Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Assessing Language for Progress - READING AND WRITING

Last weeks' blog I explained the varieties of ways to assess language for progress in listening in speaking. This weeks' blog is over the next two domains of language: reading and writing.

Assessing our students’ reading and writing is essential especially when they are learning to read and write in two languages. Our students' should be building a strong foundation in their first language (L1) and by doing so their L2 will be acquired more easily in both reading and writing. However, we need to be sure that we are monitoring that progress and not solely depending on that notion. A good way to ensure progress in both reading and writing in the L2 is to keep an on going record or documentation to make sure progress IS taking place.

When assessing for reading, I assess using my districts’ required reading assessment. When I assess them in their second language reading (L2), I assess using DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) which determines my student's instructional reading level. I start assessing my students in their (L2) reading once I notice that they have a good reading foundation in their first language (L1). When assessing, I make sure to assess students' comprehension and fluency. Although the amount of miscues is important; comprehension is vital to determine a reader from a non-reader. Otherwise if you are just assessing the amount of miscues and not comprehension, your student is only calling out words and not authentically reading. Below is an example of a reading graph I use to monitor reading levels as well and language proficiency.

Journal Writing - From the beginning of the school year, I keep track of my students’ writing progress. I have my students write in their journal from the first day of school. I make sure they have each page dated to keep track of progress. 
On one side of the journal students write in their L1 and on the back side of the journal they write in their L2. What is found is that as their L1 improves, their L2 is developing just as well. Keeping a writing journal throughout the year allows students, parents and administrators to see the writing growth in both languages.
As I grade my students work, I also rate their writing by writing on the right hand corner of their paper the level of descriptor for that particular writing. For example, I write a B for beginner an I for intermediate and so on and so forth. This is based on their writing that matches that particular English language proficiency descriptor.

Work on Writing Station - I have a writing station where my students can practice their creative writing (without a given prompt). This is a good way to assess your students "authentic writing" without a guideline or particular subject matter. It's kind of like taking a look at the BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) in writing if you will.

Pen Pal Letter Writing – I like to "Pal Up" with an upper grade level classroom. Have students from that classroom read with your students. Then set up a system where they can send letters to each other throughout the school year. This is another great way for your student to practice "authentic writing" in their L2. They will not only be practicing their writing skills but also work on their comprehension skills as well.

Every year our students are assessed using a standardized language proficiency test in some if not all domains (depending on grade level). Although this assessment shouldn’t be the main reason that we pay attention to language proficiency progress, it is our duty to ensure that our ELL's show PROGRESS in second language acquisition. By doing these simple informal assessments, we can better ensure both academic and language proficiency success.

We’ve spent all the time and effort monitoring and assessing our students’ language acquisition, and now what?  The absolute more important and crucial piece after assessing your students' language proficiency is providing the appropriate accommodations to continue their progress.  This is such an important piece to the language acquisition puzzle that we are going to dedicate the next blog post to accommodations. What are some good ones? What are some resources that we can use? How long should we accommodate? 

So we are asking for your expertise.  Tell us some of the most effective accommodations that you use with your students at different levels of proficiency. Share your ideas with us by commenting below and you may be featured in our next blog!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Assessing Language for Progress - LISTENING AND SPEAKING
Assessing students’ academic learning is crucial in order to keep track of students’ on going progress. However, in a dual language classroom, we also need to remember that it is just as important to monitor the language proficiency progress. The question is how. How can we assess language progress throughout the year to ensure language acquisition is occurring at the rate expected?
You might be thinking, “How do I monitor or assess for listening or speaking?  These domains are not as concrete as reading and writing so how do we do that in a clear and concise way?”  The best advice I can give you is to remind you that assessments don’t have to be formal.  There is a great amount of information that can be collected simply by observing and really listening to your students. 
When assessing for listening and speaking skills, I like to carry around a clipboard while I listen and assess using a check off sheet that includes listening and speaking language descriptors for each of the proficiency levels. Or, I use sticky notes to make comments about what I hear from individual students. It is a very informal way to assess, but the key is consistency. I listen in on students’ conversations and determine their language proficiency based on my observation and the language descriptors. 
I try to assess several students daily to make sure to have everyone assessed by the end of the week. I do this weekly so that throughout the year I have ongoing documentation of my student's language progress, as well as an idea on how to accommodate instruction for each student in order to ensure progress.

After a read aloud or when discussing a particular topic, students will turn to a partner and one person will be the listener while the other shares their thoughts. I then have the listener share what the speaker had to share. After this, the listener becomes the speaker and vice versa. Listening becomes purposeful and meaningful. 
Tape Recording Questionnaire
During small groups, I have students listen to a tape recording of a conversation or perhaps a story being told. I then ask my students particular questions about what they just heard.
Checking for Understanding
During a read aloud, I check for understanding by asking questions about specific parts of the story or a quick summary just to see if they get the "gist" of what was read.
Giving Purposeful Commands
As you give purposeful commands such as: open your notebooks, get in line, hand me a pencil, hand me the stapler, write your name and date on your paper, fold your paper, cut out a circle, give your partner a high five, check for listening comprehension. Make notes of your observations.
During small/peer group activities walk around the room and listen in on your students’ conversations.
Asking Specific Questions
A great website I use for this particular activity is After the students watch an academic video, they are asked specific questions about what they just watched. It's an awesome way to assess listening and speaking skills.

