Tips for online assessment for students
Students in school need to work just as adults do but for slightly different reasons at times. This post will examine some reasons for school and or homework for students. For teachers, understanding some of the less traditional reasons for schoolwork may be beneficial when dealing with students and even parents’ concerns.
Generally, students lack the experience and or training to make a living. Therefore, studying and completing class and homework is often one of the primary functions of a child or a young person. Just as an adult may receive an income from their employment/business, a student receives a grade for their academic efforts.
Class and homework also serve a social purpose for students. School provides a place for students to meet together and talk and socialize. In addition, there is also an opportunity to collaborate on various assignments and projects. It is relatively common for students to spend more time with their friends and teachers than with their parents. Since so much time is spent together at school, this time must be channeled into positive academic endeavors.
Schoolwork can also provide social status in either a positive or negative way. Sometimes students are commended for being excellent students, primarily by teachers. However, it is generally more common for students to be praised and commended for not working hard by their peers. Either way, a certain amount of social status is attached to how a student does at school, which can be perceived positively or negatively.
Concerning the last point, work can play a role in influencing self-esteem as well among students. For strong students, the school allows an opportunity to demonstrate mastery at something. Meaningful and engaging group work allows students to believe that they are doing something that contributes to a group effort, which is highly satisfying for some people.
It is crucial to indicate the difference between schoolwork and busywork. Schoolwork should be engaging and exciting so that students do not even notice as time goes by. Busywork is work for having points to put in the grade book and does not support the student’s intellectual or skill development. Work does not always have to be pleasurable, but it should also not always be drudgery either. If the school lacks engagement, it can lead to serious behavioral challenges and boredom for students.
The teacher’s job is to manage the learning experiences of the students. Schoolwork is just one of the classroom’s aspects that the teacher is responsible for as the instructional leader. Therefore, it is essential to be able to communicate why students work in the classroom.
Ways to help students with Self-Assessment
Types of writing rubrics
Writing types used in ESL
More ways to assess reading
Ways to assess reading
Ways to assess speaking in the ESL context
Examples of intensive listening
Developing direct and indirect test items for language assessments.
Tips for improving Essay items for assessment
Tips for improving matching
Improving true and false test items
Understanding the power of the test blueprint.
Grading has recently been under attack with people bringing strong criticism against the practice. Some schools have even stopped using grades altogether. In this post, we will look at problems with grading as well as alternatives.
It Depends on the Subject
The weakness of grading is often seen much more clearly in subjects that have more of a subjective nature to them from the Social sciences and humanities such as English, History, or Music. Subjects from the hard sciences such as biology, math, and engineering are more objective in nature. If a student states that 2 + 2 = 5 there is little left to persuasion or critical thinking to influence the grade.
However, when it comes to judging thinking or musical performance it is much more difficult to assess this without bringing the subjectivity of opinion. This is not bad as a teacher should be an expert in their domain but it still brings an arbitrary unpredictability to the system of grading that is difficult to avoid.
Returning to the math problem, if a student stats 2 +2 = 4 this answer is always right whether the teacher likes the student or not. However, an excellent historical essay on slavery can be graded poorly if the history teacher has issues with the thesis of the student. To assess the essay requires subjective though into the quality of the student’s writing and subjectivity means that the assessment cannot be objective.
Obsession of Students
Many students become obsess and almost worship the grades they receive. This often means that the focus becomes more about getting an ‘A’ than on actually learning. This means that the students take no-risk in their learning and conform strictly to the directions of the teacher. Mindless conformity is not a sign of future success.
There are many comments on the internet about the differences between ‘A’ and ‘C’ students. How ‘A’ students are conformist and ‘C’ students are innovators. The point is that the better the academic performance of a student the better they are at obeying orders and not necessarily on thinking independently.
Alternatives to Grades
There are several alternatives to grading. One of the most common is Pass/fail. Either the student passes the course or they do not. This is common at the tertiary level especially in highly subjective courses such as writing a thesis or dissertation. In such cases, the student meets the “mysterious” standard or they do not.
Another alternative is has been the explosion in the use of gamification. As the student acquires the badges, hit points, etc. it is evidence of learning. Of course, this idea is applied primarily at the K-12 level but it the concept of gamification seems to be used in almost all of the game apps available on cellphones as well as many websites.
Lastly, observation is another alternative. In this approach, the teacher makes weekly observations of each student. These observations are then used to provide feedback for the students. Although time-consuming this is a way to support students without grades.
As long as there is education there must be some sort of way to determine if students are meeting expectations. Grades are the current standard. As with any system, grades have their strengths and weaknesses. With this in mind, it is the responsibility of teachers to always search for ways to improve how students are assessed.
Grading is a concept that almost no two teachers agree upon. Some believe in including effort while others believe only performance should be considered. Some believe in many A’s while others believe A’s should be rare.
Absolute grading involves the teacher pre-specifying the standards for performance. For example, a common absolute grading scale would be
A = 90-100
B = 80-89
C = 70-79
D = 60-69
F = 0-59
Whatever score the student earns is their grade. There are no adjustments made to their grade. For example, if everyone gets a score between 90-100 everyone gets an “A” or if everyone gets below 59 everyone gets an “F.” The absolute nature of absolute grading makes it inflexible and constraining for unique situations.
Relative grading allows for the teacher to interpret the results of an assessment and determine grades based on student performance. One example of this is grading “on the curve.” In this approach, the grades of an assessment are forced to fit a “bell curve” no matter what the distribution is. A hard grade to the curve would look as follows.
