The Wrong Way to Assess

A colleague in TPRS advocates this kind of assessment work in Spanish 1:
Translate into English the following words:
1. le gustaba jugar golf
2. jugar
3. necesitaba dinero
4. se llamaban
5. andaba en la calle
6. había
7. tampoco
8. ahora
9. queríamos comer
10. vio
I don’t think that that is a good idea. Kids can’t/don’t care remember that much at level 1 (or, frankly, at any other level) and their confidence plummets. I advocate yes or no answers on simple quizzes.
Whereas the above pushes the limit on what I personally think we should be doing in assessment in TPRS, what is below, an egregious example of forced output, goes way beyond the ken, in my opinion:
Translate into Spanish the following expressions. All words MUST be spelled 100% correctly.
1. she is going to drink
2. you were going to kiss
3. I am going to run
4. we were going to play
5. we are going to talk
6. they were going to listen
7. I was going to go
8. he was going to jump
9. you are going to eat
10. they are going to yell
This third example below is even worse. It is a variation put into writing of a pop-up grammar question. Whereas quick aural pop-ups or point and pause pop-ups work in class, these written kind don’t because they require logical analysis, which is not how we learn languages. Many kids don’t even know or care what verbs, nouns and adjectives are – that is a harsh reality that most language teachers don’t want to accept, at their great peril. The real value of pop-ups is in their 2-4 second speed. In stories, kids are asked to quickly HEAR a sound and associate it with meaning – that is fine. Likewise, in reading, kids are asked to quickly SEE a certain spelling detail and associate it with meaning. That also is fine. But this output version of this can’t work for all the kids in the room because it is output and because they are not all 4%ers. These are camouflaged 4%er questions, like all of the assessment models given here. I would never give a written assessment like this in a TPRS class:
Please describe what the following endings MEAN in English.
1. -S when added to verbs
2. -S when added to nouns
3. –MOS when added to verbs
4. –MENTE when added to adjectives
5. –O at the end of nouns
6. –A at the end of nouns
We just can’t be doing this kind of assessment in our comprehensible input classes. I was discussing the above with a colleague and she said, “How can we teach with CI and give people assessments where they have to produce the correct form of the reflexive verb?  How can ANY of the grade be based on PERFECT spelling of the verb?” The above is output, and should maybe begin in the above forms in level 2 or better at level 3, if a teacher feels that they absolutely need to do that, but never in level 1. I personally feel that output in the form of writing and speaking must occur in a natural way, and not be forced and, especially, not tied to a grade, and allowed to emerge organically when that particular individual is ready to do so, and not before. Have some compassion.
I prefer, in level 1, simple input based assessements, with yes/no easy softball questions on easy quick quizzes at the end of my classes. I don’t want to use stuff that I learned to do as a 4% superstar and lay it on my kids, most of whom are fairly unsure of themselves in school in general and are not superstars. The above is the wrong way to assess. Give your kids a break and watch your enrollment numbers climb, and watch your free time (I know – that is an oxymoron for a teacher) increase as well.



4 thoughts on “The Wrong Way to Assess”

  1. For all of the teachers who believe that one cannot speak a language without consciously knowing the rules of grammar and proper terminology, I suggest giving this “modest grammar quiz” to college-educated native English speakers, especially those who have not taken advanced grammar courses. I can guarantee that very few will have the slightest idea where to begin, yet they are sufficiently fluent in English to have earned college degrees.
    Please give the correct form for each of the following verbs:
    1. to drink – 3rd person neuter singular present perfect active indicative
    2. to go – 2nd person plural future perfect active indicative
    3. to hang – 1st person singular future perfect passive indicative
    4. to speak to – 3rd person plural pluperfect passive indicative
    5. to equivocate with the idiom “to go” – 3rd person feminine singular pseudo-future continuous active indicative
    6. to hang – 3rd person neuter singular pluperfect passive indicative
    7. to hear – 2nd person singular pluperfect passive indicative
    8. to lay – 3rd person masculine singular future perfect progressive active indicative
    9. to lie (= be in a horizontal position) – 3rd person feminine singular present perfect active indicative
    10. to be – 1st person singular pluperfect active subjunctive
    Bonus: Use the verb in #10 in a conditional sentence.
    Re spelling: I inevitably have a conversation with students about spelling that goes something like this –
    -Student: “Does spelling count?”
    -Teacher: “Of course. Spelling always counts.”
    -Students: ::groan::
    -Teacher: “If you write ‘j-a’ and say it spells ‘nein’, I’m going to count it wrong.”
    -Students: ::laughter::
    -Teacher: “As long as the error does not interfere with comprehension and communication, I can be flexible.”
    -Students: ::sigh of relief::

  2. Dear Robert,
    You are a formidable weapon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We are lucky to have you and so are your students!! Thank you so much.
    with love,

  3. Awesome point and stellar examples, Robert. I hope you don’t mind if I give this little quiz to a couple of grammar-oriented colleagues next week when school begins, I will give you credit, of course.
    Now please give us the answers!

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