Choice in…Midterms?

One of the things that was a slight concern for me this year as I moved from teaching grammar and vocabulary to teaching communication was midterms. End of unit tests were a lot of work to create, but for the most part, I’m happy with what I have, at least for now. But midterms? My first thought was that it should be an IPA. I call my end of unit tests IPAs, but I know they need a lot of work to really deserve that title. Now that I have a better idea of what I’m doing in each unit, I think tweaking (and in some cases totally revamping) my planned assessments for next year will be easier.

But an IPA for midterms? That was a tall order. I knew that I would want something that touched on a lot of what we had done in the first semester, but that also allowed my students to show me exactly what they’re capable of in the language. Which is more important? Seeing how much material they had retained, or how much they had grown in proficiency? For me, it seemed that both were important, otherwise, it seemed to me like it was just an elaborate proficiency check and not a midterm at all.

So one day, while browsing the wide world of language teaching online, I came across an idea. I can’t remember where I found it, but I liked it. Student choice in midterms. I, like many others, have already stolen Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s choice in homework system for this year, and I was happy with the results. So I read this person’s idea, about giving different activities and making them worth points, and telling the students that they had to earn a certain number of points. I set the number at 150, and no one (who wanted to) had any real trouble reaching that goal.

It wasn’t an IPA, but I created a requirement that students complete at least one activity in each of the modes of communication, which allowed me to get a picture of where they were across the board. So I brainstormed ideas. I’m very visual, so I used different colored pens for each mode (eg. pink for reading, green for writing, etc.) so that I could make sure I had at least one activity in each mode for each point category. The ideas were the bulk of the work; everything else was just organizing and finding the best way to present all this information to my students.

Here’s what I ended up with. Feel free to steal, modify, or forget about as you see fit. The instructions are all in English, so they may be useful even if you don’t teach Spanish. 🙂
Spanish 1; Spanish 2; Spanish 3; Spanish 4
Those are the Google Drive folders I made while working, since it turned out to be far too much to fit in just one document.

If you look over the activities, you’ll see that most (but not all) of the 10-20 point activities cover just one mode of communication, while many (but not all) of the 40-50 point activities cover two. In that respect, I suppose it is a little bit IPA-like, and my favorite activities to grade were the ones that required students to do more than one thing.

In the upper levels, the resources for reading and listening are almost entirely authentic. In the lower levels, I tried to find as many authentic resources as I could, but there came a point when I had to admit that it wasn’t going to happen. At least, not before I had to give these tests. And so, several of the lower level activities were ones that I made up. I tried to make them feel as authentic as possible though, and hopefully I can replace some of my creations with authentic resources before next year. Additionally, some of my conversation topics will probably need tweaking before next year to make them feel more like a natural conversation. Those conversations are definitely an area where I struggle. It seems that it usually ends up being me asking questions and the students answering. Making those feel more real is definitely something I’m working on.

Overall, I was pleased with the results. Some kids took it seriously, did a lot of really good work, and proved to me exactly what they could do. Others saw it as an opportunity to slack off without repercussion and left out, for example, the speaking activities completely. For those students who did try, the results were overwhelmingly positive and, for the first time ever, I felt like my semester exam grades actually reflected my students’ abilities. Although I tried to simplify as much a possible, some of my most disorganized students still had trouble figuring out whether they had an activity in each mode and had the required 150 points.

Additionally, the feedback I got from my students was generally positive. One student told me that all midterms in all classes should be set up that way. It allowed the kids to play to their strengths, but also pushed them to do their best. I gave the kids the list of activities about a week before midterms so that they could plan. I told them that they could practice as much as they wanted, but everything they turned in had to be done during exam time and they couldn’t bring things that were already completed.

My one concern going in was that my students would try to get their whole 150 points out of the 10 and 20 point activities. I did have a few students who stayed mostly in that range, but for the most part, the kids were so excited by the idea that they could finish the midterm with only three activities that many more students than I expected chose most or all of their activities from the 40 and 50 point categories.

I’m not sure whether I’ll use the same format for finals or not. Right now I’m leaning toward yes, unless I come up with something excellent between now and then.

How do you measure students’ long-term learning and proficiency during midterm and final exams?


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrea says:

    This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m curious about the logistics – how long was your exam period? How did it work with everyone doing different things at once? Did they just listen to the audios with headphones? You have ipads, right – is that what they used for listening and speaking?

    Again, thanks for sharing this great idea – I’m not allowed to give midterms or finals (it’s weird, I know – the district decided students are over-tested), but I can give a cumulative project, and something like this would be awesome.

    1. Melanie says:

      I’m glad you like it! It is kind of odd that you don’t have finals or midterms, but I have to admit, it might be nice. And the kids are definitely over-tested!

      Our exam periods are 2 and a half hours long, so they had plenty of time to work. In the past, the end-of-unit tests have often had kids working on different things at different times, so this was sort of just a bigger version of that. Some kids were writing, some were reading, some were talking to me. It could have been chaotic, but I think it went pretty well.

      They did use the iPads and headphones for listening. The hardest part was getting headphones for everyone because, despite multiple reminders, there were more than a few who forgot. For their speaking (and any conversation activities that didn’t involve me) they recorded themselves on the iPads and shared with me via Google Drive. The best way I’ve found so far is for them to just use the video camera on the iPads; the other apps I’ve found give us trouble when we try to change whose Drive we’re uploading to.

  2. I love this idea. I am very big at testing students for vocab and grammar as well as for proficiency. However I don’t give them choice. I was very successful for the most part. My students loved my class and a lot of them ended up doing their minor in Spanish. However in the last two years the story is different. They find Spanish super difficult and I have to really work hard to keep my classes in target language. They don’t want to take AP and they really struggle.

    I need to change. I am thinking to focus on communication only, and change my homework and exams on the way you are doing it. I am afraid to move on that direction specially with my IB classes because they have to take their Ib test during senior year. So far passing rate has been 100%. However they really dislike the language and it is very sad for me.

    If you have any suggestions or ideas, I would really appreciate it.

    Also going back to your midterm, I think you can use google voice for the speaking section. They can use their phones or even your phone. Just an idea.

    Claudia Elliott

    1. Melanie says:

      That’s a tough spot to be in! I know for me finding the balance between accurate grammar and true language acquisition has been quite a task this year. For some awesome ideas, check out some other excellent bloggers from my blogroll on the right side of the screen (I think you might have to be on the home page to see it?). Musicuentos, Lugar para pensar, elmundodebirch, Amy Lenord…those are just some of my favorites.

      I’ve heard of Google Voice, and I use lots of other Google suite programs and apps, but I haven’t tried that one out yet. However, having them use their phones *would* be convenient – I’ll have to look into it, thanks for the idea!

  3. csilva9700 says:

    I have also been following Sara-Elizabeth for about 3 years and she is fabulous! Thank you for sharing this idea! I teach Spanish 1, 2 IB levels and my students have been completing “fluency activities” weekly. Going to “borrow” your ideas for my final- I have given a paper final in about 3 years–I usually hunt for some type of speaking, video, something assessment.
    Again, thanks! Best wishes on your blog!

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