A Question

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21 thoughts on “A Question”

  1. I would give a summative or even a final exam thusly:

    Section 1: Translation. Translate the following story (25 ponts):

    (and here you put one of their favorites that they created).

    Section 2: Vocabulary. Translate the following words into English (25 points):

    (here put the 25 most common words they all know cold from the stories you made in the NT story process.)

    Section 3: Auditory Comprehension: Write down in the space below the story you hear read to you. Write in Engish. You will hear each sentence read three times. (25 points):

    Section 4: Dictee: This sections tests your ability to write in French. Follow the normal dictation format. Write down in the space below the story you hear read to you in French. (25 points):


    So obviously it only looks summative because you test them on the most recent story or only ask words you know they know. I graded these “summative” tests fast. Just eyeball each section. Since they know the stories, you will be writing a fast 23/25 or whatever to the side of each section and it really looks like a real test! After four decades, I arrived at this conclusion: It is a losing proposition to fight people who run schools, and so I lie to them. They see something like the above, they are happy, and when they are happy, I am happy. I did this not just in CI for those 15 years doing that but when I taught AP Lang. and Literature. Somehow, I feel like lying to them is more honest than giving what a lot of people still consider “real” tests. There is no such thing, there is no such thing – only false platforms on which memorizers show off their cheap plastic triumphs.

    Also your idea of changing quizzes to summative grades is my favorite tool of the trade. I did that hundreds of times and nobody ever asked a single question about it.

    Maybe others will comment.

    1. Bryan Whitney

      Also, if you’re concerned about needing to take up a large chunk of time or just feel like it I could see reviewing a particular story or stories à la Story Listening before doing the summative test to help students ease into foreign language mode, plus having the drawings with some of the key vocabulary on the board (or you could tell them they can take notes) could help the weaker students feel more confident, and it should mimic the way you teach class on a regular basis either way. I really dislike tests that make students feel like the teacher or testmaker from on high is trying to trick them or make them feel bad.

      1. A three hour space of time (and sometimes a “review” class before it) affords us a wonderful chance for input. Why write a test when we can just create a story and grade that? I think it so odd that they make the exam count less than 20% and very often only 10% in schools. So silly! It either has weight or it doesn’t.

        And the kids love the exam period. All we do is make up a story and read it. Assessment should mirror instruction, after all. And instruction of a wholistic subject matter like a language should inform the curriculum and since the curriculum is the language and not pieces of it then the exam should have a wholistic quality as well. Makes sense to me.

  2. Sean M Lawler

    smoke and mirrors.

    finding an easy way to work the system.

    My summatives have all been Interpersonal Communication Skills. I’ll title them differently in Gradebook to make it look more thorough (or whatever). Like ICS Story Script. ICS MovieTalk. ICS Invisibles Character.

  3. Sean M Lawler

    But forget the grading talk 🙂 I want to hear more about this epic, 2-month long story you’ve got rolling. How would you explain this amazing phenomenon of getting this class rolling as you have?

  4. For summatives, my school uses various strategies. I can use something like Ben proposes although much shorter like juat a reading test. But i would have them draw it instead of translating it. It tests what students can do rather than what they cant. With the series you can have them do a poster or slide show of their favorite moments…. with drawings then have them write one sentence each. Though I would not use up a lot of time in favor of CI though in this month everyone is say “coast and chill.” I’m the crazy one and will go nearly to the end though with music videos as brain breaks and MT to work up towards watching a movie and having an end of the year party.

  5. formative – little assessments like quizzes, anything little, taken on a daily basis usually at the end of the class. Little grades.

    summative – big assessments taken not daily but after a period of study, like a semester or term exam.

    In CI teaching, the only thing that we really count are the formative tests. When you think about it, testing a bunch of kids the way they do in schools is crazy in languages. In our field, memorization can have no dominion. It is because each student learns at her own rate and because the comprehensible input collects in their UNCONSCIOUS (read: not measurable) MINDS, and so what they know cannot be measured. Big problem, class! And even then, the formative tests are not that much of an indication either, since, precisely, each student is different.

    The only thing that we can really measure with language acquisition in my opinion is reading and output, and output doesn’t happen for years. So all we can really measure is reading.

    So we have a problem and the way the traditional teachers deal with that is they have their kids memorize stuff and then they pass that off as professionally accurate but it is not. It is memorization.

    In other subjects, the curriculum informs the instruction which in turn informs the assessment. In ours, the instruction should inform the curriculum and the assessment should be far less important than it is in other subjects.

    So what to do? I lie. Why? Because I understand what the research tells us about how languages are acquired. Schools are applying a model of assessment to our field that cannot work. So yeah, I feel good about making up grades based on the standards and not the curriculum by assessing observable non-verbal behaviors tied to the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication and not what my kids can memorize.

    And if my bosses really need a summative test, I provide it for them by calling, in the grade book, a formative quiz a major test. I enjoy doing that. I would rather do that and make the bosses happy because I have a code I live by. What is it? Never argue with a drunk.

