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by Erica Fischer on Feb 2, 2015

Introduce Common World Language Assessments in Your District

Roll up you sleeves and get ready to lea by VanHallyn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  VanHallyn 

Last week, Langchatters tuned in to discuss how to effectively employ common assessments in world language classes. Instructors were rushing home and putting other activities on hold to make time for #langchat! They began by sharing whether or not their district or school requires assessments. Next, participants reflected on how to prepare communicative students for grammar-focused common assessments and imagined what a communicative common assessment might look like. They also thought up ways to impact the type of common assessments that are adopted. Finally, Langchatters thought about how a communicative assessment might be used for different languages. As @ShaneBraverman rightly noted, “Time flies way too quickly in #langchat land,” and the end of an eventful hour snuck up on everyone!

Thank you to all those who made last week’s #langchat possible, including our dedicated moderators, Laura (@SraSpanglish), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell)!

Question 1: What kind of assessments does your district or school require if any?

Langchatters shared the types of assessments required by their district or school, and their answers attested to great diversity in practice. Some, like @JessieOelke, represent a ‘department of one,’ and have total control over learning goals and assessments. Others must comply with school-imposed assessments. For example, @Srta_Roberts wrote, “I’m required to give spelling quizzes for every chapter: 50 words in Spanish ;(.” Still other participants have to administer district-wide common assessments. For example, @SenorGrayNVD mentioned “[common] midterms and final exams for all levels across two high schools in [the] same district.” @SraSpanglish wrote, “The only common assessment I had was a 100-question grammar [and] vocab [multiple-choice] exam for [the] ENTIRE district.” Even with common assessments at the district- or school-wide level, some instructors pointed to inconsistencies. One participant wrote, “We are ‘supposedly’ required to have common assessments. Nobody holds us to it [and] not all [teachers] in our [department] actually give it.”@ShaneBraverman also noted inconsistency in grading: “We have [a common assessment] but everybody grades differently, [even] with [the] norming of the rubric. :(.”

Question 2: How can we prepare our communicative students for a grammar or vocab-focused common assessment?

Many instructors did not even want to think about having to prepare students for a grammar or vocab-focused common assessment. @tmsaue1 wrote, “I would like to recall [question 2]. I refuse to answer that question. #stopthemadness.” @SECottrell acknowledged that “communicative teachers get really nervous about grammar-focused [common assessment],” but added that “the students can usually accomplish it.” @tmsaue1 voiced agreement, adding, “[In] all seriousness, just because [students] have been in a proficiency-focused class doesn’t mean they don’t know structures.” @MCanion disagreed with some participants, writing that “[filling] in boxes of verbs and describing when to use a tense is hard.” @axamcarnes suggested preparing communicative students by exposing them to grammar in context: “I don’t give [grammar] assessments, but I do teach my kids [grammar] in context. [It wouldn’t] be fair to them to go to next teacher and [feel] lost.”

Some participants questioned why common assessments should be grammar-based at all. @espanolsrs said, “I think [we should] start by writing performance tasks for students as common assessments. Boo to grammar.” She added that preparing communicative students for grammar assessments isn’t the challenge, writing, “It’s the other way around that’s problematic – grammar-driven [students] struggle with proficiency-based assessment.”

Question 3: What does a communicative common assessment look like?

By this point in the conversation, some participants were already starting to envision what communicative common assessments could look like. @mjschrein expressed a view held by many in stating, “Real world is key.” @espanolsrs agreed that communicative common assessments should be “as close to ‘real world’ situations as possible, [as this helps students] see how they can apply [their] L2 outside of classroom.” @srtakarigan wrote that these assessments should be “authentic, [grounded in] real world [situations],” and should also “[incorporate authentic resources] and [allow students] to use creativity while having them practice higher order thinking.” She added that, ideally, “[Students] must negotiate meaning, complete [a] task, [and] leave an impact on [their] audience.” @SrtaNRodriguez provided a specific example of what such tasks might look like. For example, students might be told, “[You] feel ill. Tell your host family how you feel. Look up a local doctor. Call to make [an appointment].”

Question 4: How can we influence the type of common assessments adopted?

According to @CoLeeSensei, “THIS IS THE $1 MILLION QUESTION!!! (oh did I just shout there?).” Instructors eagerly awaited suggestions from fellow Langchatters. @espanolsrs wrote, “[I would] LOVE suggestions. It’s easy if all [are] on board, [but not] so much [with] philosophical differences [and people] not willing to try new things.” @tmsaue1 agreed that influencing common assessment is challenging: “[This] is a tough one for me. I used to work with 150+ teachers. [They] weren’t all on board. [You] can’t water a rock.”

@ShaneBraverman encouraged instructors to make their presence known at department meetings: “[Get] your tush to a department meeting and be vocal!” @kltharri suggested that teachers “validate what others are doing, then gently share options.” In discussing options, she prompted instructors to show off the success of their classrooms: “[Put] yourself in a position of authority, market your [students’] abilities, prove you really are teaching.” @ShaneBraverman also highlighted the importance of emphasizing the value of more student-oriented teaching and assessment: “So much is based on [teachers’] fear [or] behavior: ‘I teach this way because that’s what works for me.’ WHAT ABOUT [STUDENTS]!?” Additionally, @axamcarnes suggested that instructors could “[volunteer] to be on curriculum writing committees,” noting, “Not many people want to do the extra work.” Finally, @Srta_Roberts reminded instructors that little changes can make a big difference: “[Start] off with small changes! Sometimes that’s all you need to have a big impact and set things in motion!”

Question 5: How can a common assessment be used across languages?

In the final minutes of the #langchat hour, participants brainstormed how common assessments might be used for multiple languages. @jullmann1 noted, “[All] foreign language standards are the same, so assessment is the same. Skills are what matters, not the content.” @tmsaue1 agreed, writing, “[Focus] on language functions no matter the language. [Focus] on context no matter the language.” Lastly, @tiesamgraf pointed out that “themes and communicative objectives across levels [and] languages can help to provide alignment in assessments.”

Conclusion

Last week, Langchatters were busy thinking about ways to improve common assessments. After sharing the specific assessments required by their school or district, they reflected on how to prepare communicative students for grammar assessments and imagined what communicative common assessments might look like. Participants also talked about how to influence the types of common assessment adopted, and, in the final minutes, they discussed how a common assessment could be used across languages. Instructors left a productive chat eagerly awaiting more langchatting! @ShaneBraverman wrote, “#langchat is the best way to spend a Thursday evening! *Smiling so hard my face hurts*.”

Thank You!

Thank you to all of our participants for continuing to make #langchat thrive! You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat. As @SraSpanglish reminded participants, “[Don’t] forget about Saturday morning for #Langchat: The Sequel! 10AM EST!”

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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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