Alternatives to the Traditional Final Exam No Matter What You Teach

Mix and Match, Elaborate, Redesign, Steal…. Here are a few ways to change the style of your final so that it more accurately reflects what your students know.  Student choice is a POWERFUL motivator so consider a choice board with several options from which they choose their own exam.

1. Mixed media: Choose a novel, film, song, or article that students studied in your class and allow them to create a written (or oral) product that connects it to another type of media.  Sample products: An article, a speech, a letter, a blog post, a short story, an essay.   Example: After studying the gang Mara Salvatrucha 13, my students had read a novel, seen a film, and read an article about relationships torn apart by the gang’s violence.  From a choice board, they created a written (or oral) product that connected the article, film, and novel.

2. Infographic: Take a look at some infographics online!  They are such a great visual representation of material students have learned.  Much more dynamic than an essay, and infographic allows students to share what they know in a 21st century manner.  If you have limited access to technology like I do, here is a link to how I solved the problem!

3. Symbolism: Allow students the freedom to connect what you’ve studied in class with films they are familiar with.  They can identify a theme common to the topic and express it creatively to the class.  Example: In Spanish 3 we studied the idea of identity.  We looked at the mural Gulliver by Hector Duarte, the mural on the cover of the novel La Calaca Alegre (a representation of Carlos’s life), and we made a practice mural based on the life of the main character in the film A Better Life.  When students had some experience finding symbolism in murals, they created a mural that represented their own life and presented it to the class.  You can compare multiple films, films and art, literature, etc.

4. Historical Exploration: Re-enactments, Infographic style time lines, creative writing… How can you make history more alive than a multiple choice answer on a test paper?  How about a trial of a historical figure, a creative writing in which students change ONE event in history and predict how the effect might have rippled across the decades, an interview with a historical figure.  Written or oral, any of these projects are applicable to language class or across the curriculum.

5. Real Life Application: Allow students freedom to select some theme of your course and research how they could apply it to their future job.  Present them with a choice board: an article for the newspaper, a magazine spread, a job-seeker pamphlet, a poster, a prezi, etc.  This is a powerful way to end the course because when students connect your subject area to their career, it has real meaning to them. 

6. Passion based (Carol Gaab’s term) project: Every one of us has a passion.  Encourage them to find a way to connect their passions to your course.  They can write an essay, a letter, a diary entry, a how-to manual, or a speech about how you could incorporate what they are passionate about in your classroom.  Example: A videogamer might advocate for use of gamification in your class.  A reader might advocate more free-reading time.  A dancer/tumbler/athlete might highlight the need for physical movement in the classroom. 

7. Dig deeper:  Encourage students to choose the theme that interested them the most and dig a little deeper.  We don’t have enough time in the year to do every topic justice… They can choose their favorites and really find out more!  You can give a choice board: podcast, blog, prezi, video, interview, public service announcement, etc. so that students are able to choose HOW they will share what they have learned.

8. Interest circles: A group project but with individual reports at the end, an interest circle allows students who enjoy music to work with other music lovers to find songs that connect with your subject matter.  Readers grouped with other readers find books that are connected historically or culturally with your subject matter.  Movie buffs, athletes, artists… You name it, your kids have cool interests that they can cultivate together.  Have them research as a group and then design and present their final product as individuals.

Whatever type of final assessment you choose, it has to reflect the learning that has happened in your classroom.  Ask yourself the Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe) question, what are the enduring understandings that I want my students to have???  If you start from that point, you’ll be able to create a meaningful final that truly shows what your students know, not what they memorized the night before.  It requires a LOT of bravery to leave the traditional exam behind but at the college level they just don’t see comprehensive finals any more.  Leave the bubble sheets behind and lets start an exam revolution!


