This may be an odd opening for a language blog post, but roll with it, and I promise you'll see the connection after a few paragraphs:
until a few years ago, my husband and I were involved in a sector of
the food industry. At any time throughout the year, an inspector would
come, without notice, to evaluate the cleanliness of the operations and
to ensure that procedures were followed that allowed us to ship a
product that was safe for consumption. The inspections were unannounced
because they wanted to evaluate the cleanliness and safety of the
operation at any given point of time, rather than conduct the inspection
after informing us on which date the inspection would take place.
Once a month, at my school, our
principals conduct an unannounced "walk-through" in each teacher's
classroom. The purpose is for the principals to see a snapshot of how
the teachers are delivering instruction. If it were an announced
observation, they would not know if what they were observing was an
accurate example of the teacher's lessons or if the teacher prepared
something out of the ordinary of what they usually do in order to get
good marks on the observation.
are these types of visits and inspections unannounced? Unannounced
inspections or evaluations give a clear, accurate picture of the subject
that is observed and evaluated on that particular day.
This brings me to the point of this post: Why do I use unannounced assessments in my world language classes?
Answer: to have a clear picture of my students' current understanding and their language abilities at any given moment; not to find out how much the students can retain in their memory after a study session preceding the assessment.
have been giving unannounced formal and informal, formative and
summative, assessments for several years, and each year I am more
convinced that doing so provides me with accurate information about the
students' abilities in the language.
Below are a few points to consider regarding unannounced assessments:
1. Unannounced assessments and pop-quizzes are not the same.
heard and read language teachers' discussions on "pop" quizzes and, for
the most part, this type of quiz is given to ascertain if the students
completed a certain task such as if they read a particular text, or if
the students studied a vocabulary list or a certain aspect of the language,
or if they competed their homework, (because by completing the
homework, the students would have encountered the questions and answers
on the "pop" quiz).
assessments, in my world language class, are given to determine the
students' progress and skills in the language at any given point in
time. It is not based on material that was studied or memorized.
2. Unannounced assessments in my classroom are NOT "gotcha" situations.
I assess for a student's ability in the language, a "gotcha" quiz is
non-existent in my classroom. Either the student has acquired the
language and his answers on the quiz confirm that, or the student is
still in the process of acquiring the language. It will only be a
"gotcha" situation if the teacher is assessing if the student completed a
task (refer back to #1 for an explanation).
When I give an assessment, I want the
students to be able to shine and to show me their growth. There's no
"gotcha" motive in sight, but rather "wow me and show me what you can
3. Unannounced summative assessments require more effort on the teacher's part.
am constantly assessing my students, both formally and informally.
Comprehension checks occur frequently throughout the class period;
students are encouraged, almost to the point of required, to let me know
when something I say is not comprehensible to them. When students are
working with a partner, I may be standing next to one group of students,
but I'm really listening to what is happening in another group several
yards away. (I am blessed with terrific hearing!) This listening and
interacting with the students, along with the formative assessments,
helps me to understand the students' abilities and guides me on when to
give an unannounced summative assessment. If I had planned to give my
students a summative assessment, but through the above methods it is
clear that they are not ready for the assessment, I postpone the assessment in order to provide additional comprehensible input for the students.
When students do poorly on an
unannounced assessment, than it's an indication that, 1) the teacher
didn't teach the material well, or 2) the teacher rushed the assessment
and didn't allow adequate time for the students to grasp and acquire the
language, or 3) the teacher was not successful in providing sufficient comprehensible input in an engaging manner .
Has that happened to me? Yes, it has.
When it happens, I have to step back and honestly reflect on the reasons for
the students doing poorly. I look for patterns in their answers and
writings, and for clues as to where the breakdown may have occurred.
Then I go back to my lesson plans and look for weaknesses in the
lessons. I ask the students for their thoughts on the assessment. When I intently search for the answer, almost without fail, it's
clear where things went awry. At that point, I talk to the students,
share my insights with them, tear up the assessments, and make the
necessary changes to my plans that will help the students be successful in their language acquisition.
There is nothing "routine" about teaching in a classroom with unannounced summative assessments. It requires me to be tuned into the students' progress, to be on the outlook for any misunderstandings or learning blocks they may encounter, and to be flexible as to when to give the assessment.