A = Top 10% of students
B = Next 25% of students
C = Middle 30% of students
D = Next 25% of students
F = Bottom 10% of students
As such, if the entire class had a score on an exam between 90-100% using relative grading would still create a distribution that is balanced. Whether this is fair or not is another discussion.
Some teachers will divide the class grades by quartiles with a spread from A-D. Others will use the highest grade achieved by an individual student as the A grade and mark other students based on the performance of the best student.
There are times when institutions would set the policy for relative grading. For example, in a graduate school, you may see the following grading scale.
A = top 60%
B = next 30%
C = next 10%
D, F = Should never happen
the philosophy behind this is that in graduate school all the students are excellent so the grades should be better. Earning a “C” is the same as earning an “F.” Earning a “D” or “F” often leads to removal from the program.
There will never be agreement on how to grade. Coming from different backgrounds makes this challenging. For example, some cultures believe that the teacher should prepare the students for exams while others do not. Some cultures believe in self-assessment while others do not. Some cultures believe in a massive summative exam while others do not
In addition, many believe that grades are objective when there is little evidence to support this in academic research. A teacher who thinks students are low performers gives out such grades even if the students are high achievers.
As such, the most reasonable approach is for a school to discuss grading policies and lay out the school’s approach to grading to reduce confusion even if it does not reduce frustration.
Generally, education has always focused on some form of external assessor watching the progress of a student. This is by far the standard approach. However, it is not the only way.
An alternative form of assessment is self-assessment. In this approach, the student judges their progress themselves rather than leaning on the judgment of a teacher. In this post, we will look at the pros and cons of self-assessment as well as several ways to incorporate self-assessment into the classroom
Pros and Cons
Some of the advantages of this include the following.
- Autonomy-The student must be able to ascertain what they are doing well and also wrong
- Critical thinking skills-This relates to the first bullet. The student must form an opinion about their progress
- Motivation-Students often are energized by the responsibility of making decisions themselves.
There are also some drawbacks such as the subjectivity of such a form of assessment. However, developing the cognitive skills of self-assessment provide a reasonable tradeoff in many situations.
Types of Self-Assessment
Self-assessment can take one of the following forms
- Goal setting assessment
- Assessment of performance
- General assessment
- Student-generated test
Goal setting is the student deciding for themselves what they want to do or achieve in an academic context. The student lays down the criteria and attempts to achieve it. This is an excellent way to boost motivation as many students love to dream even if it is limited to academics.
Assessment of Performance
Performance assessment is the student judging how they did on a specific task. Examples may include assessing their performance of a speech, or essay. Often this is best done with some sort of learning experience that is open ended like the previous examples. IN other words, performance assessment might be meaningless for a multiple-choice quiz since they answer is fixed.
General assessment is assessing one’s performance over time rather than at one specific moment. The student might judge their performance over an entire unit or semester and share their thoughts. This is much more vague in nature but if the student walks away with understanding how to improve it can be beneficial.
Having students generate test items strongly encourages review of course content. The student has to identify what they know and do not know as well as the level of understanding of their peers. This complex metacognitive process always for stronger insights into the content.
As the teacher, it is necessary to consider the following
- Clearly, define what needs to be done. This is often best done through giving an example through demonstration of self-reflection.
- Consider the format. THe teacher can provide a checklist, surveys, or require students to write a self-assessment. The format depends on the goals as well as the abilities of the students.
- Challenge the student’s assessment. Students will often be too harsh or easy on themselves. Having the students explain their position will deepen their critical thinking skills and encourage impartial assessments.
Self-assessment is another potential tool in the classroom. This form of assessment allows students to think and decide where they believe they are in their learning experience. As such, occasional use of this approach is probably beneficial for most students.
Conferences can play a vital role in supporting the growth and improvement of your students. The one-on-one interaction is a priceless use of time for them. In this post, we will look at conferencing and the process for successful use of this idea.
A conference is an opportunity for a teacher and student to discuss one-on-one the students progress in regards to the student’s academic performance. By academic performance, it can mean summative performance or formative.
Conferences can also be used for long term projects such as papers, research, or other more complex assignments. The length of time does not have to be more than 5-10 minutes in order to provide support. The personal nature of a conference seems to work even in such a short amount of time.
Below are some steps to take when conducting a conference with a student
- Explain what is going well
- Ask the student if they see any other strengths
- Explain what needs to be improve
- Ask the student if they see any other problems
- Provide suggestions on how to improve weaknesses
- Let the student suggest ways to improve
- Ask the student if they have any questions
Begin by sharing what was excellent about the paper. This prepares the student for the bad news. There is almost always something to praise even from the weakest students.
You can also solicit what the student thinks is strong about their paper. This encourages critical thinking as it requires them to form an opinion and provide reasons for it. This also encourages dialog and makes conferences collaborative rather than top-down communication.
Conferences need to be evidence based. This means when something is good you have an example from the paper for the student of what good looks like. THe same applies for bad as well. Concrete examples are what people need to understand and learn.
Next, it is time to share the problems with the paper. As the teacher, you point out where improvement is necessary. In addition, you allow the student to share where they think they can do better. Often there is awkward silence but self-reflection is critical to success.
If the student remains silent, you may elicit a response through asking them questions about their paper that indicates a weakness. Soon the student begins to see the problems for themselves.
With problems identified it is important to provide ways to improve. This is where the learning begins. They see what’s wrong and they learn what is right. Naturally, the student can contribute as well to how to improve.
