Let’s get to the heart of many world language teacher difficulties with proficiency-based world language instruction. A huge part of what we do in class is rooted in our world language assessment. Here’s the ultimate guide to give you a practical overview of options that you can trust have input and proficiency at the heart of their purpose. Let’s dive in!
Assessment 101 Series for World Language Teachers
Tonight we’re going to be talking about assessment in world language. And this is going to be an assessment in world language 101 with a complete guide to different types and options for both formative and summative assessments for proficiency-oriented instruction.
What does assessment look like in your classroom right now? And what improvements do you feel need to be made in those areas? And what types of assessments do you feel like you would like to add more of into the mix?
Most teachers say “I assess most on interpretive and presentational.” Or “I can’t remember the last assessment I gave. It’s been a minute.”
So we’re going to address both of those today because that’s a really common thing in a world language.
Improving Speaking and Listening Assessments
Speaking and listening seem to be the hardest part for us. However, this is something that we need to address in the world language community. Because guess what the most useful skill is in world language, speaking and listening.
So we need to, we need to know what students are capable of. But it’s fair because we are we’re in a bit of a constrained environment. So it seems weird and odd to be forced right to do speaking and listening stuff. So I’ve got some ideas for you tonight.
Because speaking assessments were my jam. I used to do them every week like they were my bread and butter.
CLICK HERE FOR THE POST ON SPEAKING QUIZZES
Why is Assessment in World Language Important?
But why is assessment in world language important? Why should we keep it? It’s to assess what learners know, and figure out what to reteach. It’s a way of measuring progress. It exists to give us information on how well we are teaching. Assessment in world language is just feedback. And unfortunately, we live in a system where it’s been overused and have to give grades to it so that students take it seriously. It’s been overdone.
There’s not much that you and I can do about that systemic problem on the individual level, except to set our students up for success as often as possible. Make assessment in world language more real-world, more practical, and more student and teacher-friendly.
We now know the real reason it exists is it gives us information on how we’re teaching, and how much our students can do. That’s why assessments in world language need to be where we spend the most time because they’ll give us the most information about how things are going in class and have the most direct impact on students.
How Often Should You Give Assessments in World Language Class?
And we need to do assessments often, often, if you are not scheduling an assessment in world language class every four-six classes, something is wrong. Not big ones either – small checks every time students have mastered a new set of skills or vocabulary. I used to say hey, take out a sheet of paper, and I’m going to give you three questions. Tell me if you can understand what I’m saying to you. Why? Why do students do better when you assess them more?
Students do better when you assess them more.
It creates a standard and it sets the pace to keep up – “I need to be proactive”.
If you’re not assessing them in your class, but biology has a graded lab every week, guess which class they’re going to choose to do HW in or goof off?
It’s too much to ask for students to be intrinsically motivated – set up a system so that 13 year olds don’t have to straighten out their own priorities.
Make sure your classroom is the top of their pay-attention-and-focus-or-I-won’t-do-well list. They will choose video games over studying every time, don’t expect them to be different than the wonderful kids they are. So will most adults, by the way. 😉
Good World Language Assessments Make Management Easier
So if you’re having any type of management issues or behavior issues, assessment could be part of it. Because if you’re not assessing often enough, students don’t get the message that this class counts. It could be conscious or subconscious. But assessments do bring home the point that this stuff is important.
Note – this does not mean you have to give high-difficulty assessments in world language class. It just means that you have to give assessments consistently. Many world language teachers don’t follow an assessment schedule or only collect grades once a quarter. You should have at least 3 examples of each category in your grade book (honestly more) for it to be a fair grade.
Middle schoolers might be different, but high schoolers for sure need to be reminded every four days that big things are going on. This greatly helps their average, because if they tank two or three because they’re having a bad week, you don’t give them just one grade for an off day.
So you want to catch students at every little snapshot to get a real average instead of just a moment in time. That’s fairer for them.
Formative assessments vs summative assessments
The smaller and more focused your assessments are, the better. Break any quiz or test into different formats and small chunks. Assessment is a really powerful learning tool. They help to synthesize information, they show you what’s important for your brain to remember. The more questions you get asked about facts, the more likely it is transferred from short-term to long-term memory.
However, it only works if you put it in small chunks. It doesn’t work for big assessments like all of those a set of all of those quote-unquote assessments would be like three questions about an article.
