Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Speaking Assessment Set-up My Students and I Love

Do you dread having to find a way to be able to take students out into the hall or into another room one by one in order to assess speaking? If so, you might enjoy what I call the speaking gauntlet. Of course I didn't invent it, but PBLA has helped me to put a new spin on it. I'll use the theme and modules my seniors are working on right now as an example to illustrate how it works and will then offer ideas for other ways it could be used.

This month my seniors are studying health, a theme they request over and over. After reviewing parts of the body and body systems, we are now exploring a journey through the healthcare system that involves seven steps (this number is not random, as you'll soon see).

1) Make an appointment. Ask to be squeezed in earlier than the date / time the receptionist initially offers.

2) Interact with the receptionist on arrival. Take a number, sit down and fill out a health history form.

3) Interact with the nurse, follow instructions such as "Step on the scale, put this under your tongue." Answer health history questions verbally.

4) Talk to the doctor. Describe symptoms (of diabetes). Given a requisition for blood work, acknowledge instructions regarding how to prepare for the fasting glucose test and where to go.

5) Interact with the lab receptionist and tech. Follow instructions such as "roll up your sleeve, make a fist, hold this cotton ball on there." Answer questions such as, "Are you allergic to iodine?"

6) Return for a follow-up visit with the doctor. Receive (or give, depending on role) advice regarding lifestyle changes, diet, exercise. Receive a prescription.

7) Interact with the pharmacist. Be able to read the label and follow instructions.

Whew! Needless to say, the modules comprising this thematic journey will take several weeks to complete. I have provided links to many of the resources we used on my classroom blog HERE.

One reason I don't do very well with module planning frameworks is that I never know in advance how long the seniors and I will take to cover a set of modules around a theme. They let me know when we need to slow down, revise, go Back to the Well, etc. But that's another blog post.

Okay, so here's the groovy activity that my students LOVE to engage in every few weeks. After we have familiarized ourselves with a number of dialogues and role plays around a given theme, they put them all together in one massive review to solidify their learning and prove to themselves that they really can do it all. We move the tables and set up a number of A-B stations equal to half our class count. So a class of fourteen gets seven stations. Very large classes could either split up and borrow an empty classroom or travel in teams.
red = teacher, brown = A, black = B

The stationary As take the role of the clerks, professionals, etc., and are given scripts or reference material. Higher levels can handle picture prompts with no text, depending on the complexity of the tasks and corresponding vocabulary. Just remember the rule of thumb: the harder the text, the easier should be the task. The easier the text, the harder the task can be.

To prevent As from helping the Bs cheat or peek instead of using their ears, I use masking tape to secure the reference sheets to the edge of the table in such a way that A can see them while B cannot.

The travelling Bs take the role of the consumer, patient, passenger, etc. If the class has an even number of students, the teacher can sit where it's easy to listen in on one of the pairs, a stack of rubrics in front of him/her. If there's an odd number, the instructor can become one of the As and still tick the rubrics as the Bs come along, assembly line style.

Depending on how many minutes you have in your session, you have to judge how often to ring the bell for Bs to move clockwise around the circuit. I can generally give them between four and seven minutes at each station. If you want to, you can also use this formation to allow students to practice the SAME question or questions again and again with a number of conversation partners. If this is the case, I recommend starting off giving them more time and then speeding it up as they warm up and become more fluent.

With my stack of rubrics, I can choose where to position myself. Before we start, I take a look at who is coming my way and put names at the tops of the rubrics so that I'm ready when the next student arrives. After all the Bs have travelled through the entire circuit, we switch roles. As become Bs and vice versa. With my class of 15, I can assess half of them in an hour and the other half after the break in the second hour. A very large class might have to take two days for this. (This might be a good time to mention that absent students do get a rubric, but I mark ABSENT across it. It still goes in the portfolio.)

I find there are benefits to this system for both instructor and learner. The students prefer this speaking assessment method over being pulled out of class one by one because it gives them time to warm up and feels like a casual conversation lesson on which the instructor just happens to be eavesdropping. I like it because I don't have to arrange for a T.A. to watch my class while I pull students out. Mostly, I like it because it's a fun activity I was already doing periodically before PBLA came along. The only difference is that we now put the rubrics in their big white binders instead of in file folders in my file cabinet.

In addition to using this long gauntlet during our health modules, we used it not long ago after studying air travel. Bs were provided with realistic e-tickets, boarding passes and passports. The stations were:
  1. travel agent or friend who knows how to buy tickets via the web (partner A had a diagram of the aircraft in order to offer seat selection)
  2. check-in desk / airline agent
  3. security ("empty your pockets, turn on your laptop," etc.)
  4. boarding area (announcements)
  5. pre-flight and in-flight announcements, interacting with fellow passengers
  6. customs ("Any animal products? Have you visited a farm...?)
  7. lost baggage claim office
Students really get a feeling of accomplishment when they can confidently navigate an entire journey like this. When we break things down into bite-sized pieces and spend enough time learning the dialogues that make up each step along the way, even a very long process like travelling by plane or being referred to a medical specialist becomes doable. Assessment day can be fun rather than nerve-wracking.

To download for free a good portion of the materials I used during all the modules that make up the air travel theme, including some rubrics, visit my website - FREE - Settlement Themes - Travel. I will also post materials used during the health modules after we are finished with them, so stay tuned.

Do you already do something like this? If not, might you try this with your learners?

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