May 6, 2014

Humanizing the Oral Assessment moment

Do you have to assess your students' oral performance in English? Do some of your students feel anxious and end up speaking less than they normally do in a normal class? Do you, teacher, feel exhausted after a whole class assessing pairs of students? If you can relate to some of these questions, this post might interest you.

The objective of this post is to share my experience in trying to make the oral assessment moment a less threatening one, where my students can speak to each other while I observe how they have been using the English language.

In 2012, I had the great pleasure to study about Evaluation at UFU (Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, in Brazil). I learned a lot and one of our first topics was about the difference between ASSESSMENT and EVALUATION. I had always understood an assessment as an ongoing process which involves observing not only the 10 minutes a pair communicates in front of a teacher for marking purposes, but specially the overall performance observed during the classes. 

So, what is the difference?

Table from online document

While reading several books and participating in discussions, an important point I had failed to observe was the objective of an Oral Assessment. If an Oral Assessment in the middle of the semester is supposed to be formative, its goal should be to diagnose areas for improvement. I asked myself: Have the Oral Assessment interviews I've been conducting with my students for years and years been diagnostic or judgmental? 

Due to my dissatisfaction with the way I had been assessing, or better, evaluating my students, as a final project for the Evaluation Class I had been taking at University, I decided to try something different.

Considering that we can continuously assess our students orally during our classes, the oral assessment moment would be one more opportunity for focussing on the speaking skill, therefore, there would be no need to check every little word each student spoke.

My proposal:

Tell students about the oral assessment moment which will take place the following class and explain that they will be doing the same kind of activities they normally do in class. Show the rubrics to students:

By explaining the rubrics to students, they could understand that my focus was not to write down every little mistake they make, but how well they can communicate with others. I also asked them why the item INTERACTION had a different mark (1-2-3-4) from the other items. They promptly answered "Because it's more important". 

I told them their marks (yes, for the school record there has to be a mark) would be a combination of 3 observations: my impressions, their own impressions and their peers' impressions.

The idea is to use 40 minutes of a normal class ( we have two  80 minute classes a week) for the oral activities during which pairs or groups of students will be engaged in communicating while the teacher can move around the room observing and taking notes of their oral performance individually on the following marking sheet. 

Before the activity, organize the desks into 4 groups at different corners of the room ( I normally have a maximum of 16 students). So with bigger groups, I might have groups of 4 and in smaller groups, trios or pairs. On each corner of the room, there's a communicative activity they have to carry out for the period of 5 to 7 minutes. To set the time limit, I normally use , then when the time is over a song is played and students move to the next station and a different activity, like a "carrousel".

This is a video I made of a group of students during the Oral Assessment moment. 
Do they seem nervous?

After all the groups have covered the 4 stations or the 4 different activities, show the rubrics to the students again and ask them to write their impressions about their own performance and the performance of their partners (5 to 10 minutes). This is the form (in Portuguese ) that we used.

-The teacher shows the rubrics again reminding them they have been evaluated in 50 points. The total mark involves the mark given by the teacher, the students and their peers.
- Ask for suggestions for how students can improve their oral performance in each of the items observed (Grammar, Vocabulary, Pronunciation and Interaction).
- Cut out the squares from the form used by the teacher during the oral assessment and hand to individual students. Ask students to observe the aspects they did well and the points they need to improve.
- Ask the whole group about the major difficulties they faced and what kind of activities they can do to improve their English.

What comments did I get from students?

"I didn't feel nervous!"
"Wow, I've never talked so much!" 
"This is much better!"
" I don't want to do the other type of oral assessment anymore!" 

Points to consider:

-You might question "If the objective is to have an ongoing assessment, why have an oral assessment moment?" Well, for the simple reason that, teachers at our school find it hard to abolish an evaluation moment. Another reason is to have a moment to pause and reflect with students about their progress.

-I don't know if this "Carrousel" dynamics would be appropriate for all levels and all the groups. I've piloted the idea with Lower Intermediate and Upper Intermediate students and have been thrilled with the results.



Viviane Bengezen said...

Hello, Ana! Amazing post!!! I have to review the way I'm doing oral assessments at school! There are very good tips for my classes, I loved it!

Ana Maria Menezes said...

Dear Viviane, thank you so much for the comment. I honestly think we should always review our practices. Trying this new dynamics in class made both my students and I happier.