Differentiation (Because it’s not always about writing)
Allow for student differences to shine. So what does that mean? It means that you are going to encounter students that don’t do well with writing, because of many different reasons, one of them being that they don’t fit the mold for the conditioning that schools expect.
So they might be able to tell you word for word what they want their French paper to say. Or maybe they could even record it on their phone quickly in a conversation. But writing for them is very difficult because that requires a different skill set. Allow your students to show off those differences and adjust as necessary.
I think sometimes we are unwilling to do this because we want to see what their writing skills are. We want to see what their speaking and listening skills are in specific settings. However, the school environment does put a lot of pressure on students that we don’t always realize, so be willing to be flexible and allow your students to test for you in different ways.
Differentiation Ideas for World Language Assessments
What does that look like? If you’re doing a speaking assessment, and you have students with post-pandemic-like crippling social anxiety or the inability to hold a conversation because they’re not used to it? Or are displaying any kind of strange social behavior about just coming up to you and answering a question in another language in front of peers, allow them to do it outside. Or allow them to do it with a friend and record it on their phone and then submit it to you. Whatever gets the same job done.
As long as you’re talking about the same task and the same vocabulary, you don’t have to be constrained to the forms of it.
Grading Tips for World Language Assessment
You want to do things that are easy for you to grade because if you’re doing this and it’s easy for you to grade, both you and your students will thrive. It does not always have to be you got an 85 on this for accuracy, it can also be check you completed the task or circle see me let’s practice this. That’s what I’m talking about.
Some of them can be classwork. Some of them can be quizzes, and some of them can be big assessments, but you should be students should be getting feedback, direct feedback from you, at least every four days in a way that also counts towards their grade.
And if you ever get to the point where you’re overwhelmed with the amount of grading that’s happening, then we need to talk about the number of questions that you’re giving them. The ways that you’re assessing them, like are you doing a lot of I need to look up the exact answers for each of these. Are you circling every single out-of-place accent or spelling mistake? Because yeah, then you’re gonna get sick of grading and fast.
Rubrics Do’s & Don’ts
I don’t know why would you make a rubric where getting 100% is unobtainable. That doesn’t make sense. Like especially like for me and for teaching high school when grades are so high stakes. Why would you set students up for that? It just means like, you want to be able to give them all the chances that they can to succeed. If they meet all of your expectations, then yeah, they should get a three out of four, and then if they blow you out of the water in terms of wow, that was like almost 100% accurate they should get 100.
A solution for this is built-in opportunities for extra credit, not necessarily required by the task. So that students who were reaching over the level in certain spaces (reaching into novice high when your class expectations novice mid) could get credit for that in certain areas. So what does that look like?
How to Work With High Achievers Through Extra Credit
It means that in a certain category, maybe like fluidity or pronunciation, you give five points, instead of four for the students who are starting to hit those novice high categories. The rest of your language might be novice mid – if you hit novice mid, you get a four. And that’s the maximum.
But if you’re starting to reach the novice high, ooh, you get five points! And then your rubric is 22 out of 20. You know what I mean? So that there’s an opportunity for students to reach. It’s much more logistically easier for teachers as well.
Add opportunities for extra credit in 22 out of 20 rubrics, for example, for students who reach above-average class proficiency, you can do that.
Example Assessment Schedule with High School Students
In an average classroom, a 90-minute block with high school students, this is what I used to do. About every two to five days we’d have some sort of formative quiz. So it would vary. If it was a brand new subject material, it’d be five days. And if it was building on something else, then we’d do two or three days. Or if it was a special person quiz, then I would put it like the day after something else, no big deal, because it was a special person quiz, oh, writing. And if I just gave you a speaking quiz, then you know, that’s fine.
At some point, after about three weeks, I would assess all four modes of communication for my students in either small chunks, or I would do it in one large thing. Every eight weeks, because I move slowly in my curriculum, I would do a large cumulative summative assessment, meaning a big ass test of some sort, usually an IPA.
It would be in three parts, and it would usually take me three or four days to do. So in those three or four days, we would do a three-parter with an IPA. That was my usual timeframe.
