Currently browsing Posts Tagged “assessment”

Animate your homework!

The above is an animation by Adam, a year 8 pupil (12 years old) who has started learning German this term.

I have always enjoyed setting fun homework, as both my students and I find it’s a welcome change from the old exercise book. Every so often I set my younger students a comic writing ICT task. Whereas on previous occasions I’ve generally opted for Toondoo, this time I’ve gone for GoAnimate.

I set out to use GoAnimate to assess my student’s ability to produce a dialogue in German that would showcase their knowledge of the different vocabulary and grammatical constructions they have acquired this past half term. I simply tweaked this week’s schemes of work to include GoAnimate as an assessment tool, instead of a dialogue on a sheet of paper or exercise book.

During the course of three lessons this past week I introduced the tool to the students by showing them GoAnimate’s demo video on the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). They were immediately engaged and couldn’t wait to go home and start writing in German! As you can imagine, a very welcome change!

I also laid out clear expectations of the quality and quantity of the work, as well as what was acceptable and what wasn’t in terms of content. We then spent the rest of the lesson drafting possible dialogues and enacting them in class.

Once I had received all the homework, i.e an email link to each student’s animation on GoAnimate, I carefully checked each student’s dialogue and made notes of common errors that had cropped up and followed them up in my next lesson with them.

I used the IWB again  to show some of the animations containing the most common mistakes, such as ich hieße, instead of ich heiße, or simply missing out the capitals for nouns and then asked the students to comment on and assess each other’s work.

Although I didn’t take advantage of it on this occasion, GoAnimate also allows you to upload sound files, giving you the possibility to add voice recordings to the animation. On this occasion, as it was a homework task and I could not expect every pupil to have a microphone at home, I decided not to use this feature. It could, however, be successfully used if choose to do this type of work within lesson time in suitably equipped ICT rooms, for example.

Although it’s not something I wouldn’t do every week, mainly because both my students and I would bore quickly when the novelty’s worn off, it is certainly something I’d recommend doing every so often, at the end of a sequence of lessons, for example.

What do you think? Can you see yourself using GoAnimate in this way? Do you have any other suggestions?

I now need to go and find out what ein Bettlerhaste is…

Assessing with video: giving students control


Remembering Madrid 2008 from José Picardo on Vimeo.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this little gem my students created for some time but a combination of forgetfulness and business (as in being busy, not the other, more profitable kind of business) has prevented me from doing it any earlier. 

Last Easter we took our boys to Madrid for a week in which we combined a language course with cultural visits and evening entertainment, all of which our students really enjoyed. We felt the boys learnt a great deal from the experience and gained a greater understanding, not only of the Spanish language, but also of Spanish culture and customs.

I thought it would be a great shame not to create a permanent record of their experiences, so I decided to set them a video task, the result of which you can see above, which I could then publish in our subject blog.

Taking a step back

I took a hands off approach from the outset. I let them do the recording how, when and where they wished. My only instructions to them were:

  • Take our department’s DV camera
  • Talk in Spanish and only Spanish about your experiences in Spain
  • Return the DV camera to me by the end of 3rd break tomorrow

Why did I choose to take a step back?

I have found from previous experience that if the teacher is present and makes the students talk in the target language, the results can often appear contrived and a little forced.

This time I decided to trust my students with the camera and see what they came up with. They did not disappoint and produced wonderfully long pieces of complex Spanish language about their experiences in Madrid.

My part in the video making process was simply to collect the camera and put a movie together using iMovie (you can achieve similar results with Microsoft’s Movie Maker).

Was the result better than it would have been otherwise?

Yes, definitely. I was very pleasantly surprised, not only about the complexity and accuracy of their Spanish, but also about the way they had used their imagination and creativity to come up with what to say as well as the shape the final product was going to take. It was also their idea to use Animoto for the the opening and closing credits and the music you can hear is also written and performed by the boys themselves.

Although some of them were clearly reading from a script, it is obvious from the video that they didn’t feel under pressure to perform, as they might have been in a classroom or if the teacher would have made them say things for the camera. Their Spanish actually sounds authentic and fluent.

In terms of assessing their ability to express themselves in Spanish, this exercise has really been an eye opener: not only can my students speak Spanish, but they can do it better when I’m not there! It all makes you wonder whether a formal oral examination is the best way to assess their ability to communicate in the target language, doesn’t it?

My relinquishing control of the task allowed my pupils to demonstrate responsibility and creativity and gave them confidence and motivation to speak in Spanish. 

Have you had similar experiences when pupils have performed better in a less formal form of assessment?

Did you get a rounded education?

