Archive for Tag: testing

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Keeping Our Eyes on the Testing Prize

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

All during our years of education and career training, one of the most important lessons driven home was that we need to stay focused, we need to keep our attention on what we’re doing, and we need to make sure not to get distracted. Nobody would disagree with any of this, right? Well, sometimes it’s not so easy to keep our eyes on that prize when it comes to testing.

One area where this became obvious to me in my early years of teaching ESOL was in testing listening comprehension. I realized that the tests I was given to use, created at various US universities and sold to schools like the ones I taught at, weren’t exclusively testing what they were supposed to be testing. Those tests almost always ended up inadvertently testing reading comprehension along with listening comprehension. Was that fair to my students? Not at all! If I want to test reading comp., I’ll test reading comp. But if I want to test listening comp., well, I shouldn’t be making my students read three or four sentences quickly and decide which written item reflects something they’ve just heard. I’m sure you see my point. For example . . .

The students hear: “There are quite a few students who have won scholarships this year.”

Then they quickly have to read the following and choose which sentence reflects what they’ve just heard:

  1. Many students won scholarships this year.
  2. Few students won scholarships this year.
  3. A relatively large number of students won scholarships this year.
  4. A few students got one scholarship this year.

The correct answer is 3, but it’s obvious that it wasn’t just listening comprehension that’s been tested; reading comprehension has been tested as well – and that’s just not fair.

So how do we overcome this problem of inadvertently testing reading when we really just want to test listening? It’s actually quite a challenge to accomplish because we need to rely on visuals, not reading, to avoid the problem. We need to come up with drawings, photos, and other kinds of graphic material that will reflect and not reflect each item that the students have heard. Here’s an example of what I mean.













The students hear the sentence and then look at the two pictures. They decide which one reflects accurately what they’ve just heard and that’s how they choose their answer. No need to inadvertently test reading comprehension, right?

Here are six more examples that I’d like to share with you.



















































So if you do test listening comprehension, do your best to find test items that will not accidentally test  reading as well. True, sometimes a small amount of reading can’t be avoided, such as in the “How much does it cost?” example  above, but I know you understand my point, and I hope you’ll be able to give your students fair listening comprehension tests if you decide to test them on this skill.

One other thing to keep in mind is the complexities of grading your students’ work in a writing class. How do you decide beforehand on how you’ll grade their work? Do you base your grading solely on their skill with the writing form you’ve just taught, e.g., a business letter or a basic composition, or do you grade them at the same time on the mechanics, such as punctuation and capitalization? And what about their grammar? Is it appropriate to judge them on their grammar in a writing class that focuses on forms of writing? Not such easy questions to answer, are they?

Well, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Let’s keep our eyes on the testing prize.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Joys of Quizzing

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

Now, I have to clarify; the joys associated with quizzing are felt primarily by me, the teacher, and less so by my students. However, I strongly believe that, even in programs which do not require grades or testing, quizzes are of great benefit to both the teacher and the student. Moreover, I confess (but don’t tell my French teacher) that I wish I could have more opportunities to take quizzes in my own language class.

The Obvious (and Not So Obvious) Benefits

We all know that regular quizzing serves a useful purpose in our classes. Most obviously, it shows teachers what students have retained (at least in the short term) from their most recent lessons. Tests can also highlight areas in which further revision is needed. If students don’t “get” something, a test is an easy way, and in the case of large classes or reticent students, perhaps the only way, for teachers to find out. Quizzes can also give students a sense of satisfaction when they do well on a quiz because a passing grade offers tangible proof that they are advancing in their linguistic development.

However, in my time as a French student, I have also come to realize that there is another benefit to quizzes: they force students to study and (hopefully) remember what is taught. I am a fairly lazy student, in spite of my best intentions. I sometimes neglect my homework and I don’t make it to class as often as I should. However, if I knew that I would be quizzed, I believe it would motivate me to work a little bit harder. I might be lazy, but I am also somewhat competitive. Knowing that my efforts would be given a number would make me more committed to my French lessons. Based on several highly unscientific surveys I have conducted of my own students, I believe I am not alone in my desire for assessment.

We Have to Speak?

Regardless of the “popularity” of quizzing, I think it behooves teachers to shake things up as much as possible. Giving the same old gap-fills and multiple choice quizzes chapter after chapter can get dull quickly. In addition, there are some students who are born test-takers; they know just how to excel on any kind of traditional test you throw at them regardless of their language abilities. The trouble is that, although these tests are easier to grade (and who wants to lug home more papers to grade?), they don’t really reflect how we use language in real communication.

Instead of the tried (and tried and tried) traditional tests, I have been incorporating a lot of spoken quizzes into my testing repertoire. For example, I have just finished teaching a unit on the past tense with my Pre-Intermediate class. On Monday, they are all expecting to take an oral quiz. I will call them up to my desk one at a time (the rest of the class will be otherwise occupied and not paying attention) and give them 5 base verbs that I have chosen randomly from the list at the back of their book. They have 1 minute to make 5 sentences (or less if they are very clever) in the past tense. They will be given a score from 1 – 4 for each verb they use.

1 = The student tried unsuccessfully to make a sentence.
2 = The student didn’t form the past tense correctly.
3 = The student formed the past tense correctly but there was a problem with meaning or pronunciation.
4 = Perfect!

This kind of oral quizzing can also work well for a variety of other grammar structures when students interact in pairs. For instance, if students have just finished a lesson on modals for asking permission, you can have two students come up to your desk and have a conversation in which they take turns asking each other for permission based on a variety of random situations you present them with. (“You are the student and your partner is the teacher. Ask him if you can leave class early today.”) Keep in mind that the “random” part is key; if students know exactly what you will ask them, they will memorize beautiful speeches that don’t demonstrate what they can do spontaneously. This kind of quizzing is quick (if I limit my students, I can get through the entire class in under 20 minutes) and easy to grade (it is done on the spot – no papers to drag home).

I should warn you, however, that the first time you threaten to give your students a spoken quiz they will groan like they are dying. Be prepared and be strong! Ultimately, they will acknowledge that this is a much more realistic version grammar use, and many will even come to prefer it to more traditional forms of testing.