Ways to test English at intermediate level
Principles and strategies of non-painful and effective testing during the EFL classes at intermediate level
Testing and assessment are part of modern life. Schoolchildren around the world are constantly assessed, whether to monitor their educational progress, or for governments to evaluate the quality of school systems. Adults are tested to see if they are suitable for a job they have applied for, or if they have the skills necessary for promotion. Entrance to educational establishments, to professions is sometimes controlled by tests. Tests play a fundamental and controversial role in allowing access to the limited resources and opportunities that our world provides. The importance of understanding what we test, how we test and the impact that the use of tests has on individuals and societies cannot be overstated. Testing is more than a technical activity; it is also an ethical enterprise.
The practice of language testing draws upon, and also contributes to, all disciplines within applied linguistics. However, there is something fundamentally different about language testing. Language testing is all about building better tests, researching how to build better tests and, in so doing, understanding better the things that we test.
Is what gests tested what gets taught? Does what gets tested get learnt? Are test efficient? These questions are on teachers’ mind every day. When defined within an educational setting, assessment, evaluation and testing are all used to measure how much of the assigned materials students are mastering, how well are meeting the stated goals and objectives. Although it is believed that assessments only provide teachers with information on which to base a score or grade, assessments also help teachers to assess their own learning.
Non-painful and effective methods of testing during the EFL classes at intermediate level
One of the most common reasons why teachers should not only use tests is because students may have test anxiety. What tends to happen is that students are so nervous when presented with a test that they do not do as well. You then are not able to see what the student is really capable of. For ESL students, they can be extra nervous because not only do they have to recall information they have learned, but they may have to decipher what the test question is asking in the first place.
Another example would be oral skills. If students understand certain phrases you have taught them, they may not understand if another person outside the classroom says it, especially if that person has an accent.
So what are some ways to assessing English language learners then, if tests are not the full answers?
Rubrics and Performance Criteria
Using rubrics and performance criteria is a great way to assess a variety of student work. It is usually based on language proficiency and academic progression through such as presentations, written assignments and reading activities. You can not only use these to grade your students, but to chart their growth over a set period of time.
Oral presentations or Performances
Assessing oral presentations or performances typically include role plays, interviews, oral reports and summarizing/paraphrasing pieces of text. When used on an ongoing basis, it is a great way to monitor a student’s comprehension through a longer period of time.
Here are some ideas to incorporate oral presentations or performances as part of your assessments:
· Role-plays. They can be used to assess students individually or as a group. Some ideas include having students write a play and performing it or even having the students teach the teacher as part of a review class.
· Interviews: This type of assessment is very helpful if you have students that are early English learners. To help test students on content knowledge, try to use a lot of visual cues.
· Describing/ explaining/ retelling/ paraphrasing/ summarizing texts: instead of a written book report or summary of a piece of text, you can have your students retell the plot in front of the classroom or just to you.
For students who are shy or are not proficient in English, using non-verbal assessments is a great way to see a student’s progress. What you are looking for in this type of assessment is their understanding of vocabulary. Examples include:
· Charades: Give a student vocabulary words you have taught, and have them act it out to see if they understand what the word or the concept is.
· Pictures: You can ask students to draw or collect pictures to show their knowledge on a topic. For example, if you are assessing a student on their knowledge of nouns, ask students to pick out pictures of nouns in a magazine.
Written assessments are a nice way to see how students can apply their knowledge of English over a wide variety of concepts. For example, you can use assignments to see just how well they understand a text, or even different forms of writing. Some different ways to incorporate written assessments in the class include:
· Creative and structured writing assignments: Ask students to write a creative story, or even give them a writing prompt – where students read the beginning of a story and are asked to write the ending.
· Editing writing: Give students a piece of text with grammatical mistakes and ask them to correct it, to test their knowledge of grammar.
· Reading response logs: Give students a list of questions, such as how do they know a character is evil, or how would they change the ending of a story. When students are finished reading a book or an article, have them write down the answers to these questions. Make sure to only assess for content, and not spelling or grammar, unless you specify to your students that you are doing so.
Portfolios are powerful assessments and are used to gather various samples of student work to track their development over a period of time. In order to maximize the potential of using a portfolio as an assessment tool, you should regularly curate student work to include in them, and have scheduled conferences with students about their work. Material you can include in a portfolio can include the following:
· Performance criteria or rubrics · Recording of oral presentations · Tests · Writing samples, drafts and final copies · Book reports · Interview checklists.
Generally speaking, most of the students do not like traditional tests, for different reasons. Some of them are shy and are afraid to speak in front of the audience, some of them dislike reading or grammar, especially the grammatical rules and others are not confident enough to create a piece of writing. So, as a teacher I have tried to use different and funny ways to assess my students’ skills. Here are some examples.