Like every teenager, when I was at school I could not see the point of learning to do integral equations or calculate the area of countless isosceles triangles. I was far more interested in music, snogging and sex, preferably with someone else, although sadly that option wasn’t always available…

Can I remember now, twenty years on, how to do equations or calculate the area of an isosceles triangle? Don’t be silly, of course not, that was not the point, I understand that now. The point was that between the ages of 5 and 15 – possibly even later- I did not know what was best for me (although I thought I did). I wanted to be an astronaut, although I didn’t like maths, failing that I wanted to be a rock star. Had I been given the option of going to school or playing all day I would have chosen… let me think… yes, you guessed it: playing all day!

Now, there are those of you who would think that it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, as I would have learnt far more doing that than I would have in school, you might say. I disagree, I am glad I was made to go to school mainly because I wasn’t cruelly caught up in a victorian educational establishment that thwarted my personal development and creativity, as schooling and education in general is often viewed from an Anglo-Saxon point of view. I loved my time at school in Spain and I remember my friends and teachers, good and bad, with fondness.

The one main difference with the Anglo-Saxon model was that none of the exams I sat, with the exception of the compulsory university entrance exam, were externally assessed. There was only the occasional external moderation or inspection. This allowed my teachers more freedom to teach at a pace that suited them and, critically, us better.

External assessment is a model that is so ingrained in the Anglo-Saxon view of education that the very suggestion of getting rid of it goes against the grain of what many people believe, possibly many of you included. The lack of it, however, didn’t do me any harm – I don’t think!

Of course education doesn’t only happen at school. It shouldn’t. The concept of sending your kids to school to be educated, allowing parents to wash their hands of them to a certain extent seems to me to be very British. When I was growing up, schooling only formed a part of my education, and rightly so. My parents’ certainly didn’t see school as a place where you could drop off your kids so other people could look after them while you went to work (a huge generalisation, I know), they saw it as a place where I could better myself and be given the opportunities they weren’t given. Nor did they doubt they had a role to play in my education.

Playing and socializing with other children and adults was just as important to me as going to school. The old cliché there are some things they don’t teach you at school is absolutely right. On the other hand, however, there are other things you can only learn about in school.

In my view, for all it’s worth, the British education system places far too much importance on the following two areas:

  • External assessment and qualifications in which everyone is measured with the same stick, although noble in principle, actually curtail our teachers’ ability to teach. Let’s face it, to a greater or lesser extent, we all end up teaching to the test to improve our league table positions.
  • Allowing excessive choice and specialization at an early age results in a less rounded education and, therefore, less rounded individuals.

Both of these points conspire to produce 16 to 18 year olds who are able to do integral equations in their sleep -or, rather, answer exam questions about them- but think that Michelangelo is a Ninja Turtle.

Is that the sort of thing we want for our students? Is the obsession with English, Maths and Science de facto relegating all other subjects to a lesser second class, not worth opting for? How does this relegation affect the perception of parents and students? Do two or three A levels really prepare our students for the work place or university and life thereafter?

What do you think?

Photo from Flickr

Assessment for learning: improving feedback in interactive exercises

I have been using ICT to create interactive exercises for some years now, mainly using Hot Potatoes, but also game makers from Languages Online and These interactive exercises offer many advantages to teachers, such as:

  • smaller work load when it comes to marking
  • quicker, easier, standardized assessment
  • they can be more attractive and more interesting for students
  • students usually do not feel that they are doing a test but a game, which results in improved performance and motivation
  • once the exercises are created, both exercises and results can be easily stored for future use
  • immediate feedback to pupils

As teachers, it is sometimes very easy to simply start churning out exercises, perhaps paying a lot of attention to the content of the exercises and not so much to the feedback that the pupils get from them. Very often the feedback is simply either right or wrong, with the occasional well done. Yet it would be fantastic for our pupils to receive a little bit more, or simply better, feedback from these interactive exercises.

Some programmes like Hot Potatoes do allow you to incorporate more complex feedback beyond the basic right or wrong, as shown in the screen shots below:

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Examples of pupils’ work using Voki

I gave my year 9, who have only started Spanish this year, the option to hand in their homework in Voki style and these are some examples of what they came up with:

From all accounts, they preferred doing this type of homework to ordinary homework. They certainly enjoyed it more. As their teacher, I can see that they have put greater effort into the task than I would have normally expected and, in the classroom, they have shown that they are proud of their work and can’t wait to show it off. What I really like about using Voki is that the kids who are usually shy come to life using this kind of tool and, for me, their teacher, that is wonderful to observe.

These is just a selection of the work submitted in my students’ forum. You can see and hear more of their Vokis by clicking here.

Do you know of a teaching and learning resource you would like to share? Please do not hesitate to get in touch.