Monday, December 12, 2011

How to assess writing? With rubrics, duh! (Sara Weigle)

So as discussed in the prior post the LARC has had webinars about assessment in the past. There was also a TOEFL Spain presentation on the different ways to assess homework.

Well this time I had the change to listen to Susan Weigle discuss assessing writing. You can read more about her and the webinar here: She is a published and respected teacher, but this was her first webinar, and it showed. I am not honestly sure I would recommend watching the recording to anyone, but you can find it linked above. AGAIN Sara is very qualified, but the webinar appeared to be a bit too much. She was often overwhelmed and honestly I struggled to get through the presentation. Participants as well seemed to be clueing out and asking questions that she had already answered. No worries, everyone struggles their first time and I am sure she will improve with each webinar.

So, she started by going into the basics of writing, authentic writing tasks versus the tasks where we use writing to check grammar or vocab comprehension. For me this was a reminder that whenever possible we should try to keep our assignments as authentic as possible (kinda hard given I am currently teaching academic writing, but still).

Then she discussed Hamp-Lyons definition of a writing test:
  1. Test takers must write one piece of continuous text
  2. Test takers are given a prompt or instructions on what to write
  3. Writing is evaluated by at least one trained grader
  4. Graders judge using a rubric or set scale
  5. Judgments are given as numbers or grades
How can writing be assessed without being tested?
Webinar participants suggested logs, journals, timed writings, chat forums, portfolios, essays, fb group discussions, etc I would actually argue that many of these fall in the definition of the writing test per above, but I suppose it depends on if a rubric is used or not (I use them with every assignment I give for consistency). Sara goes to specifically define a test as an in class timed writing, compared to take home essays.

Then she discusses the components of a test, the task (what they should write) and the scale (how we grade it).

She gave us the topics ( that University students have to write on to prove they are university level writers. Most of the webinar agreed that for high school or EFL learners the topics were fine but they were a bit too broad for an academic timed writing.

To avoid having a task that doesn’t meet up with the students’ (or teacher’s) needs it is important to remember the principles for task design.
  1. Clarity Students need to understand what they are doing (a colleague of mine discussed an exam the other day where she asked students to write on one of the topics in the box below. She also reminded them to use good grammar and watch their spelling. Several students wrote on why using spelling and grammar is appropriate. This is the result of unclear topics(or students who don’t pay attention) )
  2. Validity It should be a writing that is relevant.
  3. Reliable the task should elicit writing samples that can be scored consistently
  4. Interest the task should be interesting to writers and readers (not another opinion paper on abortion PLEASE)
OK, so now we have our pretty task, but how do we grade it? Well, RUBRICS!
I liked one ”pro” about Rubrics that she mentioned: It is important to, “make implicit assumptions and goals explicit” this lets students better prepare since they know exactly what the teacher wants. As a teacher we may think it is OBVIOUS we want out students to use cause and effect linkers as we have studied them for the past 3 months, but if you don’t specifically say it (and let the students know) I promise you most students will not assume this.

Why else are rubrics amazing? You can share them with your department for some consistency amoung all the classes, and when the students see them they cannot claim favoritism or “the teacher doesn’t like me” they are specifically given their grades with what they didn’t or did do.
Now the type of rubric that I do is analytic which means I score on several dimensions. This is normally easier for new teachers (I guess I fit that stereotype) and in gives students a clearer idea of where they need to focus more energy next time.
  • For example a paragraph could be graded on mechanics, transition words, organization and format. All of these are totaled for a final grade.
This is compared to holistic where the paragraph is grades on one “standard”:
  • Example: The paragraph is grammatically correct, with good transition words and is organized. 90pts
  • The paragraph is grammatically OK, with some transition words and is organized. 75pts
  • Etc.
  1. Define according to the topic, process and the product
  2. Determine the components that you are interested in
  3. Decide on what TYPE of rubric you want
  4. Define components
  5. Decide on number of score levels (generaly 4.5)
  6. Write descriptions for each score level. Look at existing rubrics for ideas!
I am always up for a good online tool and this time she have us: I tend to do my rubrics by “hand” but I do think that some assignments could be OK with an automatically generated

Brief sidenote: she did throw in her two cents on peer grading (that the grader usually benefits more than the gradee). Which I have always felt so it was nice to hear :)

Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes...with Clothes!

My students always LOVED head, shoulders, knees and toes, and I always loved it since it was really heavy in the TPR area. Sadly, there are only so many times a student can learn the parts of the body. So, I changed the song a little for studying clothes. They still got a kick out of it and it is a great wintery activity (that doesn't touch on the religous aspects of winter) that keeps them moving (and is still a great Total Physcial Response. song)

I prefer teaching trousers since pants has a different meaning in England, but to each their own. Feel free to teach pants, jeans, or whatever else. If you choose a one syllable word I reccommend adding an "and" to keep the beat.

This could also be adapting to Summer (Cap, sunscreen, shorts, sandals... glasses, hair tie, chapstick, ... ideas for nose?)