This is also a place where the teacher asks if there are any questions. By this pointing dialoguing has gone on for awhile and questions were probably already asked and answered. However, it is still good to ask one more time in case the student was waiting for whatever reason.
Conferencing is time-consuming but it provides an excellent learning experience for students. It is not necessary for them to be long if there is adequate preparation and there is some sort of structure to the experience.
A journal is a log that a student uses to record their thoughts about something. This post will provide examples of journals as well as guidelines for using journals in the classroom.
Types of Journals
Normally, journals will have a theme or focus. Examples in TESOL would include journals that focus on grammar, learning strategies, language-learning, or recording feelings. Most journals will focus on one of these to the exclusion of the others.
Guidelines for Using Journals
Journals can be useful if they are properly planned. As such, a teacher should consider the following when using journals.
- Provide purpose-Students need to know why they are writing journals. Most students seem to despise reflection and will initially reject this learning experience
- Forget grammar-Journals are for writing. Students need to set aside the obsession they have acquired for perfect grammar and focus on developing their thoughts about something. There is a time and place for grammar and that is for summative assessments such as final drafts of research papers.
- Explain the grading process-Students need to know what they must demonstrate in order to receive adequate credit.
- Provide feedback-Journals are a dialog. As such, the feedback should encourage and or instruct the students. The feedback should also be provided consistently at scheduled intervals.
Journals take a lot of time to read and provide feedback too. In addition, the handwriting quality of students can vary radically which means that some students journals are unreadable.
Journaling is an experience that allows students to focus on the process of learning rather than the product. This is often neglected in the school experience. Through journals, students are able to focus on the development of ideas without wasting working memory capacity on grammar and syntax. As such, journals can be a powerful in developing critical thinking skills.
Portfolio development is one of many forms of alternative assessment available to teachers. When this approach is used, generally the students collected their work and try to make sense of it through reflection.
It is surprisingly easy for portfolio development to amount to nothing more than archiving work. However, the CRADLE approach was developed by Gottlieb to alleviate potential confusion over this process. CRADLE stands for the following
Collecting is the process in which the students gather materials to include in their portfolio. It is left to the students to decide what to include. However, it is still necessary for the teacher to provide clear guidelines in terms of what can be potentially selected.
Clear guidelines include stating the objectives as well as explaining how the portfolio will be assessed. It is also important to set aside class time for portfolio development.
Some examples of work that can be included in a portfolio include the following.
- tests, quizzes
- electronic documents (powerpoints, pdfs, etc)
Reflecting happens through the student thinking about the work they have placed in the portfolio. This can be demonstrated many different ways. Common ways to reflect include the use of journals in which students comment on their work. Another way for young students is the use of checklist.
Another way for young students is the use of a checklist. Students simply check the characteristics that are present in their work. As such, the teacher’s role is to provide class time so that students are able to reflect on their work.
Assessing involves checking and maintaining the quality of the portfolio over time. Normally, there should a gradual improvement in work quality in a portfolio. This is a subjective matter that is negotiated by the student and teacher often in the form of conferences.
Documenting serves more as a reminder than an action. Simply, documenting means that the teacher and student maintain the importance of the portfolio over the course of its usefulness. This is critical as it is easy to forget about portfolios through the pressure of the daily teaching experience.
Linking is the use of a portfolio to serve as a mode of communication between students, peers, teachers, and even parents. Students can look at each other portfolios and provide feedback. Parents can also examine the work of their child through the use of portfolios.
Evaluating is the process of receiving a grade for this experience. For the teacher, the goal is to provide positive washback when assessing the portfolios. The focus is normally less on grades and more qualitative in nature.
Portfolios provide rich opportunities for developing intrinsic motivation, individualize learning, and critical thinking. However, the trying to affix a grade to such a learning experience is often impractical. As such, portfolios are useful but it can be hard to prove that any learning took place.
Grading essays, papers and other forms of writing is subjective and frustrating for teachers at times. One tool that helps in improving the consistency of the marking, as well as the speed, is the use of rubrics. In this post, we will look at three commonly used rubrics which are…
- Primary trait
A holistic rubric looks at the overall quality of the writing. Normally, there are several levels on the rubric and each level has several descriptors on it. Below is an example template
The descriptors must be systematic which means that they are addressed in each level and in the same order. Below is an actual Holistic Rubric for Writing.
In the example above, there are four levels of marking. The descriptors are
- idea explanation
Between levels, different adverbs and adjectives are used to distinguish the levels. For example, in level one, “ideas are thoroughly explained” becomes “ideas are explained” in the second level. The use of adverbs is one of the easiest ways to distinguish between levels in a holistic rubric.
Holistic rubrics offer the convenience of fast marking that is easy to interpret and comes with high reliability. The downside is that there is a lack of strong feedback for improvement.
Analytical rubrics assign a score to each individual attribute the teacher is looking for in the writing. In other words, instead of lumping all the descriptors together as is done in a holistic rubric, each trait is given its own score. Below is a template of an analytical rubric.
You can see that the levels are across the top and the descriptors across the side. Best performance moves from left to right all the way to worst performance. Each level is assigned a range of potential point values.
Below is an actual holistic writing template
Analytical rubrics provide much more washback and learning than holistic. Of course, they also take a lot more time for the teacher to complete as well.
A lesser-known way of marking papers is the use of primary trait rubric. With primary trait, the student is only assessed on one specific function of writing. For example, persuasion if they are writing an essay or perhaps vocabulary use for an ESL student writing paragraphs.