4. Students are more relaxed with unannounced assessments.
In my years of teaching, before I taught with Comprehensible Input as my goal, I used to announce dates for future quizzes and the content on those quizzes. This resulted in students coming into class and pulling out notes or their textbooks to cram every last second of study time before taking the quiz or test. They often said things such as "quick, give me the quiz/test before I forget everything".
They were nervous because they knew the information that was floating
in their short-term memory, from cramming the night before, or from
cramming in the previous class, was a memory timebomb. If they didn't write the answers as quickly as possible, their memory was going to fail them.
I quickly learned,
(but unfortunately was slow to admit and to change), that this type of
testing didn't provide information on the students' ability and the the
language they had acquired. It wasn't valid, nor was it reproducible, without announcing the quiz again. Neither were the results of these assessments helpful in guiding my instruction. Those types of quizzes provided a grade for the grade book, but did little to identify the students' true abilities.
I started teaching for language acquisition, I often heard those
student comments. It made my heart sink because 1) I knew it wasn't an
accurate assessment of the students' abilities, and 2) I realized the time and energy both the student and I invested in order for the student to "learn" the material, could disappear in a few short minutes.
With unannounced assessments, those types of statements have disappeared. The students know that when I hand out an assessment, I am confident in their ability to do well on the assessment.
5. Unannounced assessments scare teachers more than students.
teachers announce on which date an assessment will be given, this gives
the students time to learn the material, and to study and/or review the
material. Then, if a student does poorly on the announced quiz or test,
the teacher can easily respond that the student did not do his part in
preparing for the test. The blame, for lack of a better word, is placed
on the student. If a parent is upset because his child did not receive
the grade he wanted, the teacher can point out that it was the student's
responsibility to seek out help before the assessment took place since
it was announced x number of days in advance.
benefit to announcing quizzes for the teacher, is that it is easier for
a student to perform higher than his actual ability in the language.
Those higher grades keep students and parents happy, especially those
that are focused on the grade and its relation to GPA rather than its
relation to one's ability to communicate in the language.
6. Students, parents, and administrators need to understand the reason (and manner of teaching) behind unannounced assessments.
year when I meet a new group of students, it is my responsibility to
explain how students are assessed in my classroom and why I give
unannounced assessments. As a whole, students know when they are
receiving a grade in a class, (in any discipline), that doesn't match
their abilities. I make it clear that my goal is to accurately assess
them as I work with them to find ways in which they can increase their
proficiency in the language. I encourage students to focus on listening
and reading with the intent to understand, with their "focus" on the
language (not the grade), and then the grade will follow rather than
focus on a grade and hope the language ability will follow.
students understand that my focus is on their language abilities and
that I want to showcase their growth, then the trust in the classrooms
increases and they perceive assessments in a different light. I provide
assessments for them to highlight that growth.
It's definitely a positive mindset for both the students and the teacher!
The tip of the iceberg.
versus unannounced assessments is only the tip of the iceberg in the
discussion on valid assessments and assigned grades. Correctly
assessing a student's proficiency in a language is a huge topic and
certainly not one that can be discussed fully in a blog post. In my
opinion, it's an area in which colleges should work more closely with
educational students in preparing them on how to create accurate and
For current WL teachers, it's a topic in which all of us could grow and improve through in-depth discussions and a willingness to listen to others and their experiences.
In the world language department at my school, we are making a sincere effort
to provide accurate measurements of the students' progress and to match
that information to a letter grade. It is an on-going journey as we
view our assessments with a critical eye and sort them into the proper formative or summative category. We provide a large amount of informal and formal formative assessments, and a smaller number of summative assessments. Our grading categories are:
4% Homework - because I believe that a student's willingness to do or not do homework should not have a huge impact on his grade
16% Class Work - includes any work completed in class that is graded, also includes formative quizzes
80% Summative - unannounced quizzes or assessments (which means the students have not prepared or studied for the assessment)
(It is possible that we may change the percentages for the next school year, to place a higher percentage in the summative category.)
not saying that all of the assessments in my class are unannounced. For
example, all students know when the final exam takes place. However, in
a marking period, announced assessments that are recorded in the 80%
summative category are few and far in between, if they even exist.
colleague and I recently presented at ACTFL in Boston on assessments
and in the 1 hour session we gave an overview on what we do in our
classroom. Click HERE to
see a brief summary of the main points in our session. If I had my way,
assessments as we understand them now, would disappear from the WL
classroom. Until that happens, I will continue my journey in providing valid assessments that reflect the students' abilities in the language.