Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Assessing in a Materials-Light Spirit

 A criticism of the conversation-driven approach is that it's just aimless* chatting.  Proponents respond by saying that a good teacher will make observations, draw students' attention to the language periodically and follow up with activities to explore, reinforce and recycle. 

Since I've started trying this approach for whole lessons (with one of my groups, anyway), I've gotten better at noticing examples to praise and to explore further.  But, if I don't address them quickly, or note them methodically, they're often lost in the flow.  I also don't have a good record of who said what, which would be useful for individual assessment.  I'm starting to think more about how I can improve my collecting of language information while still being an attentive listener and (to some extent) contributor to our discussions.

Here are some initial ideas:

- Photos.  I've started using my iPad to take pictures of the board before I erase.  Very helpful.  I've taken to posting the final product of some student activities on edmodo for student reference, too!

- Recording, audio and video (some by me, some by students).  I have the resources to do this in a number of different ways.  To start off, I'm going to start using my hand-held digital audio recorder to capture extemporaneous speech (I've only been using it to record prepared things like role plays).  To make it easier to find what I'm looking for, I'm going to try and remember to stop and start -- maybe at the beginning of different activities. There's plenty more recording that could be done, but let's try this first and see how it goes.

- A more methodical way to take notes.  I've been using a little pocket notebook because it's easy to carry around and seems less obtrusive, but I still don't like to break from the flow to write in it and what I do write is sketchy. Maybe I could develop some abbreviations and then use the notes to supplement the recording.  For example, H+ 1:30  (a positive example worth highlighting at 1:30PM).  Got to give this some thought.  Maybe more ideas will occur after reviewing some recordings.  Any ideas on this?

- Student portfolios.  Although I do collect writing samples, keeping a more dynamic portfolio in the classroom has been on my back burner for some time.  They need to be on paper because some students don't have computer skills (yet) and others have very limited Internet access.  Now that I'm bringing everyone online, though, they can certainly supplement with electronic records.  I think it would be good to take this to the students.  Let them decide what the portfolios should contain and how they should interact with them.  Awesome!  Sounds like something we can work on for the rest of this month (theme is "learning and education", you know).

recording devices and mini-tripod (plus phones and tablets!)
Naturally, formal assessments will continue.  They help to identify reading skill levels and the extent to which a student has various civics competencies.  And they're required.  ;-)

The topic of unplugged observation came up on the languagelego blog (thanks, Roya!).  I got to thinking about unplugged assessment while responding to Scott Thornbury's latest.  Thanks to Scott, too!

*I'd like to argue that conversation topics don't have to be aimless either. My program works with broad monthly themes, so I ask students to bring in thoughts and ideas related to the topic (and I do, too).  We occasionally go off-track and that's OK.  The same theme for a whole month can get boring!


  1. Oh, very interesting!

    I think that perhaps you could use a form or a set layout to help you with notes during a lesson. I keep a monitor sheet, a vocab list on the left, pronunciation problems on the right, at the bottom sentences with the mistakes still in for s's to correct later and any good things I want to praise. Good for delayed correction.

    You need an A4 sheet though, doesn't work for me in shopping centres! (still considering a clip board, haha)

  2. I like the idea of a form. But yes, it's not as portable. A small clipboard would probably work in your situation. Please post whether it works!

    I would have used my recorder today (two 3-hour classes just finished) but the batteries were run down! I guess I haven't used it in a while. I can get some batteries on the way to class tomorrow and try again ...