Assessing for proficiency, not for memorization

It is the time for final exams and while I was preparing a new round of them for my classes I made a conscious effort to design them with my students well-being and proficiency goals in mind.

At my school we divide the exam into four parts and two of them take place before the written exam. Initially we do the listening section, then the oral section with individual interviews and on the day of the written exam, writing and reading comprehension are assessed. I know this is common practice in many schools around the world. So much so that we have normalized it forgetting that this is a sui generis year.

We will always have in our hands the possibility to adapt what we do in our class while at the same time complying with the administration’s guidelines and helping our students. Here are three strategies that I am applying during this final exam season. I hope you find them useful. We must always think outside of the box, and especially in a year like this one.

My philosophy is that an exam, or indeed any test, should not be conclusive. The test must be part of the learning process of acquiring a second language and for this we must have a different attitude towards it. What good is a test that does not teach and that, on the contrary, only provides a numerical value that has the sole objective of completing the grade book?

1- No listening evaluation should come as a surprise. We gain more when a couple of days before the test we give the students two or three audios so that they can listen to them in advance and prepare for the assessment. This guarantees that students are receiving more input and with a higher degree of concentration. On the other hand, the possibility that students will be more successful in this type of exam increases, not to mention what it does for their motivation to continue learning the second language.

There is a greater chance that students will be successful on tests like AP after we have helped them gain confidence by giving them the audios or videos of the listening tests beforehand.

2- The oral test, beyond being the simple memorization of vocabulary, grammatical structures or topics that will be recited in front of the teacher, should be a conversation in which we help the student to gain confidence and to realize that he can actually communicate in the second language. Although it is important to give them a list of questions that cover aspects studied during the semester, the assessment should be an opportunity for growth, not just a moment of arbitrary measurement that generates stress and dislike for the second language.

3- Before the day of the written exam it is important that the students know very well what is being asked of them, that is, that they can understand the directions given in the exam. This will not only save us from having to go from desk to desk during the exam explaining what the questions say, but at the same time gives students a powerful tool to know what is expected of them on the day of the exam.

4- To finish, I recommend asking open questions in any second language exam or test. Asking questions in which students simply fill in with a specific word or an appropriate conjugation does not aid acquisition. They are simply memory exercises that do not have a transcendental value on the way to mastering a second language. We must give students the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do with the second language. not to demonstrate what they have been able to memorize.

In conclusion, we must view second language testing as an opportunity rather than as a final judgment. This is the only way we will ensure that all students who begin the study of a second language reach the highest levels offered by their schools.

I ask that you please give me credit if you are going to use some of my ideas and at the same time let me know if someone suddenly uses them without my authorization or without giving me the credit that I deserve. Happy Holidays to everyone!


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1 Comment

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Love this and always enjoy reading your thoughts.

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