Assessment — It’s All About the Context!

I had a nice chat on FB Messenger last night about assessment with a colleague from CI Liftoff.  You can read the whole thing below.  I put a little “wondering face” emoji over their picture so they are anonymous.

The first question “Do you have them retell in English or French?” ended up going kinda deep.  The thing that got deep is that assessment can be done in any context.

With portfolio assessment such as what is explained in the NATTY (Natural Approach to the Year) book, we are assessing performance — how kids can perform in different contexts.  So, what that means is that assessment is simpler than we think.

Can we let them use the glossary?  Sure.

Can we let them pick the chapter?  Yeah.

Can we let them pick any text from their free-choice reading and read that?  Okie-dokie.

Can we ask them to talk to us individually?  Uh-huh.  

Can we ask them to talk to a partner?  Yup.

Can we ask them to describe a picture?  Yes.

Can we ask them to describe something they have never seen before?
You probably know the answer is going to be affirmative.

The thing is, we can ask them to do all kinds of things, because each thing they do is a snapshot into their ability to perform in that context.  So, if they can talk way better with a prepared outline, yeah, most of us can.  That’s a more supportive context.  And if they can write a ton better with Google translate, then that is to be expected.  In that context.

(Little teacher secret:  I use Google translate or just normal Google like all the time to double-check my French and Spanish…so what’s wrong with using it in composing in class?)

But if we want to see what they would do without any glossary, or technology, talking about a picture of something they have never been before, with one hand on their foot and the other hand on their belly button…well, that’s another (very specific) context.

The reason I love portfolio assessment is because it can serve as a collection of different contexts within which our students can demonstrate their performance.

One important note:  In discussing assessment, performance does NOT mean “performing” like in a memorized sense, like in a play or rehearsed speech/presentation.  THAT is called “presentational speaking” and it s TYPE of performance.

“Performance” just means how do students do when they are using the language.  In other words, how do they perform, in this context, today.  And how will they preform in another context, later?  And with portfolios, we can lay those out alongside each other and see patterns of growth, or an ability to perform better and better in more and more contexts.

In portfolios, we are collecting snapshots of performance in different contexts, and asking kids to reflect on their growth, and including the context under which they did the assessments.  You can download portfolio reflections sheets and rubrics here.

So, if we can ask them to perform in all the different contexts, what is the “rule of thumb” of assessment?  What would be a “good” versus “not-so-good” (which is to say, aligned with the reality of how we acquire language or not aligned with reality)?

My own personal answer to any question on “is this OK for an assessment?” is this:

We can ask them to do this, and that, and whatever, as long as it is asking them to DO SOMETHING NATURAL WITH the WHOLE language, like understand it when they read it or hear it, or say things in it, or write stuff in it…and NOT asking them to remember certain words, or write using certain verb forms, or correctly output certain things.

As long as we are letting them interact in a natural way with the whole language, I say, it’s all good.

OK now for the text conversation that unleashed this onto the world.

Anonymous Dot



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