I have been undergoing a great change in my teaching, an evolution in my practice – one that is propelled by my work with kids with IEPs, our new provincial curriculum. my discussions regarding assessment with fellow self-reflective colleagues and my frustrations in how I felt I was not supporting my students at both ends of the achievement spectrum. So what has changed with this new ‘lens’ on how I view assessing in my classroom?…
Yes I Ask Them To “Learn and Remember” – This is not to say that I don’t ask them to ‘learn’, remember and demonstrate their knowledge. Our learning checks (what you might call a ‘quiz’) can be the traditional “know how to write these words”. But now I also give checks that show that they can ‘recognize words’ instead of just write them. This is especially key for vocabulary that will be used in oral interpersonals. So I ask them to “match” (TL & English) or listen and indicated the order that they heard a word. I also don’t announce ‘structure’ quizzes. Instead I use pop-check-ins which allow me to see how well a concept is being understood. Sometimes this results in my ‘re-teaching’ because clearly no one is getting it. Often it results in one-on-one coaching with those that clearly are not sure.
Summative Presentational Writing– As I tell my students “I don’t want to know what you remember as much as how well you can use what we have been learning.” I figure that in real life and in any job you’d have notes, guides, logbooks or access to references in crafting your communication. Why am I asking kids to write only what they ‘remember’ in a foreign language? This is not to say that there is no memory involved. That they haven’t “learned” anything (above). What is key for me is how they will be assessed. You can’t fully meet in my class unless you utilize current and past learning effectively. And if you add in those little things we mention, the asides, the ‘in additions’, the things that I might refer to once you can push to ‘exceeding’. And all of this end or unit writing is done ‘with notes of some kind’.
What I find here is, that having notes, any student can respond. Often my weakest kids are the ones who don’t know how to prepare, have minimally met on learning checks and haven’t ‘figured out how’ to prepare for this kind of assesment. This new approach allows them to be able to write more than what they ‘remember’. Often, as well, they get supports for their writing. It allows them to show more of what they actually can understand.
Many teachers (even in my department) are concerned about the ‘fairness’ of this – that a student who did ‘nothing’ has the same advantage as a diligent student who has tried to master everything during the unit work. This worry implies that a student is unfairly being helped/rewarded for not learning. This has never played out in what I see or what my students have written. The students who have internalized/’learned’ the vocabulary/structures don’t need to spend time looking them up and they have time to go deeper and really expand on what they are writing. They are using their notes not to look up the basics but to create rich, meaningful responses. The kids who haven’t internalized the words/ideas have less time for more expansive writing – but they are able to write something instead of almost nothing.
As for the writes – sometimes the notes are provided by me (a collection of Quizlets that I have prepared for units as a sort of ‘dictionary’ for example). Sometimes they are ‘open book’ allowing them to use any of their notes in a timed write – but no dictionaries. Other times this can resemble an English essay write – with rough copies, peer or teacher editing and then a final write (and a maximum of 6 words they’ve looked up – they have to use circumlocution for the rest).
Presentational/Interpersonal Speaking – I’ll admit that I do very little presentational speaking in front of the class. Yes there are the two skits (one each in Gr 9 and 10). But beyond that students only present to another student via interpersonal fairs. Even in this case they can have ‘notes’ in English about what they want to say but have to have ‘learned’ how to communicate this in the TL. We even practice circumlocuting so that if they forget what they wanted to say they can still communicate their message. Some kids can’t do this and will need ‘notes’. This reduces their ability to meet expectations but it still allows them to participate and feel a certain level of achievement. The same goes for their interpersonals. Referring to notes may allow full participation as opposed to being able to ‘say nothing’ and if you don’t need anything to participate you may, depending on what you say, be on your way to fully meeting/exceeding.
Japanese specific – Chinese characters (Kanji) – This is a Japanese-specific observation – it is the language that I teach. Kids often struggle with Chinese characters. They can’t memorize how to write them perhaps. They are frustrated. They can adopt a negative attitude towards them. I try to teach the characters in context, with a story to go along with how it is constructed. I ask them to see it like ‘lego’; composed of individual parts rather than a complex solo item. Now I am experimenting with two styles of learning checks. If you want to meet my expectations I will give you the characters – you tell me how to say them and what they mean. For fully meeting – I will give you the reading and you write them in Chinese characters and give me the meaning. I see some kids actually relax – they may not be able to write them well but when it comes to interpretive reading they know what they are reading.
Adaptations to Show Learning – Ultimately I am always considering what my provincial curriculum refers to adaptations. This is not reducing expectations but adapting so that any kid can show learning. This is not just for students with IEPs. In my province adaptations are there for any student that might need them. This means that kids can access the audio for any reading assessment or can ‘talk’ me through vocabulary that they can’t remember how to write.
My new lens asks me to consider what I am really assessing – and how I am giving students the opportunity to show what they know. As I evolve in my teaching I hope the focus on this is becoming clearer and clearer…