Planning without a textbook: Part III Assessments

This post is part of a series that discusses how I moved away from the textbook. I initially discussed how I decide what to teach and how I decide on goals. This post will discuss assessments.

I have found that throughout the years, I prefer to assess with IPAs or Integrated Performance Assessments as I moved away from the grammar and vocabulary assessments that I created or used from the textbook. IPAs can incorporate interpretive reading, interpretive listening, interpersonal speaking, interpersonal writing, presentational writing and presentational speaking. However, that would take forever and is not necessary! Typically, I start with interpretive reading OR listening, then plan an interpersonal speaking and finally a presentational writing. This brings me to another important point that I learned from Thomas Sauer: you do not have to assess all modes all the time. Find what is developmentally appropriate and what makes sense. Don’t force yourself to come up with a third assessment if it isn’t necessary or too convoluted.

Ideally, an IPA has a theme that is tied throughout the assessment. Fact: mine were NOT tied together at all when I started. Some were better than others, but overall, I just had to jump in and try to develop some then improve as I went. This is repeated in an earlier post, but it bears reminding: as I have improved on designing my IPAs, I start with an important question:

That helps me decide on where to narrow my focus when searching for resources. I like finding real world examples of native speakers writing or talking about these topics as well. For example, with clothes, many people write Amazon reviews and for restaurants, many people review on websites like Yelp. With communities, students can describe places that tourists visit in your own community. Your focus can also be simple; many people discuss their favorite holiday, and it made a really fun interpersonal speaking assessment for my students.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to always reinvent the wheel! Many people have shared their own IPAs online! Check out this list from CARLA that includes many IPAs for a variety of languages.

After I had decided on where I could find examples, I would try to find either a video or reading that had native speakers completing a similar task. This will become the interpretive reading or listening assessment. It is also important as you plan your unit to keep in mind structures that are used in many videos or readings that are not on your list. This can really help you focus on the vocabulary that students need to know and understand.

When I am deciding on either a reading or listening for an assessment, I keep a few things in mind:

  • I prefer to start with a reading in the beginning of the year for all levels because these assessments are easier for students. In fact, with novices, I will have about 3 IPAs with just interpretive reading before I introduce an interpretive listening assessment.
  • After that, I try to alternate between listening and reading when I can.
  • If I find a really great reading and I have just used a reading before, I stick with reading. It can be tricky enough to find great resources. There is no need to keep searching for a video (or vice versa!) if you have found a reading that works.
  • On YouTube if you find one video that looks promising but also has people talking too fast, pay attention to the title and search for other videos with similar titles. Sometimes, vloggers will tag certain themes that will help you find a video that is more appropriate for your students.

Then, I create the interpretive reading or listening assessment. Since I write the questions in English, I assess with EdPuzzle for listening assessments. I focus on:

  • Key word identification
  • Comprehension facts
  • Main idea
  • Supporting details
  • Audience
  • Personal application (I do ask a question in the target language to have students apply what they have read to their own lives. This helps prepare them for later tasks.)

After I have found the resource and main idea, the conversation and writing topics typically come easier. I go back to my original question, and I model the next two ideas on how students would use this in the real world. With novices, I postpone doing interpersonal speaking until the second trimester.

For interpersonal assessments, I have students complete these in groups of 3-4 students on a variety of topics. Some of these topics include:

  • A book club chat of the novel we are reading
  • A discussion of the themes in a music video and opinions of classmates
  • A phone call to a friend discussing your trip
  • A conversation about what clothing trends are popular for the upcoming season

Rebecca Blouwolff recommended her interpersonal bootcamp, and it really allowed me to assess interpersonal communication much easier. The small groups allow me to take notes as students talk and it gives them options of people to talk to. Pairs can be difficult if one student doesn’t talk as much. How many questions are you going to keep asking someone that is barely responding? I give students the topic to discuss and let them read it and process it as I write down their names and prepare the assessment, then they start talking and asking each other questions. I take notes and interject as needed to push them to ask difficult questions that I know they can answer or help with circumlocution for novice students if their question was accurate but not understood by a peer.

Finally, my students will complete their presentational writing assessments. These have always been most like my previous assessments, but I do have to think of a prompt like:

  • Describe your friends that you are meeting up with to a new exchange student.
  • Explain how you spend your time to refute the idea that teenagers are lazy.
  • Compare the culture in our unit with the US culture.

I have students write these in class without a dictionary on paper. I rarely give presentational speaking assessments because presentations in the target language are rare for novices and intermediate students. When I have done them, I prefer to do them in smaller groups and turn part of them into an interpersonal assessment like Laura Sexton suggests.

IPAs were essential to me as I moved away from grammar and vocabulary assessments; however, they were not always perfect. As I have planned them, I have also been able to be more creative with the assessments while still keeping the main points of communication in mind. At times, I felt like I had an idea on how students were performing based on the IPAs and I wanted to try something a bit more project-y. I had students write a presentational writing then switch it to something more creative like a video or comic.

Another problem I had with presentational writing is that they are typically more straight-forward and not as creative. I do want to assess language, but I noticed that one student in particular didn’t always thrive on the more analytical writing tasks. However, she excelled on creative writing tasks. The problem that can occur is that creativity isn’t always included in an IPA. Therefore, I would include more creative writing tasks for presentational assessments. For example, I would have my students change details or an ending of a story or novel. I would ask my upper level students to use the culture embedded in our unit to write a new story or legend.

Finally, last trimester, I decided to have my students do smashdoodles as an assessment. My eighth grade students created two based on any two units that we had studied. Then, I switched it into a presentational/interpersonal assessment. They compared the two units via their smashdoodles and explained how they were connected. Their peers asked them questions in small groups of 3-4 students.

Once you have figured out ways to assess using IPAs, you can play around with the ideas more and expand them to other concepts and ideas.


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