An Example World Language Unit with Assessments
If you’re wondering what that might look like, here is an example. So for a 90-minute class, if I was doing house stuff (things around the house, house vocabulary, and house chores) I would do this. Day one, we will learn house vocabulary and do a cool activity to go with it. Then I would teach a song to go with House vocabulary and continue to learn that vocabulary.
Day three, and I would warn them about the quiz that would be the next day. This is all designed so that students don’t have to study at home, I didn’t expect my students to study at home. Day three is activities with House vocab.
And then I would give them a simple listening quiz at the end of class, always at the end of class, give them a warm-up, let their brains get all kinds of review and absorb all of the goodness of class and then take the assessment. The assessments should be so short that they don’t take up the whole class. Like my listening vocab quizzes would be five minutes maybe.
On day four, then I would start to look at functional verbs and other words, we do some writing and some listening to put all those words together. And then day five, I would give them their speaking quiz questions.
Speaking Quiz Question Examples
For a house unit, I would use:
- name three chores that you do around the house.
- What activities do you do in this room?
- What room do you spend the most time in?
- What do you do there?
It will be those three questions. And then I would give them a lot of practice with that. I have a lot of interpersonal practice with other people, practice with me, practice with listening, that kind of thing.
And then day six, I would do a review and more speaking quiz practice, and then I would do the speaking quiz with students.
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL GUIDE ON SPEAKING QUIZZES
Summative Assessment Options for World Language
Here is the final tool for you in this world language assessment guide – a collection of ideas for how to give large summative assessments in your class.
Integrated Performance Assessment
GET THE FULL POST ON AN IPA HERE
However, even though IPA is a real real hip right now, they’re not your only option, you’ve got other things you can do. You can do a really big speaking exam. I love these where you give them a whole year’s worth of content.
Here’s 30 questions, you’re only going to get asked five. But let’s practice all these different questions for like a week or so and go over all the content that we’ve done together. That’s a really great way to summarize everything.
There is some talk out there that doing a final exam is not actually that helpful for learning. So keep that in mind. That might be an interesting thing to look into if you have the option to skip that.
Mock OPI, I love this, too, is where you plan at the end of the year. This is way more natural to interview students instead. Like, what if you ask them? What if you prepare them for this in June? Hey, we’re gonna have a two minute conversation, I’m going to record it. Here are the things that I’m looking for. Here’s some of the things I’m going to ask you. And you prepare for that for the last month of school. That’s a great idea.
I mean, talk about the most useful skill you can do is, hey, we’re going to do on the fly questions about all of the topics that we’ve learned so far, you’re not going to know what the questions are in advance. So you really have to show me what you’ve learned this year. That’s honestly how all of my French & Spanish exams were in college. So that would be a really good way to prep them.
But that’s harder to do at the earlier levels, I would save that for twos and threes. This you can do at any level, because it’s great and really honest: portfolios. You can use various points throughout the unit and save different pieces of work. That way, you can get an average view of what students can really do, and you grade the whole portfolio.
So students choose their work. And you choose some of their best work. And then there are also maybe some mandatory pieces throughout the year, like a recorded conversation here and there. So instead of it being like a big high pressure event in May or June when people usually do finals, and you could go into the next semester and say, All right, we’ve learned enough Spanish now that we’re ready to start working on our portfolios, here’s what your portfolio is going to look like.
I’m looking for 20, high quality demonstrations of your Spanish ability in these four modes. I’m going to collect them throughout the year. If you don’t give me enough work, you’re going to have to redo some things – that whole deal. And then I’m going to grade the overall proficiency of your portfolio in May and that’s going to be your final grade.
More Posts on Comprehensible Input, Research, and Linguistics
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More World Language teacher resources for you
In conclusion, you have a great deal of options and things to work with for world language assessments. Thanks so much for being here! Below, if you’d like to continue exploring, here are some options for you:
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input – without all the overwhelm – and prepare for the challenges ahead.
Free Conference for World Language Teachers
If you’re ready to jump in and get started with proficiency and teaching with comprehensible input, I have another resource to help you on your journey below:
Sign Up for the Next Practical & Comprehensible Free Virtual Conference! Every year, I gather together the best and brightest in the field of world language to share with you how to switch to proficiency through comprehensible input. All with practical ideas that you can use tomorrow. It’s a FREE virtual conference – join the waitlist and find out more about the speakers here.
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