Activity type: A role play based on a very old idea in which students have to act as criminals and police people.
Level: intermediate and above
Teacher's notes: Tell the whole group about a crime which has recently been committed, for example:
Last night between 6pm and 9pm a diamond was stolen from a store on the main street of our town. The diamond was priceless. Nobody knows exactly when the diamond was stolen but it was certainly taken between 6pm and 9pm. Two people were seen outside the shop last night and have been taken in for questioning by the police. At present, they are the prime suspects and unfortunately they are in this very room!
1. Point out two ‘suspects’ in the group. Choose the most confident students who do not mind being suspected of a crime. Make sure that they feel suitably surprised! Ask the students what needs to happen now i.e. that they need to be interrogated and that they need to have a strong alibi. Actually they have to think of one story i.e. that they were together and they need to think, in detail, what they did between 6pm and 9pm.
2. They might say, for example, that they went to a restaurant, they ate fish, they shared the bill and that they went home on the bus. The stories MUST be identical. If the stories are not the same, they are ‘GUILTY’
3. Tell the two students to leave the room and to think of an alibi; it must be watertight.
4. Tell the remaining students that they are police people and what they are going to do is to interrogate the suspects. Arrange the classroom so that you have two equal groups and put one group on one side of the room and the other group on the other side of the room. Ask them to think of questions that they would like to ask the suspects. Tell them that they need to find differences between the two suspects’ stories.
5. After a few minutes preparation, allow the two suspects back into class. Seat one suspect in front of one police station and the other in front of the other police station. Tell each group to interrogate the suspect with their prepared questions. After 10-15 minutes (this will depend on the group), swap the suspects over i.e. move one suspect to the other police station and move the other suspect to the other.
6. Allow time for the new interrogations.
7. After both police stations have spoken to both suspects, ask the stations to confer as to whether they think the suspects are guilty or not i.e. were there any differences in their stories.
8. As a follow-up, you can do error correction, ask the students to write up a report of what happened and also decide on an appropriate punishment!
This role-play can be an efficient and interesting way to test past simple and past continuous.
A Job Interview
Activity type: a role-play interview
1. Divide class in to two major groups by having them randomly pick up a card which tells them who they will be: - Group of employers (parent, shop owner, restaurant owner) - Group of employees (who apply to be a tutor, shop assistant, and waiter/waitress)
2. Get students to prepare for their interview by answering the following questions:
For employers: - What criteria of the position - How much money do you want to pay + …
For applicants: - Tell about your personal identification (Asked by the employer) - Tell you strengths, best skills (Asked by the employer) - Tell your biggest weakness (Asked by the employer) - Tell your career goals, future plan (Asked by the employer) - Advertise to sell yourself (Why they hire you) - Tell your salary expectation
3. Set the tables enabling students to practice their conversations as employers and applicants.
4. Conclusion: Ask the employer to report about who wins, why they are chosen. Index: Questions for the interview a. Tell about yourself b. What are your strengths, best skills? c. What is your major weakness? d. What are your career goals, future plans? e. Why do we hire you? f. What salary do you expect to have? Explain.
You’re a parent
You’re a shop owner
You’re a restaurant owner
You apply to be a tutor
You apply to be waiter/ waitress
You apply to be a shop assistant
This role-play can be used to assess students’ speaking skill, playing the role of the interviewer and the interviewee. Questioning, analyzing, decision-making are the interviewing skills that could also be assessed. The class will be divided into two main groups, group of interviewers and of interviewees. The interviewers will know what position they want and they themselves have to think of the criteria some minutes before the interview. The interviewees will randomly pick up a piece of paper which tells them what position they are applying for and also they have to prepare what to answer in order to be chosen. Class will have about 20 minutes to practice interviewing activity. After the allowed time, each interviewer have to decide and report to class who they chose with convincing reasons.
Non-traditional assessment gives students a say in how they are tested. Student-centered learning, where the students are actively participating in the lessons, allow for better comprehension and make learning more fun. These methods allow for different learning styles, since some students may struggle with traditional types of exams. They also give learners the opportunity to reflect upon their work, allow them to create goals for themselves, and help them develop critical thinking skills. These methods also allow learners to apply what they have learnt to solving real-world problems.
Isn’t that the whole point to education?
Successful non-traditional assessment methods let students demonstrate what they can actually do with the content they have learned. These activities challenge them, and allow for the kinds of solutions that learners would meet outside the classroom. They are excellent for helping students develop and improve their communication skills in addition to their thinking and reasoning skills.