Once you assess, what's next? The most important piece after assessing your students’ language proficiency is accommodations, accommodations, accommodations! Make sure that you accommodate for each students specific needs. ELPS at aGLANCE is a great resource that gives you the necessary tools to help you accommodate your students’ language needs according to the descriptor he/she falls under. It also includes strategies/activities specific for that level of NO need to reinvent the wheel!

How do you assess your student's language proficiency? Please share your ideas!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Formative Assessments in the Dual Language Classroom

By S. Romero

Why is it important to use formative assessments daily in your classroom?  
You might be thinking,  “Give formative assessments daily?? Have you lost your mind?!” Formative assessments, I have to say is one of the most crucial, if not most important diagnostic components that you should conduct in your dual language classroom.  It should be included in your lesson planning and used daily in order to check for understanding of what it is you want your students to learn/master in both the native language and second language.
How does it benefit you as an educator and your students?
Using formative assessments can give you immediate feedback on whether your students understand the content and language being presented to them. This feedback will help the teacher identify those students who are still having difficulty grasping what is being taught. In addition, it allows for the teacher to modify the teaching and learning activities as deemed necessary. The student will benefit tremendously since this will allow for more than a “second chance” if you will, of mastering the content instead of waiting until the very end when given the “summative assessment” (the final test) which, by then is often times too late.  When teachers hear the word “assessment” right away we think of giving out a multiple test or quiz which, as we know takes time to create, time to give and time to evaluate. However, a formative assessment can be as simple as asking questions throughout the lesson. Below are some examples of some simple ways you can formally assess your students throughout the day.
NOTE: There are two forms of assessment: formative and summative assessments.  Formative assessments are more subjective and are not data driven but rather give the teacher a “quick look” at assessing the students’ skills and level of understanding in a particular content area. This type of assessment guides the teacher as to the direction the subsequent lessons will take. Is it time to move on? Have my students mastered this academic or language concept, or do I need to go back?   Summative assessments are your standardized tests, which give data of what your students have learned throughout a particular time period. These types of assessments are usually given at the beginning, middle and end of the year. They are also your state’s standardized test.
Examples of Formative Assessments that may be used when assessing in English or Spanish: 
Observation – Keep a folder with each student’s name on a tab. Grab a sticky notepad and walk around the room while your students are working independently or in small groups and make a quick anecdotal note of your student’s learning. Stick the sticky notes into their prospective folder. I usually write the student’s name on sticky pad, content area and date. If subject matter is taught in both English and Spanish (at a different time/day) make a note of language of instruction. This will help in monitoring academic and linguistic progress.
Exit Slips – Exit slips can be used to quickly assess learning right after a concept was taught. I usually give my students four quick questions to answer in their own words in regards to what was learned. This is a great way to determine which students still need a little or more help on a particular concept. It gives me the opportunity to quickly jot down the names of those students that are still struggling with that content and allows me to meet with them in a small group for re-teaching. It also easily identifies the students who have mastered the concept and can move on.  
Questioning – Asking questions and listening to your students’ responses can quickly give you an idea of which students get the “gist” of what it is being taught. I try to give more open-ended type questions so that I can hear my student’s learning /thinking if you will, instead of just yes or no answers. Some examples are:

Whiteboard feedback – Using whiteboards or just a piece a paper is fun ways to have your students give you feedback. I usually begin by asking a question out loud and my students race to write in their answer on a whiteboard.  They love it! We make it into a little game. At times, I’ll put them in groups of four and let them collaborate for the answer. I can quickly tell which table has mastered it and which table is still having difficulty. If I want to assess more individually, I call a student up at a time and ask them a question and have them write it on their whiteboard…still keeping it fun and less intimidating.  
Time Clock – With this type of assessment, I tell my students to get out a sheet a paper and write their name on it along with the particular subject matter they are being assessed on, for example, one area might be verbs. They write their name plus the word “verbs”.  I then give them three minutes to write as many verbs they can think of. I set a timer on three minutes and say out loud “on your mark, get set…go!” They love it! Once I collect the papers, I can clearly see who knows what verbs are.  To make it even more exciting, the person who has written the most verbs gets to pick something from a “Treasure Box.”
Visual Representation – This is one of my favorite types of formative assessments!  I especially like using this when assessing vocabulary.  Here’s an example of what it might look like.

It’s also a very effective way to assess your students that may not be awesome writers yet in the second language, but can visually represent their understanding of a word.
What are the most effective formative assessments that work for you and your students?  Please share in the comments!