Friday, January 18, 2013

Finals to Assess Language Abilities (not memorized grammar rules and vocabulary lists)

Spanish 1 Final - Listening Comprehension - Part 1 of 3
Today was the last day of the semester and the last day of finals. I gave finals to Spanish 1, Spanish 2, and Spanish 4 students this semester.  My Spanish 1 final was the same as last January; the Spanish 2 final was completely new (I haven't taught Sp2 in years) and I eliminated the formal grammar section on the Spanish 4 final.  The driving force when writing the finals was to assess the students' language abilities rather than memorized grammar rules and vocabulary lists. (I have discussed, with all of my classes, how the "Cram and Drop" method of learning is outlawed in my classroom.)

Spanish 1
Listening Comprehension - 3 parts - I made QuickTime recordings and uploaded them to our class group on Edmodo.  The students tooks their final in the computer lab in the library to access the online files and work at their own pace, with the option to replay the audio files as often as necessary. 
  - Part A (12 pts) - (pictured above) Listen to 12 statements. Write the letter of the statement on the line. 
  - Part B (10 pts) - Similar activity as Part A but focusing on a different set of vocabulary.
  - Part C (8 pts) - Listen to a short story.  Answer several comprehension questions and write 3 additional facts about the story that are not mentioned in the comprehension questions.
Spanish 1 Final - Writing
Reading Comprehension (20 pts) - Read a typed page-long Spanish story and answer questions related to the story.
Writing (10 points) - Read a story in Spanish (different than the one mentioned above). Add 5 new Spanish sentences (anywhere) to the story No credit is given for sentences that are similar to the ones used in the story. Students need to write original, creative sentences.

There wasn't a verbal portion for the Sp1 final, but I may add it in the future.

Spanish 2
Listening Comprehension (10 pts) - I made a QuickTime recording of a story from a book published in 1942.  The students listened to the recording and answered comprehension questions, plus wrote one additional fact about the story. I replayed the story as many times as students wanted to hear it.
Writing (12 pts) - Part 1 - Students read two paragraphs in English about two sistersI underlined 23 of the (English) verbs in the story and students wrote sentences in Spanish choosing 12 of the 23 verbs that were underlined.
Writing (20 pts) - Part 2 - Using my subscription to Reading A-Z, I printed wordless copies of the story The Three Little Pigs. There were 13 illustrations and students wrote 10 sentences to match the illustrations.  They chose which illustrations to narrate. To receive full credit, students had to write fully developed sentences and use 10 different verbs, with only 1 of the verbs allowed to be in the present tense (if it was used in a dialogue).
Reading Comprehension (33 pts) - Read a story and answer comprehension questions.  (I will need to revamp this section. The students did well but I didn't like how the format of the questions.)
Verbal - I didn't have a verbal section, but I would like to add one in time for next semester's final.  

Spanish 4
Listening Comprehension - There wasn't any on the final.  I should add one for future Sp4 classes.  My Sp4 students have been listening to Spanish every day, 90% of more of the class time and I have been informally accessing their listening comprehension throughout the semester (which is very good!).

Writing/Subjunctive (18 pts) - I wrote the first clause of 9 sentences followed by "que", related to the collage on the left. (The collage is currently only available by e-mailing me.) Most of the expressions required the subjunctive in the second clause and most of the first clauses were written in the past - meaning they had to use the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive in the 2nd clause.  The students finished the sentences. They had to use different verbs for each sentence and write well developed sentences. Even with students having the option which verbs to choose, many of them used a lot of irregular verbs such as "cayera", "hubiera muerto", and "sonrieran".  This is the closest I came to a grammar section, but because they were trying to explain why someone felt the way they did (doubted, demanded, were surprised, was irritated, etc.), it was more communicative and contextual.
Writing (10 pts) - Write a short essay describing a situation in modern times that is similar to the situation in the reading comprehension section of the test.
Reading Comprehension (16 pts) - Read a story (which they later informed me was difficult for them) and choose 16 of the 18 comprehension questions to answer.   
Verbal (30 pts) I typed 4 sets of 5 questions (all different) in Spanish.  While the students were working on the written final, I handed the 5 questions to a student and gave them 2 minutes to look at the questions and think about them. Then they went to the hall with my iPad or my iPhone (I trusted them with the iPhone - for the most part) with typed instructions on how to make the recording on QuickVoice, title it, and save it.  I allowed them 5 minutes to complete the task. If they hadn't returned in 5 minutes, I went out to the hall and ended the recording, which only happened with 1 student.
There are some sections of the final on which I want to make adjustments, but for the most part I was pleased with the format. I like to offer them choices throughout their exams because, as I see it, that is how real communication works.  I have a dear friend named Nelsi from the Dominican Republic.  We get together on a somewhat regular basis so I can practice speaking with a native speaker.  If, during our conversation, I don't know a certain word, I either use another word that will express the same thing or ask Nelsi. We make those choices in every real word conversation, why not let students choose how to express themselves on exams?

This leads to the question: Why are we forcing our students to use certain words on the finals? (i.e. sentences in the TL with the verb listed as an infinitive in parenthesis and students have to conjugate the verb in the tense indicated on the test.) I gave assessments like that in the past and now, looking back, I can't think of a strong argument in favor of that type of assessment.  As I mentioned above, students don't necessarily choose simple, regular -ar verbs when given open-ended sentences and assessments.  They want to express their thoughts and opinions and they don't limit themselves to simple verbs.  In the story about the 3 Little Pigs for Spanish 2, many students used irregular verbs like oyó, destruyó, vieron, se cayó, and fueron, along with regular verbs like bebieron  and tocó a la puerta.  They knew the words from previous stories and they felt comfortable with them.  In fact, students may not even view them as irregular verbs because they weren't presented to them in that way. In the writing section of the Spanish 1 final (photo above),  the student used as many irregular verbs as regular verbsWhen the students have a huge amount of input of hearing and reading the verbs, they're not "irregular" verbs - they're just words that express meaning

  • Again, for emphasis, they're just words, not irregular, not -ar, not -er, not stem-changing, not -ir, not "go" verbs, not participles, not object pronouns,  just words that express meaning.


  1. What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing these great ideas. I might steal some of these ideas in the future.

  2. I like these ideas--what a nice way to assess what students really know and what they can do.

  3. Agree with you 100%. I've switched over to proficiency based tests this year and couldn't be happier. I get to see what students are able to produce and its great to see students be successful with this method. All students are able to produce something. With traditional grammar-test I know that I would have many students struggling and failing those tests. Not a problem anymore.


  4. Great ideas! Will you be willing to sell them on TpT?

  5. Thanks for this post. I appreciate your ideas for assessment. Would you be willing to email me the collage that you used for the Spanish IV past subjunctive writing portion? Thanks,

  6. Azalea - If you want the collage that I use for the Writing/Subjunctive part of the final, please send me your school email so I know where to send it. :-)