In this article, we'll be looking at how to measure the progress of advanced level students. We'll be faced with the dual problem of both teacher assessment of student abilities and student self-assessment. While all of us are well aware that we are constantly dealing with mixed ability classes, we are also occasionally faced with that mixed blessing, a class which at least looks, if not exactly is, a very level class. We'll try to offer some new insights into using the traditional four skills as a tool for measuring student progress, and to provide a few suggestions for future work.
- Teacher assessment of student abilities
- Student self-assessment
- Reading skills
- Writing skills
- Listening skills
- Speaking skills
- Using the traditional four skills as a tool
- A few suggestions for future work
Teacher assessment of student abilities
When you are faced with the fact that one of your classes produces very good grammar and reading tests, writes letters and essays with few mistakes, achieves outstanding results in listening comprehension, and has no problems communicating with a native speaker, you are in effect faced with the need to help your students realize how good they have become, under your expert guidance. As a teacher, you should also look for some tactful ways to let them see for themselves that one or two of their number are actually much better than all the others, even if it seems to them that they are all at the same level.
Surprisingly, many students tend to under-estimate themselves. Without your help, they cannot be sure how good, or how bad, they are. Even those who consistently get top marks in every task still need some reassurance and/or confirmation. Naturally, there are some weaker students who have a rather high opinion of themselves. With them, your tact is a must: you want to show them that there is still room for improvement, without decreasing their desire to improve whatever aspect it is they are slightly weaker at than their classmates.
Advanced level presupposes the ability to cope with FCE (Cambridge First Certificate Examination in English) and post-FCE exams, or an equivalent. There are many types of reading tasks to choose from, to be found in any FCE textbook. I would suggest that for an assessment lesson, you choose a combined task, e.g. Fill in the Gaps and put the word(s) into the necessary form, e.g. change the tense of a verb, or form an adjective from a noun, etc.
If your students feel confident when writing an essay or a letter, suggest a more complicated writing task. A typical extract from a letter which requires a reply may have some hidden points, like a certain number of veiled questions and requests for information which have all to be mentioned in the reply. They may have to write the same number of sentences, or twice the number of sentences as there are in the letter, or just write a set number of words. Be sure to tell them that spelling mistakes will count as mistakes (sometimes, we disregard those when doing a grammar test).
Take any FCE tape and play the part with multiple choice questions. This task allows you to check their ability to scan a text, and to think logically in English, besides listening comprehension proper.
Have cards ready, with the titles of the main topics you have had with your class. Explain the two basic rules,
1) One cannot refuse to talk on a topic, or ask to change it
2) The phrase, "I don't know", cannot be used.
Using the traditional four skills as a tool
Before you distribute the tasks, be sure to do the following:
- Each task should have a set number of points, e.g. 20 gaps and 25 words in Reading ( 20 points), 25 points for Writing (5 hidden questions, and twenty points if there are no spelling mistakes… 19 if there is one… and so on). Listening Comprehension usually includes 8-10 dialogues. For Speaking, you may wish to use this simple Evaluation Chart:
Grammar | Relevance to Topic | Fluency | Use of Link Words | Pronunciation
- Explain to your students what they are going to do
- Set a time limit for each task, and for all the tasks together, e.g. two periods of 45 minutes total
- Trust your students: let them count the points themselves, then compare the results among the classmates.
A few suggestions for future work
My experience shows that if you do this type of lesson once, you will have to do it again. Those who considered themselves very good in Speaking may discover that they do, in fact, tend to panic and say, "I don't know!", when they have to produce an impromptu speech; those who write well may forget all about the hidden questions. It may be wise to start collecting the materials, and to change the format of each test lesson slightly, so that instead of, say, Gap Fill they get "that boring grammar again" in Reading, and instead of the standard Dialogues with A, B or C, they will have to fill some gaps. Offer your advanced students some really challenging tasks.
Remember: if you do not try, you do not succeed.
Nina M. Koptyug, Ph.D., associate professor of English, Lyceum # 130, Novosibirsk, Russia.
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