The template would be similar to a holistic rubric except that there would only be on descriptor instead of several. The advantage of this is that it allows the teacher and the student to focus on one aspect of writing. Naturally, this can be a disadvantage as writing involves more than one specific skill.
Rubrics are useful for a variety of purposes. For writing, it is critical that you understand what the levels and descriptors are one deciding on what kind of rubric you want to use. In addition, the context affects the use of what type of rubric to use as well.
This post will look at several types of writing that are done for assessment purposes. In particular, we will look this from the four level of writing which are
Imitative writing is focused strictly on the grammatical aspects of writing. The student simply reproduces what they see. This is a common way to teach children how to write. Additional examples of activities at this level include cloze task in which the student has to write the word in the blank from a list, spelling test, matching, and even converting numbers to their word equivalent.
Intensive writing is more concern about selecting the appropriate word for a given context. Example activities include grammatical transformation, such as changing all verbs to past tense, sequencing pictures, describing pictures, completing short sentences, and ordering task.
Responsive writing involves the development of sentences into paragraphs. The purpose depends almost exclusively on the context or function of writing. Form concerns are primarily at the discourse level which means how the sentences work together to make paragraphs and how the paragraphs work to support a thesis statement. Normally no more than 2-3 paragraphs at this level
Example activities at the responsive level include short reports, interpreting visual aids, and summary.
Extensive writing is responsive writing over the course of an entire essay or research paper. The student is able to shape a purpose, objectives, main ideas, conclusions, etc. Into a coherent paper.
For many students, this is exceedingly challenging in their mother tongue and is further exasperated in a second language. There is also the experience of multiple drafts of a single paper.
Marking Intensive & Responsive Papers
Marking higher level papers requires a high degree of subjectivity. This is because of the authentic nature of this type of assessment. As such, it is critical that the teacher communicate expectations clearly through the use of rubrics or some other form of communication.
Another challenge is the issue of time. Higher level papers take much more time to develop. This means that they normally cannot be used as a form of in-class assessment. If they are used as in-class assessment then it leads to a decrease in the authenticity of the assessment.
Writing is a critical component of the academic experience. Students need to learn how to shape and develop their ideas in print. For teachers, it is important to know at what level the student is capable of writing at in order to support them for further growth.
In reading assessment, the interactive and extensive level are the highest levels of reading. This post will provide examples of assessments at each of these two levels.
Reading at this level is focused on both form and meaning of the text with an emphasis on top-down processing. Below are some assessment examples
Cloze assessment involves removing certain words from a paragraph and expecting the student to supply them. The criteria for removal is every nth word aka fixed-ratio or removing words with meaning aka rational deletion.
In terms of marking, you have the choice of marking based on the student providing the exact wording or an appropriate wording. The exact wording is strict but consistent will appropriate wording can be subjective.
Read and Answer the Question
Information transfer involves the students interpreting something. For example, they may be asked to interpret a graph and answer some questions. They may also be asked to elaborate on the graph, make predictions, or explain. Explaining a visual is a common requirement for the IELTS.
This level involves the highest level of reading. It is strictly top-down and requires the ability to see the “big picture” within a text. Marking at this level is almost always subjective.
Summarize and React
Summarizing and reacting requires the student to be able to read a large amount of information, share the main ideas, and then providing their own opinion on the topic. This is difficult as the student must understand the text to a certain extent and then form an opinion about what they understand.
I like to also have my students write several questions they have about the text This teaches them to identify what they do not know. These questions are then shared in class so that they can be discussed.
For marking purposes, you can provide directions about a number of words, paragraphs, etc. to provide guidance. However, marking at this level of reading is still subjective. The primary purpose of marking should probably be evidence that the student read the text.
The interactive and extensive level of reading is when teaching can become enjoyable. Students have moved beyond just learning to read to reading to learn. This opens up many possibilies in terms of learning experiences.
This post will provide examples of assessments that can be used for reading at the perceptual and selective level.
The perceptual level is focused on bottom-up processing of text. Comprehension ability is not critical at this point. Rather, you are just determining if the student can accomplish the mechanical process of reading.
Reading Aloud-How this works is probably obvious to most teachers. The students read a text out loud in the presence of an assessor.
Picture-Cued-Students are shown a picture. At the bottom of the picture are words. The students read the word and point to a visual example of it in the picture. For example, if the picture has a cat in it. At the bottom of the picture would be the word cat. The student would read the word cat and point to the actual cat in the picture.
This can be extended by using sentences instead of words. For example, if the actual picture shows a man driving a car. There may be a sentence at the bottom of the picture that says “a man is driving a car”. The student would then point to the man in the actual picture who is driving.
Another option is T/F statements. Using our cat example from above. We might write that “There is one cat in the picture” the student would then select T/F.
The selective level is the next above perceptual. At this level, the student should be able to recognize various aspects of grammar.
Editing Task-Students are given a reading passage and are asked to fix the grammar. This can happen many different ways. They could be asked to pick the incorrect word in a sentence or to add or remove punctuation.
Pictured-Cued Task-This task appeared at the perceptual level. Now it is more complicated. For example, the students might be required to read statements and label a diagram appropriately, such as the human body or aspects of geography.
Gap-Filling Task-Students read a sentence and complete it appropriately
Other Examples-Includes multiple-choice and matching. The multiple-choice may focus on grammar, vocabulary, etc. Matching attempts to assess a students ability to pair similar items.
