the world language classroom, many #langchat participants felt that it was unfair to overlook poor presentation.

Teachers like @tiesamgraf touted the importance of the activity and proficiency, not the look of the final product. She said, “Why does wrinkled paper matter? It’s like deducting points from a student if they don’t have a pencil or book. It’s not a competition for the prettiest project, is it?” Several teachers supported this concept, citing instances where low-income students can’t afford high-quality materials or don’t have ready access to computers. @KrisClimer said, “I’ve seen good French on wrinkled paper and crummy minimum on bells and whistles multimedia presentation.”

On the other hand, some participants felt that communication is based on presentation in many circumstances. @CalicoTeach said, “I will argue that part of effective communication is respect for audience with quality product for presentation.” @SrtaTeresa said, “Effort and presentation need to be included in our rubrics. I mean “effort” that is measurable and linked to professional presentation of product.” @SraSpanglish said, “Authentic tasks w/ authentic audiences require a measure of respect communicated through presentation, no?” @JanKittok said, “I think we serve the student when we say ‘this quality isn’t acceptable.’ We are teaching/modeling high quality and pride in work well done.”

Although there was not a clear consensus, a number of solutions were provided that would allow students to have high presentation expectations without losing focus on proficiency standards.

  • @dr_dmd said, “I am teaching in a PBL context – we have school wide standards of professional quality. Not assessed, just expected.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Consideration to quality of product might be good tool for future career/ed. Allow students a rough draft that can be improved.”
  • @CalicoTeach said, “Add a column to rubric for presentation quality apart from language quality.”
  • @JanKittok said, “Setting expectations – you can set up a list of “non-negotiables” that every student must meet before project is evaluated.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I have a 10% work ethic grade, separate from the PBL-aligned project/product. 30% projects, 50% assessments.”

14 Examples of Student Choice Activities for World Language Classrooms

1. @KrisClimer said, “My French students do a family tree project. They choose who to include and what to say.”

2. @SrtaTeresa said, “They can have choice within parameters of any given assignment. For example, in a skit they can decide theme, number of characters and plot.”

3. @crwmsteach said, “I offer 30 choices of reading project which I use in all levels, from children’s books to novels.”

4. @SraSpanglish said, “I had students break into groups based on what PART of the problem they wanted to solve–great results so far.”

5. @dr_dmd said, “Let students choose the product they want to create – make a rubric of the Language and Culture items to include.”

6. @tiesamgraf said, “Homework choice is fun – I’ve learned a lot from @SECottrell @sraslb via @karacjacobs.”

7. @SECottrell said, “If the task is to talk about planning a trip together, the student chooses where, what activities, etc.”

8. @trescolumnae said, “Everyone reads a story and makes an interpretive product.”

9. @crwmsteach said, “An example of limit and choice using house vocab: Choose a real French manor chateau or apt to label. Who lives there? What do they do?”

10. @Bzbeth78 said, “I think I’ve posted this before, but my favorite is RAFT. Role Audience Format Topic. I choose topic, they give ideas for the others.”

11. @dr_dmd said, “In #PBL, students not only get to choose product but also other pieces of the unit – what matters is proficiency and inquiry.”

12. @trescolumnae said, “For our last BIG interpretive task, diagram required with a choice of character.”

13. @Bzbeth78 said, “A German colleague read the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but had students write alternate endings.”

14. @KrisClimer said, “Open-ended writing, student generated dialogue, projects are what I do with novice.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @dr_dmd, @SECottrell and @CalicoTeach, for guiding our lively discussion about the benefits of student choice assignments and how we assess them. There were a lot of great ideas and suggestions that we didn’t include in this summary. If you’d like to see the whole conversation visit our online archive.

What questions do you have about teaching world language? We love to find out how our PLN can serve you better. If you have any ideas for future #langchats, share your ideas online! Your question might be the answer to someone else’s problem.

Additional Resources

Choice in homework
PALS: Performance Assessment for Language Students
Opciones
Tarea Semanal
6+1 Trait® Definitions
Interpersonal communication by choice
Rubrics
What Is PBL?
Edutopia
Critical Thinking Rubric for PBL
Creativity & Innovation Rubric for PBL – Middle & High School (CCSS Aligned)
ACTFL Performance Descriptors For Language Learners
Project-Based Learning

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.

2 Comments

  • Shari

    “Assess proficiency, not task.”
    What does this mean, explicitly? For example, a menu project:
    — Does this mean students can order from a menu and pay for their meals, using culturally appropriate language?
    — Does this mean students use correct grammar/spelling/accent marks?
    — Does this mean correct use of language on crumpled paper is better than polished, well-planned project with mistakes in language?

    Thank you for this post. Very interesting suggestions and reader feedback.

  • ara

    Hello! Establish what academic skills and concepts must be represented in the product. Be careful to avoid assessment fog . When students understand the targets, they can effectively design their own products — with coaching support for some more than others. By the way the best paper writing service that I saw: http://speedypaper.net/

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