Happy Holidays! You can download the directions for class and a quick worksheet for your students for free just check my store on 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, Higher Education, Babies/Toddlers - ESL / ELL / EFL, English -

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Focus on the good :)

So, I am done with my first semester here at Tec de Monterey. Overall I think I picked up some bad habits from Spain (yelling at students), but I do feel like some of the Masters classes paid off (my worksheets are much prettier now).

I also got frusterated A LOT with the fact my college students behave worse than my pre-schoolers last year...but I guess that just calls for an adjustment of standards.

As far as evaluations my college classes tended to be pretty tight lipped, one student complained of too many essay, but that really isn't anything I can control. Otherwise mainly smiley faces and such. The two "best" I think were:

"Tiene un carácter fuerte pero se llevo bien el curso" - Lengua Extranjera
Muy exigente en cuanto a calificaciones pero muy buena maestra." - Lengua Extranjera
The next class was my hardest class to teach, I got a few flat out rude comments from them, but in the end I am tuning those out and focusing on the good:


Esta profesora marco un punto en mi aprendizaje de la lengua Ingles porque esta maestra nos pedia el maximo y gracias a ella aprendi lo que es ser un buen alumno" - English VI

Muy buena maestra, atiende muy bien a sus alumnos si le piden ayuda fuera de clases" - English VI

Muy buena maestra, estuvo padre la experiencia al tener una maestra extranjera, diferente al metodo de los maestros en mexico, encantado llevo otra clase con ella." English VI
From my other high school class:

Very nice teacher, always trying for her students to learn and improve their skills and abilities during the course. Congratulations, i wish you great success during your life. Was great having classes with you, i would like to be in your class again."

AND probably the most well written constructive comment (that pretty much sums up my own personal self reflection (from the same class as above):

"Es una persona con un sistema de enseñanza distinto, me agrada su clase y aprendo mucho, pero le hace falta un poco de tacto, aveces suele ser sarcastica."

So, that's where I am now. Looking forward to next semester where I will try to tone down the saracasm and yelling at my students.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Opinion Paragraph with Lyrics

I am starting to plan for next semester and am kinda excited about the first assignment. The students will be writing a paragraph to support an alternative interpretation of a song.

I was partially inspired by this interpretation of Rebecca Black's song Friday

So I wrote up a quick paragraph (which will be edited thoroughly and used as the sample paragraph for the students)

“Friday” has important historical references
Rebecca Black’s song Friday is about the tensions in The United States of America in the 1950 and the 1960s. The 1950s and 1960s in the United States were a tense time of the Cold War, presidential assassinations, and racial segregation. First, Rebecca Black focusses a great deal of her song to discussing which seat she should take, indicative of racial segregation. In the 1950s and 1960s The United States employed racial segregation in many parts of life, but this was seen especially in public transportation; people were told where to sit based on their race. Most memorably Rosa Parks, the mother of the freedom movement, refused to give up her seat to a white woman in 1955. She made a stand on which seat she took, and Rebecca obviously alludes to this here. Another point is Rebecca says that everyone needs to “Get down on Friday,” referencing the assassination of John Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963. When there is a shooting the first thing people will scream, to decrease unnecessary casualties, is “get down.” The assassination was a tense moment in American life making people feel depressed, or “down,” just as the song suggests everyone felt that Friday. Finally, Rebecca has a line in which many feel she says, “Everybody is rushing,” this however is actually her hinting at “Everybody is Russian.” The cold war with Russia was a big deal in America and many Americans were falsely accused of being Russian. In the 1950s McCarthyism swept through the country and simply by being Russian, or labeled as a communist, many people were blacklisted from their jobs. Thus Rebecca Black’s Friday is a song that does more than just invite people to enjoy the weekend, it also speaks to the tumultuous times of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

Assignment. Write a paragraph in which you express and support a unique interpretation of a song.
_____ is about an alien abduction _____ is a song written about a pet not a boyfriend.
_____ is about open heart surgery. _____ is about Mexico earning its independence.
o ANY interpretation on ANY English song it is OK as long as it is unique:
GOOD:) Christina Aguilera’s “Reflection” is about a transsexual who is not accepted by his family.
BAD:( Christina Aguilera’s “Reflection” is about a girl who doesn’t fit in.
GOOD:) Aladdin’s, “A whole new world,” is about someone who has been diagnosed with cancer.
BAD :( Aladdin’s, “A whole new world,”is about a couple exploring a new place.

Hopefully I get some decent reads, I think most English teachers will vouch that someitmes the hardest part of grading is reading the same boring papers over and over again.

EDIT Oct-18: I've done this three times now and it has worked really well! Some fun examples from students:
"The Lion sleeps tonight" is about a woman in an abusive relationship.
"The Lazy song" is about a man sufferring from depression due to the eocnomy.
"Never gonna give you up" is about the the United States Cold War with Russia.
"Call me Maybe" is about a lady with crush on a married man.

You can purchase the whole kit and caboodle on Teachers Pay Teachers for the bargain price of $1  (if you don't have an account yet you can sign up here)

Have you had a chance to use songs in any way like this? How have your students found it?
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