oral assessments in large classes

By Brigid Burke posted 01-15-2011 09:13

Hi all,

The question about how to design and implement oral assessments is an excellent one, beyond doing one on one if you have time for that in your context.

Something that worked for me when I taught high school French I and II (with 25-30 students) was to put 4 desks in the middle of the classroom with the rest of the students surrounding these four students.  The students, by the way, were picked randomly out of a can/sack.  Before starting this oral assessment, which lasted 2-3 days, students would look on old quizzes, review sheets, communicative activities, etc. and submit 5 questions each, written in French that could be included on these oral exams.  I would write the questions they submitted and some other on notecards.  The day of the exam I would have a rather large stack of notecards with the questions and each student would get 4 cards with one question each.  Students would ask one another questions, one at a time.  If needed, the group would help one another, always only speaking French, negotiating, interpreting, expressing. They had to give answers beyond one word.  If students needed outside assistance they could use a "life line" in the audience that was watching them.  While this was going on, I was at my desk using half-sheet checklists and recording forms to write down any comments/corrections, etc., along with their grades.  Students in the audience were reminded to be quiet and respectful.  Usually the first time this happened was at the end of 1st quarter, so a good community was built and students did not fear this, but liked it.

Starting in French II and beyond, the questions would get more complicated and two students would go at a time.  Not all French II students were always ready for this, but for those that were, they were challenged (i.e., differentiated assessment).  My French III and IV classes were smaller, about 20 or less, so the pair exams did not take too long.  I definitely thought it was worthwhile to do these, so spending a few days on them each quarter was necessary in my mind.

It was definitely manageable, students enjoyed it, and I got to see how much students' language was progressing each quarter in a more formal way besides daily conversation, communicative activities, and skits.  I actually also did an action research project following my students' development that turned into a master's thesis.

Brigid Burke
Former HS French teacher and dept. head at Mt Carmel HS
Asst. Prof and WL ed program coordinator at Bowling Green State University