For the last few years, I have struggled with final exams for my middle school students. I don’t teach to facts, I teach for acquisition (which you can read all about here and here). As a result, my exams need to show what students have acquired. This poses a challenge because I can’t just write a fill in the blank grammar test and be done with it. An IPA would be good, but we have so little time (only 2 days a week) that it’s not feasible for me (or at least I haven’t figured out how to make it feasible).
In the past, I have had students write original stories similar to the TPRS stories they have spent the last few years interacting with (hearing and reading). The problem with these stories is that while they show the students’ progress, they are not very engaging for the students and they end up (some of them, at least) not putting in the effort that they should. That is to say, sometimes their work doesn’t reflect their ability. This is mostly because they have spent their entire time writing stories for me. The struggle is not that they can’t write, it’s that they are aimless in their writing.
But not anymore.
Our school (a Catholic school) partners with an orphanage in Mexico City and this year we are building a relationship through video conferencing with some of the kids there. Our first video conference will be in mid-March and my students are super excited. I thought about tying their final grades into the conversations that they will be having with the kids in the orphanage, but that idea went by the wayside pretty quickly when I realized that if I do that, they will be focused on their own speaking and not focused on communicating. That would be terribly unfair to the kids they are talking to who are, as I am told by the orphanage liaison at our school, also very excited to be talking to the kids from our school. I don’t want this to be a bad experience for anyone, especially not the kids in the orphanage.
What to do?
Rather than assessing the students’ interpersonal performance through their video-conferencing conversations, I will be having them write stories for the kids they meet over Skype. They will write and illustrate stories and I will bind them all in a book to send to the kids (and I’ll make a copy to keep in my room for FVR!). Their final presentational assessments will be based on the stories they write, just as they have been in the past, but now the stories will have a different purpose and the kids will have a different relationship to what they are writing.
I am also hoping to have my kids here read the stories to the kids in Mexico City (who are quite a bit younger-between Kindergarten and 6th grade) aloud to their new friends. This way, they will have something more to say than general introductions and they’ll be able to develop a relationship with the kids they are meeting.
Well, that’s presentational writing and speaking, but what about the interpersonal?
Interpersonal assessment is still something I am working on and I will probably end up doing something like I have done in the past to assess their interpersonal performance: Persona Especial Interviews. These have been interesting and fun, especially when I allow them to create new personas for their interviews.
(My students have been together since kindergarten, so they know almost everything about each other. As such after the very quick personal interviews that they give about themselves, I let them create new characters or be famous people and speak as them. They have a blast with that and it is quite easy for me from a planning and assessment point of view.)
Has anyone out there partnered with another school internationally to communicate? How has it gone for you? Any advice you could share in the comments would be beneficial to everyone!