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Exams – Why Not Try Something New?

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Hear from our Spanish teacher, Shannon Norquist, about new techniques for language instruction and feel free to check out her blog here.

Mid-term exams are coming up next week.  It is that time of year where students in schools across the country feel stressed as they cram gobs of memorized information into their brains that they hope they can hang on to long enough to reproduce that data on a test which they will likely throw away or perhaps never even see again.  (Side note… Teachers, why do we refuse to allow students to keep their exams?  Why is it that on the tests that students study the hardest for they don’t get more than a passing glance at the fruit of all that hard work?)
It’s that time of year when teachers are exhausted because they are writing the midterms that they hope mean something more than just being memorized information that students will forget next week as soon as the new semester starts… Sigh.
This blog post is because I want my students feel successful, to feel like they’ve actually learned something.  I’m a working mom who does not have the time or energy to stay up for hours creating well-crafted midterms.  Oh, and also, I quite believe that my students should take some ownership for what they have learned.  How do I push them in that direction?… What’s a gal to do?


This semester I am setting out to accomplish the following with my semester assessments:

  1. 1.  Establish a baseline level of proficiency
  2. 2.  Create a system that charts growth over time
  3. 3.  Celebrate my students’ accomplishments
  4. 4.  Continue pushing myself to the sidelines and students to the center

So, I have created a Google Site template that will serve as a digital portfolio.  It looks like this:

  Supposedly this page is a shareable, public template, but I’m still developing my well-versedness of Google.  Please let me know if you need permission to access the template.  I would love to share!  Sample images are below:

Home page of the template with proficiency chart that corresponds to ACTFL guidelines.

Students insert links for their authentic listening and responses in the table that describes their proficiency level.

Google calls this type of page a “file cabinet”. Since we are using Google Classroom, students can load writing samples directly from Drive.

But is it an authentic task???

At my school, students complete a big senior project over the course of their junior and senior years.  The culmination of the project is a presentation before a panel of teachers and professionals.  I am asking students to do a presentation on their portfolios as part of their midterm exam.  Their audience will be their classmates and me (at least for now).

Now, I know, I know this task is unlikely to replicated in a target language setting, so does it serve to continue to improve their communication skills?  I’m wrestling with this one, but I do know that my students will be called upon to present their accomplishments over time before an audience at the end of their high school careers.  It will be a big moment for them, and I hope that these small presentational tasks will serve them in preparation for that big moment.

In conclusion:

The jury’s still out on how well students feel like this task will measure their proficiency or be something better than a test of rote information.  They are tentatively optimistic, but the learning curve on the tech piece is overwhelming.  However, there are pretty exciting things happening already.  Students are emailing me with questions about their proficiency!  They are sending me links to them SPEAKING SPANISH!!  They are recording classroom conversations and editing those conversations to manageable lengths, AND offering to share the final cuts of those conversations with their classmates!  They are collaborating!!  And the variety of students who have chimed in with questions has been so inspiring!  For me, these moments make the tech frustrations well worth the learning curve.

Final Thanks – (#givecreditwherecreditisdue)

There are some amazing language teachers out there who are already doing amazing things in their classrooms.  I am so thankful for Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell at Musicuentos for being a friend, responding to emails with my barrages of questions, and for her commitment to sharing and collaborating.  I am thankful for Thomas Sauer and his incredible work at the TELL Project.  I have only begun to be influenced by the work that he and his team are doing, but the Path to Proficiency chart on my site must be attributed to them.  Also, they make cool t-shirts.  I also want to thank Srta. Hunkemoeller and the department of Northmont Schools for the helpful infographic on what constitutes evidence on the portfolios.  If I were starting HS Spanish again, I think I would want to be in their classes.

I’m kind of pumped about this project, but I know it’s not perfect and I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE feedback.

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