Last week we started a new term in the UK. Despite having been teaching for years, I always get nervous and apprehensive in September. It was a lovely, albeit tiring week, by the way! During our fist week, I had several people asking me about assessment in my lessons, especially as I don’t use textbooks. Do I write my own reading tests? Do I record my own listening activities? Do I adapt material from test assessments in textbooks?
The truth is I do a little bit of everything.
Why do we assess? The Power of Feedforward
It’s important to ask ourselves this question. Do we do it because the school ask us to do so? Do we do it because of parent pressure? Do we do it to inform, especially, our teaching and help our students become independent learners by reflecting on their performance (feedback driven meta cognition)?
In my case, I do assess to inform my teaching and my learners, and, of course, to provide data, which my school and parents demand.
This means that assessment must be purposeful and should be embedded in students' language learning journey, as a tool to check for information for the teacher, using Rosenshine’s terminology, while providing meaningful feedback to the students, on how well they are doing, so they reflect on their knowledge/skill gaps and take (independent)action, with our help, to close such gaps.
Feedback should really be called Feedforward via assessments.
Low stakes tests
Great MFL teaching should incorporate lots of modelling opportunities and structured production tasks leading to spontaneity and creativity with the language. In order to successfully drive our students in this journey, we must constantly check for information, check they are confident with the structures we teach. I do this via lots of embedded retrieval practice, see this post here. This means that I am constantly assessing in my lessons. I do it through low stake tests which I, sometimes, do not even call tests.
For this, I use, mainly, two tools, mini whiteboards and powerful questions:
- Questions that allow me to check for understanding
- Questions that allow to deepen understanding in my students by making connections between new learning and what they already know.
- Questions that allow students to think and
- Asking all students, hence, the power of mini whiteboards.
It is true that I also need data, so every three/four lessons, especially at the beginning of a new topic, I carry out low stakes tests. This means that it is done in paper.
I give students 10 small sentences to translate, both ways, based on the Sentence Builder covered and incorporating structures from past Sentence Builders (interleaving); we mark them in class (students mark their partners’ work, 2 marks per sentence and 1 mark if a mistake was made) and at the end of the lesson, as an exit ticket, students tell me in Spanish, their mark, which is always out of 20. This mark, I collect not only as evidence of progress for me, but also to give Merits to all those achieving 100% or even 80-90%, in a given test.
The key element for this tests is to make sure that students are ready for them and everybody gets at least 80%.
These tests are a celebration for the class, a way for students to show that we care for each other and they feel safe, not anxious. This means lots of previous practice activities (normal tasks and also via LearningApps or Wheel of Names) and a couple of specific learning homeworks, via Quizlet or Memrise, linked to our Sentence Builders.
These tests involve 0 preparation for me! My students love them and do not cause anxiety because very rarely they do badly, so it’s a great way to get a well-deserved Merit!
Assessing all skills?
I don’t do official end of unit tests and definitely not in all four skills. I rather use my, already reduced curriculum time, teaching/learning/practising the language. I use reading and listening tasks, as modelling tools to help my students learn the language not to be tested. However, twice a year we do two official assessments, following my school protocol. In these assessments we include two skills only: one productive and one receptive.
For KS3, we adapt material from different textbooks while adding bits in relation to our studied Sentence Builders. We use textbook audio files, so students get used to many different voices, not only their teachers.
At KS4, we use Exampro, which uses past papers GCSE questions, which can be selected by topic and level (Foundation, Overlapping, Higher). We tend to do lots of Exampro activities as part of our normal classroom activities, so again, students are ready for these.
At the end of these tests, we do Self-Reflection tasks to help students to reflect on what went well, identify gaps and decide an action plan to overtake these hurdles.
Similarly, Y11 students carry out a Writing Task in test conditions every two weeks to help them to master the 150 words GCSE question in the exam. For this, students are given a list of writing tasks. Directed by me, they prepare one task for homework, after, as a class, we have modelled, collaboratively, a good answer and after reading the question support information provided in their given writing task Title in yellow:
I mark these tasks using the AQA mark scheme, providing oral feedback on OneNote so that students, as part of the lesson, reflect on their performance and learn what to address in the following task in two weeks’ time.
In other words, assessment should be used to feedforward and anchor in high expectations!
Of course Digital Tools can also be used for low stakes tests: Quizizz, Quizlet, MS Forms and Google Forms, are also great ways to provide short tests for students to check on their understanding and make them reflect on the outcome!