Reading assessment can take many forms. The examples here provide ways to deal with this for students who are still highly immature in their reading abilities. As fluency develops more complex measures can be used to determine a students reading capability.
In this post, we will look at different activities that can be used to assess a language learner’s speaking ability, Unfortunately, will not go over how to mark or give a grade for the activities we will only provide examples.
In this activity, the teacher tries to have the student use a particular grammatical form by having the student modify something the teacher says. Below is an example.
Teacher: Tell me he went home
Student: He went home
This is obviously not deep. However, the student had to know to remove the words “tell me” from the sentence and they also had to know that they needed to repeat what the teacher said. As such, this is an appropriate form of assessment for beginning students.
Read aloud is simply having the student read a passage verbatim out loud. Normally, the teacher will assess such things as pronunciation and fluency. There are several problems with this approach. First, reading aloud is not authentic as this is not an in demand skill in today’s workplace. Second, it blends reading with speaking which can be a problem if you do not want to assess both at the same time.
Students are expected to respond and or complete sentences. Normally, there is some sort of setting such as a mall, school, or bank that provides the context or pragmatics. below is an example in which a student has to respond to a bank teller. The blank lines indicate where the student would speak.
Teacher (as bank teller): Would you like to open an account?
Teacher (as bank teller): How much would you like to deposit?
Visual cues are highly opened. For example, you can give the students a map and ask them to give you directions to a location on the map. In addition, students can describe things in the picture or point to things as you ask them too. You can also ask the students to make inferences about what is happening in a picture. Of course, all of these choices are highly difficult to provide a grade for and may be best suited for formative assessment.
Translating can be a highly appropriate skill to develop in many contexts. In order to assess this, the teacher provides a word, phrase, or perhaps something more complicated such as directly translating their speech. The student then Takes the input and reproduces it in the second language.
This is tricky to do. For one, it is required to be done on the spot, which is challenging for anybody. In addition, this also requires the teacher to have some mastery of the student’s mother tongue, which for many is not possible.
There are many more examples that cannot be covered here. Examples include interviews, role play, and presentations. However, these are much more common forms of speaking assessment so for most they are already familiar with these.
Speaking assessment is a major component of the ESL teaching experience. The ideas presented here will hopefully provide some additionals ways that this can be done.
How to make essay questions in Moodle
There are many different ways in which a teacher can assess the listening skills of their students. Recognition, paraphrasing, cloze tasks, transfer, etc. are all ways to determine a student’s listening proficiency.
One criticism of the task above is that they are primarily inauthentic. This means that they do not strongly reflect something that happens in the real world.
In response to this, several authentic listening assessments have been developed over the years. These authentic listening assessments include the following.
This post will each of the authentic listening assessments listed above.
An editing task that involves listening involves the student receiving reading material. The student reviews the reading material and then listens to a recording of someone reading aloud the same material. The student then marks the hard copy they have when there are differences between the reading and what the recording is saying.
Such an assessment requires the student to carefully for discrepancies between the reading material and the recording. This requires strong reading abilities and phonological knowledge.
For those who are developing language skills for academic reasons. Note-taking is a highly authentic form of assessment. In this approach, the students listen to some type of lecture and attempt to write down what they believe is important from the lecture.
The students are then assessed by on some sort of rubric/criteria developed by the teacher. As such, marking note-taking can be highly subjective. However, the authenticity of note-taking can make it a valuable learning experience even if providing a grade is difficult.
How retelling works should be somewhat obvious. The student listens to some form of talk. After listening, the student needs to retell or summarize what they heard.
Assessing the accuracy of the retelling has the same challenges as the note-taking assessment. However, it may be better to use retelling to encourage learning rather than provide evidence of the mastery of a skill.
Interpretation involves the students listening to some sort of input. After listening, the student then needs to infer the meaning of what they heard. The input can be a song, poem, news report, etc.
For example, if the student listens to a song they may be asked to explain why the singer was happy or sad depending on the context of the song. Naturally, they cannot hope to answer such a question unless they understood what they were listening too.
Listening does not need to be artificial. There are several ways to make learning task authentic. The examples in this post are just some of the potential ways
Responsive listening involves listening to a small amount of a language such as a command, question, or greeting. After listening, the student is expected to develop an appropriate short response. In this post, we will examine two examples of the use of responsive listening. These two examples are…
- Open-ended response to a question
- Suitable response to a question
Open-Ended Responsive Listening
When an open-ended item is used in responsive listening it involves the student listening to a question and provided an answer that suits the context of the question. For example,
Listener hears: What country are you from
Student writes: _______________________________
Assessing the answer is determined by whether the student was able to develop an answer that is appropriate. The opened nature of the question allows for creativity and expressiveness.
A drawback to the openness is determining the correctness of them. You have to decide if misspellings, synonyms, etc are wrong answers. There are strong arguments for and against any small mistake among ESL teachers. Generally, communicate policies trump concerns of grammatical and orthography.
Suitable Response to a Question
Suitable response items often use multiple choice answers that the student select from in order to complete the question. Below is an example.
Listener hears: What country is Steven from
Based on the recording the student would need to indicate the correct response. The multiple-choice limits the number of options the student has in replying. This can in many ways making determining the answer much easier than a short answer. No matter what, the student has a 25% chance of being correct in our example.
Since multiple-choice is used it is important to remember that all the strengths and weaknesses of multiple-choice items.This can be good or bad depending on where your students are at in their listening ability.
Responsive listening assessment allows a student to supply an answer to a question that is derived from what they were listening too.This is in many ways a practical way to assess an individual’s basic understanding of a conversation.