    1. I love your way of thinking and naming a spade a spade,Ben!
      I’m tutoring a girl in her final year of Middleschool and of course I’m teaching to the tests she will take in her final exams. She knows the grammar rules very well and is quite good with the grammar part of the exam but her comprehension – by which I mean getting the message – is not well enough developed and the moment I want to communicate with her in English she has a really hard time to hold up her end of the conversation. Therefore her grade in the final exam will be fake.
      When I think about this waste of time in the life of the kids I feel like screaming and I’d like nothing better than to roll up the curricula and hit all those “specialists” at our Ministry of Education over the head bc they are not interested in the research and what follows from it.

      1. Sean M Lawler

        I feel like screaming too, Udo. I can forgive many of the administrators I’ve come across, because they have no background in foreign language. But I have a real hard time forgiving those foreign language educators in high places that send mandates down or create assessments that have no basis in SLA theory.

        If we all scream together, just maybe we’ll sound like a siren ringing during tornado warnings!

        1. Maybe we should scream together. But I’m afraid it might be like people on Whoville screaming (Whoville is located within a floating speck of dust which is then placed onto a clover flower by Horton the Elephant.)

  6. I shifted to much more free-form summative assessments this year, and I like them pretty well. I’m expected to have grades in the categories of listening & reading, which are weighted more, and speaking and writing. The rest is the grades for jGR & attendance, labeled Classroom Engagement, I think. I’ve learned from Claire Ensor and expanded my use of rubrics. I am really into rubrics now — feels to me more like “wow, how much can you do already!” rather than a test of accuracy. Though these includes output, it’s very student-led, and I only ask them to do things I already hear them do during class already — and tell them so. I asked them about what would be a way they can show me what they can do with their Chinese so I can put a grade for it. They had good ideas.

    I wrote about these assessments:


    This semester it’s simpler. I put the speaking & listening sections together (simple interview questions, narrate a story based on pictures & answer my follow-up questions) and graded by rubrics. Then, a paragraph or two story to read, using familiar wording and graded by rubric for level of comprehension, and a paragraph of 5 sentences to write, graded by a rubric. Again — only things they’ve already shown ability to go well beyond in class.

      1. I really liked those b/c it isn’t tied to vocabulary per se — it was whole comprehension of the message with more than one way to determine the answer. Carol Gaab inspired that, but so did things I saw Reed Riggs use with college classes. (“Likely / Unlikely”)

        Hmm… something like: in hearing a conversation (by me, with puppets). In the dialogue, it becomes apparent that one person is a parent talking about his son & things happening at school. The other person gets spoken to with honorific pronouns rather than casual, and acts like an authority in the school. So one of the questions could be, “One of the people in the conversation is a school principal.” Probable. Another: in the conversation, they say something like how this problem has been happening for 2 months already. A question could be: “There is a new problem being discussed.” Improbable.

  7. I totally like what Ben said above.

    Unless I don’t understand formative and summative correctly, I think they are quite easy to interchange according to what we call things in our grade books.
    You can say this one is formative bc it is a small snapshot of what we are doing/did today that helps me guide instruction.
    This one is summative bc I “covered” a whole bunch of structures and they were put together differently than the original way they heard them.
    I hardly use the Y/N quiz anymore. It was too difficult for students. After we’ve read the story with their character, and I see that the majority is understanding well, I pick 5 very basic sentences for them to translate and a bono.
    So, if you are doing a long ongoing story, you could ask questions that they all know that happened a while back, that are essential to understanding this character, etc. ,you could make it 10-20 sentences instead and this is your summative. Just a thought.
    Do your admins want to see the actual assessment you did?

    I, like Sean, am also curious as to how you got an ongoing character. This sounds wonderful!

  8. Anne does stuff like that. Anyone who has been reading here long enough may remember Biddley Fergenjergen. He was a non-existent student but who became the subject for a year long story any time he was absent, which was every day. So the class would discuss where he was this time, etc.

    I think once Biddley was absent because he was in prison. For a teacher who has been teaching for over 30 years, Anne is not one to let things get boring in her classroom, either for her or her very lucky students.

    Anne would very likely be the first one of us to say that to be able to pull off a story a day about the same character is more about our mindset as teachers. All we need to do is get off of our high horses or, another way to say it, out of our high chairs.

    Isn’t it about time for teachers to start realizing that this work is about getting inside the minds of our kids instead of making them get inside our minds? Com’on people now, smile on your brother everybody get together try to love one another right now.

    Related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4fWN6VvgKQ

  9. Ive had trouble with a “type” of student… i almost want to write an extensive email to Ben about it. It seems at the school I am in, man students WANT a test to feel good. They have been too dependent on it since elementary. Add to this, parents mentioning memorization and basically shaming their kids for not.learning.

  10. And so our mental health comes first. Because of the kids. Even if we get crushed by a posse of thematic unit advocates, we must keep our selves healthy mentally and physically so we can live to fight another day. (If people haven’t noticed, I have a competitive edge to me. I can’t help it. And I’m too old to change. Quite frankly, I don’t care who I piss off, as long as what I say has kids’ well-being behind it…). I KNOW what my professional intent is now after four decades. I wish I had known earlier. I wouldn’t have kow-towed to bullies so much.

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