Test, assessment, exam…
Words so terrifying they send chills down the spines of even the most accomplished students.
That may be a bit dramatic, but here’s a fact: Practically no one likes tests.
The good news is that over the past thirty years, testing has seen a massive transformation and an even bigger rebranding.
We’ve moved beyond using exclusively standardized formats. Now there’s an array of more tailored and student-centric approaches to assessing an individual’s ability and progress.
Having diverse assessment options in your teaching toolkit will help you keep your curriculum strategic and your students motivated. It will also allow students to gauge how they are progressing and how they’ll likely fare when confronted with real language usage such as a conversation with a native speaker or a video from FluentU.
Let’s take a look at what the modern assessment landscape looks like so that you can tackle testing with confidence.
4 Types of Assessments to Spoon into Your Foreign Language Teaching
1. Friendly Diagnostic
Staying aware of your students’ skill levels can be the difference between a well balanced semester or one that comes down to hectically cramming students with information a week before their final exam.
Diagnostic tests essentially help us evaluate a student’s proficiency level in order to optimally design or adjust a curriculum. The term diagnostic testing is used liberally throughout public school systems, particularly in language classes.
Diagnostic tests don’t need to be serious and scary.
In fact, by making them friendly and relaxed you’ll be able to incorporate them more often, keeping your course planning consistently well informed.
Remember the following tips to help you incorporate friendly diagnostic testing that can become routine:
- Go gradeless. These tests are used to benefit course planning. In order to get an accurate idea of students’ capabilities, we don’t want them to hold back. Taking away grades decreases their fear of failure and can lead to more accurate results. Soon the students won’t even dread them anymore and you can use them regularly.
- Be consistent. Have students take a diagnostic test at least once a month and get in the habit of regularly tweaking your curriculum based on the results.
- Test undercover. Whatever you do, don’t call it a proficiency test or a diagnostic test. Call it a grammar exercise, a comprehension activity or some other subtle name that leaves students feeling less judged.
A simple example would be to hand out a quiz at the end of every chapter or book unit that tests what has been covered and what’s coming up in the next unit. This lets you know what review is still required before moving on, as well as how you should prioritize the next unit.
Go over the answers as a class and give candy as a reward for everyone who received 80% or higher.
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If student participation is a central pillar to success, then why not let them help design their own tests?
Over the years, teaching has become progressively more student-centric and participatory. This next type of assessment is a product of that school of thought.
Here’s what it looks like: A week or two before testing is set to begin, do a review day with students. Go through every lesson together and determine what would qualify as mastering that lesson, what would qualify as passing/average and what would qualify as failing/unsatisfactory.
Let’s say the chapter you’re looking at covers irregular verb conjugation and vocabulary about weather. Students could determine that, in order to have mastered this chapter, they should be able to:
- Show that they can conjugate all of the main irregular verbs (written exercise)
- Be able to use them in a sentence (written & verbal exercises)
- Have a conversation using them without making mistakes (verbal exercise)
- Write a 300-word text that incorporates all of their weather vocabulary and each irregular verb, using a provided word bank (written exercise)
This is a time-consuming process, but by the end, not only have you developed a logical, end-of-course assessment that your students think is fair, you’ve also made them accountable and invested. They designed the test, after all.
The test-designing class activity doubles as a thorough review of everything learned in the course.
Here are few tips for this type of assessment:
- Have this conversation sitting in a circle so that you don’t become the focal point, although you’ll still be the facilitator.
- You can adapt this method and have students design their test requirements in groups. Afterwards, the groups will share their answers and you’ll choose the best.
3. Self Assessment
Let’s segue into the next obvious extension of student-centric teaching: self assessment.
If you’re teaching a well-rounded course that incorporates comprehension, speaking, tasks and grammar, then using self-assessment will be a breeze because your curriculum already has enough built-in assessment material. You won’t even need to come up with a special test or activity.
Here are some benefits of self-assessment:
- Showing vs. telling. Students fully understand what they need to improve upon and why because the assessment isn’t coming from a teacher.
- Motivation. Students will be more invested because, as the graders, they’ll know exactly the level they’re expected to achieve. There won’t be any surprises or ambiguity.
- Fairness. Students like having a say in their final score because they trust that it will be fair. This University of Alicante article elaborates on how this method prevents resentment by creating an atmosphere where grading disagreements are handled openly and directly.
It’s smart to pair student-designed tests with self-assessed grading because students know the criteria. If you design the test, though, then make sure the requirements are clear beforehand.
Just because they’re self-assessed doesn’t mean the test has to be anything fancy. It can be the typical format: a listening exercise with questions, a spoken presentation, an essay and a written portion, etc.
When grading the essay and spoken portion, ask the students to give themselves an overall grade using a rubric you provide them. The rubric will ask students to assess different aspects individually, for example: fluency, vocabulary, spelling and clarity. You can fill out the same rubric simultaneously. Their final grade would be the average of the two scores.
Providing a detailed rubric for self assessment helps keep grading more accurate. Comparing rubrics also creates the opportunity to connect with each student and make sure you’re on the same page.
We mentioned the benefits of showing students what they need to improve upon versus telling them. Task-based assessments take this to a whole new level.
Use task-based assessments when you want to test a student’s speaking and comprehension. This is usually conducted in pairs or with the teacher participating, but try to avoid the latter so that all of your attention can be focused on assessing.
Diagnostic tests, for example, are often presented in straightforward, brief formats that include sections like fill-in-the-blank, correctly conjugate underlined words in a text, etc. Task-based assessments, on the other hand, can be broader.
Instead of having a student answer questions that use new political vocabulary, have them give a 15-minute presentation as if they were speaking to a UN delegation and had to argue for or against euthanasia or some other important topic.
The student’s ability to achieve this task determines the grade.
Another assignment could be the following hypothetical task:
You have a friend visiting you in your city. Your friend is thinking about moving there too. Give a 5-minute argument that tries to convince your friend that moving to your city is a great idea.
Task-based learning is perfect for testing a student’s overall speaking level and ability to use the language.
You’re probably naturally leaning towards one of the assessment methods we’ve just discussed, but the best part is that you don’t need to choose just one to take back to the classroom with you. You can use all of them or a combination.
Your students will thank you, and you’ll find yourself easily bridging the gaps in the infamous teaching-testing-learning divide.
Natalia Hurt is a travel and language enthusiast who enjoys studying the connection between people and places from all corners of the globe. Explore her travel-inspired essays and photos here: www.aFarCorner.com
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