Intensive listening is listening for the elements (phonemes, intonation, etc.) in words and sentences. This form of listening is often assessed in an ESL setting as a way to measure an individual’s phonological, morphological, and ability to paraphrase. In this post, we will look at these three forms of assessment with examples.
Phonological elements include phonemic consonant and phonemic vowel pairs. Phonemic consonant pair has to do with identifying consonants. Below is an example of what an ESL student would hear followed by potential choices they may have on a multiple-choice test.
Recording: He’s from Thailand
(a) He’s from Thailand
(b) She’s from Thailand
The answer is clearly (a). The confusion is with the adding of ‘s’ for choice (b). If someone is not listening carefully they could make a mistake. Below is an example of phonemic pairs involving vowels
Recording: The girl is leaving?
(a)The girl is leaving?
(b)The girl is living?
Again, if someone is not listening carefully they will miss the small change in the vowel.
Morphological elements follow the same approach as phonological elements. You can manipulate endings, stress patterns, or play with words. Below is an example of ending manipulation.
Recording: I smiled a lot.
(a) I smiled a lot.
(b) I smile a lot.
I sharp listener needs to hear the ‘d’ sound at the end of the word ‘smile’ which can be challenging for ESL student. Below is an example of stress pattern
Recording: My friend doesn’t smoke.
(a) My friend doesn’t smoke.
(b) My friend does smoke.
The contraction in the example is the stress pattern the listener needs to hear. Below is an example of a play with words.
This is especially tricky for languages that do not have both a ‘v’ and ‘w’ sound, such as the Thai language.
Paraphrase recognition involves listening to an example of being able to reword it in an appropriate manner. This involves not only listening but also vocabulary selection and summarizing skills. Below is one example of sentence paraphrasing
Recording: My name is James. I come from California
(a) James is Californian
(b) James loves Calfornia
This is trickier because both can be true. However, the goal is to try and rephrase what was heard. Another form of paraphrasing is dialogue paraphrasing as shown below
Man: My name is Thomas. What is your name?
Woman: My name is Janet. Nice to meet you. Are you from Africa
Man: No, I am an American
(a) Thomas is from America
(b)Thomas is African
You can see the slight rephrase that is wrong with choice (b). This requires the student to listen to slightly longer audio while still have to rephrase it appropriately.
Intensive listening involves the use of listening for the little details of an audio. This is a skill that provides a foundation for much more complex levels of listening.
Critical language testing (CLT) is a philosophical approach that states that there is widespread bias in language testing. This view is derived from critical pedagogy, which views education as a process manipulated by those in power.
There are many criticisms that CLT has of language testing such as the following.
- Test are deeply influenced by the culture of the test makers
- There is a political dimension to tests
- Tests should provide various modes of performance because of the diversity in how students learn.
Testing and Culture
CLT claim that tests are influenced by the culture of the test-makers. This puts people from other cultures at a disadvantage when taking the test.
An example of bias would be a reading comprehension test that uses a reading passage that reflects a middle class, white family. For many people, such an experience is unknown for them. When they try to answer the questions they lack the contextual knowledge of someone who is familiar with this kind of situation and this puts outsiders at a disadvantage.
Although the complaint is valid there is little that can be done to rectify it. There is no single culture that everyone is familiar with. The best that can be done is to try to diverse examples for a diverse audience.
Politics and Testing
Politics and testing is closely related to the prior topic of culture. CLT claims that testing can be used to support the agenda of those who made the test. For example, those in power can make a test that those who are not in power cannot pass. This allows those in power to maintain their hegemony. An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were
An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were required to pass in order to vote. Since most African MAericans could not read the were legally denied the right to vote. This is language testing being used to suppress a minority group.
Various Modes of Assessment
CLT also claims that there should be various modes of assessing. This critique comes from the known fact that not all students do well in traditional testing modes. Furthermore, it is also well-documented that students have multiple intelligences.
It is hard to refute the claim for diverse testing methods. The primary problem is the practicality of such a request. Various assessment methods are normally impractical but they also affect the validity of the assessment. Again, most of the time testing works and it hard to make exceptions.
CLT provides an important perspective on the use of assessment in language teaching. These concerns should be in the minds of test makers as they try to continue to improve how they develop assessments. This holds true even if the concerns of CLT cannot be addressed.
For better or worst, standardized testing is a part of the educational experience of most students and teachers. The purpose here is not to attack or defend their use. Instead, in this post, we will look at how standardized test￼s are developed.
There are primarily about 6 steps in developing a standardized test. These steps are
- Determine the goals
- Develop the specifications
- Create and evaluate test items
- Determine scoring and reporting
- Continue further development
The goals of a standardized test are similar to the purpose statement of a research paper in that the determine the scope of the test. By scope, it is meant what the test will and perhaps will not do. This is important in terms of setting the direction for the rest of the project.
For example, the TOEFL purpose is to evaluate English proficiency. This means that the TOEFL does not deal with science, math, or other subjects. This seems silly for many but this purpose makes it clear what the TOEFL is about.
Develop the Specifications
Specifications have to do with the structure of the test. For example, a test can have multiple-choice, short answer, essay, fill in the blank, etc. The structure of the test needs to be determined in order to decide what types of items to create.
Most standardized tests are primarily multiple-choice. This is due to the scale on which the tests are given. However, some language tests are including a writing component as well now.
