When Asking Isn't Enough
This year I tested a variety of evaluation
tools with my level one spanish-speaking students at El Centro de
Cardinal in Boston. These evaluations were based on our class lessons,
but they could be adjusted for any class and used at any time.
The first evaluation was completed by students at the end of the
first week of classes. I gave the students 20 minutes and provided
activities for those who finished early.
I encouraged the students to answer this evalu- ation in Spanish.
Although I don't read Spanish well, I can always find a staff person
or another teacher to translate for me. This extra step is worth
my time because students can give me "true, " that is
to say, more accurate and more complete answers, using their first
language. They feel freer to express themselves and let me know
what they want. It also gives me a sense of the students ' native
language competency. This is important in order for me to understand
where students are starting. I ask students to identify themselves
on the assessment so that I can find out if someone is uncomfortable
with certain activities, such as going to the board, reading out
loud, being on videotape, or working with partners.
The next type of evaluation I used helped students identify which
activities they had enjoyed and found useful and which they had
not. This was done a week later (two weeks into the cycle) and took
about one half hour.
I used the headings "a little, " "ok, " and
"much (a lot)," because this is language the students
know and can read. I also displayed examples of each activity mentioned
in case students had trouble connecting the written description
with the activity.
The problem with this evaluation was that it didn't give me enough
direction. Because everyone had different opinions, it was hard
to integrate all individual tastes. One way I would amend the second
evaluation is by adding the following questions:
- Which did you enjoy? Why?
- Which part helped you remember English ?
- Which didn't you enjoy? Why?
I think these questions would provide better feedback because they
ask students to reflect on why they enjoy certain activities and
why they don't enjoy others. This would give me a better sense of
what activities are useful and, at the same time, help students
reflect on their learning styles.
The next evaluations incorporated some learning strategies to encourage
critical thinking and students taking control of their own learning.
This evaluation took students up to one hour to understand and complete.
Most of the answers were predictable: they liked learning with
pictures and having conversations in English. But, there were surprises,
like the student who said he only wanted to speak and hear English,
yet never spoke English in the classroom and often asked for translations.
Part of the third evaluation was taken from El Centro's teacher
evaluation that all students complete at the end of each cycle.
I like to include this section to see how students rate themselves
on the same type of scale as they rate the teacher. Because there
is a point in each cycle when students question whether they are
making progress, I also like to include statements that help them
consider how much they've learned. In addition to helping students
see what we have covered, this evaluation gives them the opportunity
to request individual or class reviews of particular activities.
Subsequent biweekly evaluations were formatted with the addition
of new activities. I found this format the most accessible to the
students and the one we could draw useful conclusions from the most.
The final evaluation was done in English. I had assumed the students
would use Spanish, but when I gave them the evaluation, they started
writing in English; of course, I didn't stop them! I instructed
them not to sign the evaluation if they wished not to be identified.
Students spent from one to one and a half hours on this evaluation.
I included a question to help the students begin to think about
their learning strategies. I hoped that this evaluation would enable
the students to tell their next teachers how they best learn and
in what ways the teacher could help them. Next time, I plan to introduce
the idea of learning strategies early in the cycle so that students
can experiment with learning styles throughout our time together.
Analyzing Our Learning
I find evaluations very helpful. In addition to the roles they
can playas described above, I now also use them to promote discussions
about tensions people are feeling in the classroom. For example,
working with a homogeneous language group I find people disagreeing
on how much native language or English should be used. I read in
evaluations the frustrations students are feeling about anything
from having enough English conversation in class to personal problems
with neighbors. Using the evaluation as a code to promote discussion
enables me not only to introduce new phrases and vocabulary to students
but also provides an opportunity to have them role play situations
they want to discuss.
I like to know which lessons are successful and which are not,
and what studetns consider improtant or enjoyable. Most of the time,
asking isn't enough. I find that writing about our learning helps
us analyze it. Evaluations give the students input and control over
their classroom. They help people structure their thoughts and discover
if they're learning, what they're learning, how they
are learning, and finally, why they're learning.
Kathy Brucker is an ESL teacher at El Centro del Cardenal in
Boston and Concilio Hispano de Cambridge.
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Originally published in Adventures in Assessment,
Volume 2 (May 1992),
SABES/World Education, Boston, MA, Copyright 2003.
Funding support for the publication of this document
on the Web provided in part by the Ohio State Literacy Resource
Center as part of the LINCS
Assessment Special Collection.