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?