Create Test Items
Once the structure is set it is now necessary to develop the actual items for the test. This involves a lot with item response theory (IRT) and the use of statistics. There is also a need to ensure that the items measure the actual constructs of the subject domain.
For example, the TOEFL must be sure that it is really measuring language skills. This is done through consulting experts as well as statistical analysis to know for certain they are measuring English proficiency. The items come from a bank and are tested and retested.
Determine Scoring and Reporting
The scoring and reporting need to be considered. How many points is each item worth? What is the weight of one section of the test? Is the test norm-referenced or criterion-referenced? How many people will mark each test?These are some of the questions to consider.
The scoring and reporting matter a great deal because the scores can affect a person’s life significantly. Therefore, this aspect of standardized testing is treated with great care.
A completed standardized test needs to be continuously reevaluated. Ideas and theories in a body of knowledge change frequently and this needs to be taken into account as the test goes forward.
For example, the SAT over the years has changed the point values of their test as well as added a writing component. This was done in reaction to concerns about the test.
The concepts behind developing standardize test can be useful for even teachers making their own assessments. There is no need to follow this process as rigorously. However, familiarity with this strict format can help guide assessment development for many different situations.
Many teachers use multiple choice questions to assess students knowledge in a subject matter. This is especially true if the class is large and marking essays would provide to be impractical.
Even if best practices are used in making multiple choice exams it can still be difficult to know if the questions are doing the work they are supposed too. Fortunately, there are several quantitative measures that can be used to assess the quality of a multiple choice question.
This post will look at three ways that you can determine the quality of your multiple choice questions using quantitative means. These three items are
- Item facility
- Item discrimination
- Distractor efficiency
Item facility measures the difficulty of a particular question. This is determined by the following formula
Item facility = Number of students who answer the item correctly
Total number of students who answered the item
This formula simply calculates the percentage of students who answered the question correctly. There is no boundary for a good or bad item facility score. Your goal should be to try and separate the high ability from the low ability students in your class with challenging items with a low item facility score. In addition, there should be several easier items with a high item facility score for the weaker students to support them as well as serve as warmups for the stronger students.
Item discrimination measures a questions ability to separate the strong students from the weak ones.
Item discrimination = # items correct of strong group – # items correct of weak group
1/2(total of two groups)
The first thing that needs to be done in order to calculate the item discrimination is to divide the class into three groups by rank. The top 1/3 is the strong group, the middle third is the average group and the bottom 1/3 is the weak group. The middle group is removed and you use the data on the strong and the weak to determine the item discrimination.
The results of the item discrimination range from zero (no discrimination) to 1 (perfect discrimination). There are no hard cutoff points for item discrimination. However, values near zero are generally removed while a range of values above that is expected on an exam.
Distractor efficiency looks at the individual responses that the students select in a multiple choice question. For example, if a multiple choice has four possible answers, there should be a reasonable distribution of students who picked the various possible answers.
The Distractor efficiency is tabulated by simply counting the which answer students select for each question. Again there are no hard rules for removal. However, if nobody selected a distractor it may not be a good one.
Assessing multiple choice questions becomes much more important as the size of class grows bigger and bigger or the test needs to be reused multiple times in various context. This information covered here is only an introduction to the much broader subject of item response theory.
Assessment is a critical component of education. One form of assessment that is commonly used is testing. In this post, we will look at several practical tips for developing tests.
Consider the Practicality
When developing a test, it is important to consider the time constraints, as well as the time it will take to mark the test. For example, essays are great form of assessment that really encourage critical thinking. However, if the class has 50 students the practicality of essays test quickly disappears.
The point is that the context of teaching moves what is considered practical. What is practical can change from year to year while adjusting to new students.
Think about the Reliability
Relibility is the consistency of the score that the student earns. THis can be affected by the setting of the test as well as the person who marks the test. It is difficult to maintain consistency when marking subject answers such as short and answer and or essay. However, it is important that this is still done.
Validity in this context has to do with whether the test covers objects that were addressed in the actual teaching. Assessing this is subject but needs to be considered. What is taught is what should be on the test. This is easier said than done as poor planning can lead to severally poor testing.
The students also need to be somewhat convince that the testing is appropriate. If not it can lead to problems and complaints. Furthermore, an invalid test from the students perspective can lead to cheating as the students will cheat in order to survive.
Make it Aunthentic
Tests, if possible, should mimic real-world behaviors whenever possible. This enhances relevance and validity for students. One of the main problems with authentic assessment is what to do when it is time to mark them. The real-world behaviors cannot always be reduced to a single letter grade. This concern is closely relates to practicality.
Washback is the experience of learning from an assessment. This normally entails some sort of feedback that the teacher provides the student. the feedbag they give. This personal attention encourages reflection which aides in comprehension. Often, it will happen after the testing as the answers are reviewed.
Tests can be improved by keeping in mind the concepts addressed in this post. Teachers and students can have better experiences with testing by maintaining practical assessments that are valid, provide authentic experiences as well insights into how to improve.
Washback is the effect that testing has on teaching and learning. This term is commonly used in used in language assessment but it is not limited to only that field. One of the primary concerns of many teachers is developing that provide washback or that enhances students learning and understanding of ideas in a class.
This post will discuss three ways in which washback can be improved in a class. The three ways are…
- Written feedback on exams
- Go over the results as a class
- Meetings with students on exam performance
Exams or assignments that are highly subjective (ie essays) require written feedback in order to provide washback. This means specific, personalized feedback for each student. This is a daunting task for most teachers especially as classes get larger. However, if your goal is to improve washback providing written comments is one way to achieve this.
