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Easy end of term assessment

Easy midterms & finals for language classes

December 13, 2020

In language classes, we believe that midterms and finals should be easy for teachers and easy for students. But before I tell you why, let me tell you a little story.

The First Year Teacher and the Semester Final

Once upon a time, there was a middle school Spanish teacher. It was her first year teaching, and the end of the first term was looming before her: her grades were almost due, her progress reports needed to be written, and she had absolutely no clue what she really needed to do to put it all together. So, like most of us, she sat down and wrote the kind of assessment that she was used to taking in her Spanish classes. She looked at what she had taught over the term, and she scripted 3-4 questions for each topic; mostly multiple choice or fill in the blank. The final product was about 4 pages long, and wow, was she proud! It was, by many measures, an excellent cumulative test. It asked students to demonstrate that they remembered everything they had been taught (even if they only had been taught it once, one day, in mid-September),  and it looked formal. It felt very official and impressive. Heck, it even said “End of Term Cumulative Assessment” at the top! This young teacher was so proud of her finished product that she set to work making one for each level of Spanish that she taught; a total of four exams.    

Assessment day

Assessment day arrived, and with it came looks of panic. Her students flipped through the pages and began raising their hands. “I don’t understand any of the words”, they said, “I don’t get how to do this”. They tried, because they were conditioned to try, but very few students were able to complete the full test. Even her class of honors students struggled. For some reason, the words that the teacher thought that her students knew had become completely unrecognizable to them when presented in lists with a simple matching-to-meaning task. Those few students that excelled were good at memorizing, and they were able to apply the grammar rules that they had learned and fill in the blanks. But everyone else… well, it was a total failure. 

Grading the assessment

Grading the assessment was a nightmare. How many points was each question worth? Should some be worth more than others? What if students got the question half right? What if they tried, do they get points for that? Do they get points for getting the idea but not the exact thing? At 10:00pm, after seven hours of grading, this dear teacher was still in her classroom, frustrated and crying (and hungry!) and wondering how it had all gone so wrong. The failure rate was over 80 percent, and inexperienced though she may have been, this young teacher knew that that was a problem. Could she finagle the math so that every kid didn’t fail? Was that allowed?

What we learn from the story

My more mature teacher self wants to wrap this teacher up in a big hug, bring her a warm cup of tea, and have a fierce conversation.

That young sobbing teacher was me, of course, trying to measure student learning and put a point value on their language competency.  I forgive myself for all my mistakes because I didn’t understand much about language acquisition and assessment, even if I truly thought that I did.  

Reflection questions for planning assessments

Here are some reflection questions that I wish I could have shared with my sobbing teacher self on that miserable December day:

  • Are you required to give a summative assessment at the end of a term? Is there a possibility that you are planning to do so because that is how it has always been done? 
  • If you are required to give a summative assessment, does it have to be a massive test? Can you get the same information from a handful of questions and/or a shorter format?  Can you give sections of it over a series of days rather than spending one or two entire days on it? (It will be easier to grade that way too!) 
  • Are the goals that you are setting for students reasonable based on how much language input that they have had?  For comparison, consider what a student entering kindergarten can do in terms of language production, after receiving something like 20,000 hours of level-appropriate comprehensible input.  Have your students received 30 hours? 50?  
  • Can you simplify grading from a points-based framework (each question/section being worth a certain number of points) to a standards-based framework?  Can you use holistic rubrics rather than points?  
  • Can you separate out different skills, e.g. reading comprehension, listening comprehension, writing performance, and if you are absolutely required, speaking, in your grade book and in the quiz itself?  
  • Are you celebrating what your students can do? Or are you trying to play “gotcha” and find out what they can’t do yet?  

For teachers that are new communicative language teaching, especially those teachers that are using materials from Somos, Nous sommes, or Sumus, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions and explore the resources and ideas below. The resources mentioned will be most helpful to teachers that are using curriculum from The Comprehensible Classroom, but the concepts will apply to anyone that is teaching communicatively.

Easiest End-of-Term Assessment Solutions

Use the assessments from the unit you are currently teaching. Instead of calling them unit assessments, call them midterm/final assessments. If you are using a spiraled curriculum (like Somos, Nous sommes, or Sumus), then every text is cumulative. Every text is written with words from previous units, and so when students demonstrate that they understand a text from the most recent unit, they are simultaneously demonstrating their ability to communicate using words from previous units. And remember, interpretation of reading or listening is communication!

Easier End-of-Term Assessment Solutions

  • Reading: Head over to the collaborative drive in the Somos Curriculum Collaboration group and find a story from the unit that you most recently finished. Alternatively, you could pull stories from the Flex print pack that you didn’t assign to the class. Give students a copy of the story and ask them to respond on AnneMarie Chase’s Quick Quiz (virtual adaptation here) form, by AnneMarie Chase (Señ  Because all the stories are spiraled (cumulative), students will be asked to comprehend vocabulary from all the previous units.   
  • Listening: Find a different story from the resources suggested above.Instead of reading the story, you read a story out loud to them 2-3 times and ask them to respond on the Quick Quiz form.  
  • Writing: Ask students to write about anything they can for 10 minutes. Grade it holistically on a performance rubric (available here).  Read more about Timed Writings here: Timed Writing by Elicia Cárdenas (Deskless Classroom) 
  • Speaking: There are no formal speaking assessments in SOMOS 1.  That’s ok!  
  • In the Somos Curriculum Collaboration group, you can find a list of all assessments that are available in the Collaborative drive, curated by our fabulous Shared Resources Manager, Heather Danishanko. 

Easy End-of-Term Assessment Solutions

Download and/or purchase the handful of semester exams that are available from the Comprehensible Classroom, and find one that is an appropriate challenge for your students. Important: an ‘appropriate challenge’ is an assessment that your students can complete with CONFIDENCE!

More Challenging End-of-Term Assessment Solutions

If none of the previous options will work for you, you might need to develop your own assessment from scratch. Take a look at these helpful articles about developing exams:

Grading end-of-term assessments

So you’ve got an assessment… now, how to grade it? Here are the resources about grading exams that I wish I had when I was a new teacher:

Finally, all our many assessment resources, including a video about assessment with Distance Learning, can be found in our Knowledge Base:

Keep it communicative, and keep it simple. You've totally got this!!

Learn more about assessment

This post was written by Elicia Cárdenas, Director of Training for The Comprehensible Classroom. Elicia provides districts and organizations with personalized, intensive training on assessment.

She is available for virtual trainings and to book future in-person trainings. Start the conversation by sending us an inquiry!

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