Assessment can be fun! (No, I’m not being sarcastic)

For a long time, I have hated assessment. I appreciate the need for it, but I hate standardized tests, I hate poorly written assessments, I hate how obsessed students get with grades, and most of all, I hate how often assessment takes the enjoyment and excitement out of learning. Frankly, a lot of my intense dislike for assessment comes from working with people who were obsessed with it, but not particularly concerned about the effect it had on students. I’ve worked with people who loved numbers more than they loved students, and that’s just not why I got into education.

Fortunately, I don’t work with people like that at my current job. My program director asked us to experiment a little with assessment this session, to come up with better assignments, projects, and tests that adequately assess our students’ language ability.  So, I took it as a challenge to finally sit down and plan assessment that fit both my vision for motivating and challenging my students and the program’s goal of accurately determining students’ language progress.

Here are some of the projects I tried, and why I actually had fun creating these assessments:

Online porfolios: This was my biggest project by far. I taught a reading/listening/speaking class (those skills go great together, by the way), and I had the students create blogs to showcase their work in the class.  They posted weekly reading and listening reports of articles they read and videos they watched.  They were allowed to choose the articles and videos.  For speaking, they created weekly Fotobabbles and posted them.  Because the students chose their own material for the reports and the Fotobabbles, they actually spent more time practicing these language skills than they would have if I had assigned the material.  And they were more engaged in their homework, since they basically got to create it from week to week.  And the best part for me?  I learned so much about them through the articles they shared and the pictures they posted. WIN.

Free Rice vocabulary building: I’ve always loved this website. Play a simple vocabulary game, donate rice to those in need.  Adding it to an intermediate writing class was easy and fun.  I created a group on their website, and I made it a competition for the class.  The students enjoyed competing against each other, and I think they learned a lot of useful vocabulary in the process.

Vocabulary presentations: I’ve been teaching vocabulary the same way for years, and I felt it was time to shake things up.  So, this session, I asked the students to teach the vocabulary.  I assigned vocabulary as I usually do, but this time, the students took my place.  They worked in groups to create vocabulary presentations that taught the vocabulary in unique and memorable ways.  I challenged them to think: “What would help me learn vocabulary better and use it more?” And that’s what I told them should inspire their presentations.

Group speaking exam: This one was a lot of fun, and the students told me they really enjoyed it.  For their final speaking exam, the students worked in groups of three (they chose their group members), and they had a discussion about a pre-arranged topic.  Most of these students are headed to the university, where being able to discuss academic readings and current events is a necessary skill.  I gave the students a list of possible topics.  They showed up on test day and chose one of the topics at random and had a group discussion for about 20 minutes.  I loved hearing their thoughts on overpopulation, the role of the society vs. the individual in the obesity epidemic, and the power of educating women all over the world.

It was wonderful to see how well the students responded to assessments that required them to think, not just regurgitate whatever I had taught them.  They all agreed it was hard work, but they were more motivated than I’d ever seen them.  Who knew assessment could be such a great motivator?

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