The letter grade or numerical score a student receives on a test does not provide insights into how the student can improve. The reasoning behind what is right or wrong can be provided in the written feedback.
Go Over Answers in Class
Perhaps the most common way to enhance feedback is to go over the test in class. This allows the students to learn what the correct answer is, as well as why one answer is the answer. In addition, students are given time to ask questions and clarification of the reasoning behind the teacher’s marking.
If there were common points of confusion, going over the answers in this way allows for the teacher to reteach the confusing concepts. In many ways, the test revealed what was unclear and now the teacher is able to provide support to achieve mastery.
For highly complex and extremely subjective forms of assessments (ie research paper) one-on-one meetings may be the most appropriate. This may require a more personal touch and a greater deal of time.
During the meeting, students can have their questions addressed and learn what they need to do in order to improve. This is a useful method for assignments that require several rounds of feedback in order to be completed.
Washback, if done properly, can help with motivation, autonomy, and self-confidence of students. What this means is that assessment should not only be used for grades but also to develop learning skills.
Testing is standard practice in most educational context. A teacher needs a way to determine what level of knowledge the students currently have or have gained through the learning experience. However, identifying what testing is and is not has not always been clear.
In this post, we will look at exactly what testing as. In general, testing is a way of measuring a person’s ability and or knowledge in a given are of study. Specifically, there are five key characteristics of a test, and they are…
- Domain specific
A test must be well organized and structured. For example, the multiple choice are in one section while the short answers are in a different section. If an essay is required there is a rubric for grading. Directions for all sections are in the test to explain the expectations to the students.
This is not as easy or as obvious as some may believe. Developing a test takes a great deal of planning for the actual creation of the test.
Test are intended to measure something. A test can measure general knowledge such as proficiency test of English or a test can be specific such as a test that only looks at vocabulary memorization. Either way, it is important for both the student and teacher to know what is being measured.
Another obvious but sometimes mistake by test makers is the reporting of results. How many points each section and even each question is important for students to know when taking a test. This information is also critical for the person who is responsible for grading the tests.
Test are primarily designed to assess a student’s individual knowledge/performance. This is a Western concept of the responsibility of a person to have an individual expertise in a field of knowledge.
There are examples of groups working together on tests. However, group work is normally left to projects and not formal modes of assessment such as testing.
As has already been alluded too, tests assess competence either through the knowledge a person has about a subject or their performance doing something. For example, a vocabulary test assesses knowledge of words while a speaking test would assess a person ability to use words or their performance.
Generally, a test is either knowledge or performance based. it is possible to blend the two, however, mixing styles raises the complexity not only for the student but also for the person who s responsible for marking the results.
A test needs to be focused on a specific area of knowledge. A language test is specific to language as an example. A teacher needs to know in what specific area they are trying to assess students knowledge/performance. This not always easy to define as not only are there domains but sub-domains and many other ways to divide up the information in a given course.
Therefore, a teacher needs to identify what students need to know as well as what they should know and assess this information when developing a test. This helps to focus the test on relevant content for the students.
There is art and science to testing. There is no simple solution to how to setup tests to help students. However, the five concepts here provides a framework that can help a teacher to get started in developing tests.
Within language testing, there has arisen over time at least two major viewpoints on assessment. Originally, the view was that assessing language should look specific elements of a language or you could say that language assessment should look at discrete aspects of the language.
A reaction to this discrete methods came about with the idea that language is wholistic so testing should be integrative or address many aspects of language simultaneously. In this post, we will take a closer look at discrete and integrative language testing methods through providing examples of each along with a comparison.
Discrete-point testing works on the assumption that language can be reduced to several discrete component “points” and that these “points” can be assessed. Examples of discrete-point test items in language testing include multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, and spelling.
What all of these example items have in common is that they usually isolate an aspect of the language from the broader context. For example, a simple spelling test is highly focused on the orthographic characteristics of the language. True/false can be used to assess knowledge of various grammar rules etc.
The primary criticism of discrete-point testing was its discreteness. Many believe that language is wholistic and that in the real world students will never have to deal with language in such an isolated way. This led to the development of integrative language testing methods.
Integrative Language Testing Methods
Integrative language testing is based on the unitary trait hypothesis, which states that language is indivisible. This is in complete contrast to discrete-point methods which supports dividing language into specific components. Two common integrative language assessments include cloze test and dictation.
Cloze test involves taking an authentic reading passage and removing words from it. Which words remove depends on the test creator. Normally, it is every 6th or 7th word but it could be more or less or only the removal of key vocabulary. In addition, sometimes potential words are given to the student to select from or sometimes the list of words is not given to the student
The student’s job is to look at the context of the entire story to determine which words to write into the blank space. This is an integrative experience as the students have to consider grammar, vocabulary, context, etc. to complete the assessment.
Dictation is simply writing down what was heard. This also requires the use of several language skills simultaneously in a realistic context.
Integrative language testing also has faced criticism. For example, discrete-point testing has always shown that people score differently in different language skills and this fact has been replicated in many studies. As such, the exclusive use of integrative language approaches is not supported by most TESOL scholars.
As with many other concepts in education, the best choice between discrete-point and integrative testing is a combination of both. The exclusive use of either will not allow the students to demonstrate mastery of the language.
Understand how to add actitivies to the Moodle gradebook
This video explains how to add grade items to the Moodle gradebook.
Video on making categories in the Moodle gradebook
This video explains how to create and use scales in Moodle