Film: The Power of Visual Authres

A good friend of mine, and former colleague, came by last week to talk about film in the classroom. Let me give you a little background on our work relationship: “Phil” and I were hired in Carlyle the same year. In our third year, I began dabbling in TPRS and CI based methods and something amazing happened.. Kids started flooding my Spanish classes! As Spanish grew and grew, German enrollment declined! I talked with “Phil” about learning to use TPRS or CI based methods but he learned German in a grammar based classroom and felt like what he was doing was right for his kids. It cost him his job! In the third year of my CI based classes, he only had 3 sign up for German I, the district could not rehire him!

Fast forward to two years ago…. After a 4 year break from teaching, Phil found a new job teaching German. The program was shrinking and they were looking for someone to turn it around. He wanted to be the one, and he wanted me to train him to use CI! Today his German program has eclipsed the Spanish program (who had to release a teacher due to declining enrollment!) He is thrilled but is getting a lot of grief about his method from the Spanish teachers! They say that the kids only want to take his class because he just tells stories and shows a lot of films…..

What do we tell teachers who don’t understand the power of film when it is used well? Here are some ideas:

1. Films are alive with culture! My students learn a LOT about the history and culture of Spanish speaking countries through film study. We watch films for background, for comparison, and for interpretation! Used in a clear context, they can have real meaning to students.

2. Films are engaging! If I had students take notes on Archbishop Romero, it would not be as engaging as watching the film Romero together. We can focus on his metamorphosis through the film rather than simply on paper!

3. Films are memorable! When my students took the AAPPL Proficiency Exam from ACTFL, they mentioned that several of our class films appeared in the listening and reading sections! They remembered so much about them that they felt very confident about their performance! (And the scores reflected it!)

4. Films teach language! Nothing has taught me this more than using the series Internado Laguna Negra with my level III and IV classes! The words they learn watching this show appear over and over again in their writing!!

5. Films reach visual learners! So many of our weak readers have trouble creating a movie in their miss when we read together. By adding a film, students can call up images from the film when we read to foster comprehension of the story! I often show a film before a novel so that students have a point of reference as we read!

I am in my room today, a school holiday, with my Spanish IV kids. They wanted to come in and watch two episodes of Internado today… On a school holiday…. Film is powerful! In context, with clear goals an purpose, and with plenty of explanation/connections, it can be the most powerful #authres we bring to the classroom!!!

My Mambo lesson with Spanish 1

A long time favorite is our “mambo day!” I teach the kids the steps to the dance and then we spend 20 minutes or so dancing at different speeds to all kinds of songs! In case you don’t know how you would teach a class to Mambo, we recorded today so you could see the tutorial before we turned on the music!

I love to close the day with a couple of rounds of Follow the Leader by Banda del Diablo. I downloaded the song from iTunes after we heard it on a river cruise in Sevilla! The kids love it! We do all of the actions suggested by the verses but during the chorus I make them follow me as I do funny dances (a different one each chorus… Sprinkler, cabbage patch, shopping cart, chacha, moonwalk, disco, etc)! This was the only video I could find on YouTube… Not great but you can hear the song…

Interpersonal Mixer

Today was a formative speaking assessment day. Students had to compare themselves to the main character in our novel. First they had to answer 3 questions on paper: what keeps you from sleeping at night, how do you help your parents, and where do you go when you have a big secret to tell and you don’t want to be overheard?

After students had come up with good, detailed answers for each, I had them find a partner. I set a one minute timer and they had to use that one minute to compare how they answered the first question. They needed to fill the whole minute which required lots of follow up questions! After a minute they went to a new partner and repeated question 1. Another minute and another partner with the same question. We did the same three rounds with the other two questions. It was great seeing them talk to so many different classmates!!

They did a good job and it seemed like they thought of better detail each round!

Interpersonal speaking through art

I don’t give a participation grade in my class. My grades are designed around the 4 skills and the 3 modes so that I have a clear picture of each student’s proficiency level. The old participation grade I gave was much more a classroom behavior type grade: i.e. raised hand 4 times during class period…

Classroom participation for me is more assessment based. For example, in Spanish 3 we are getting ready to study the Spanish Civil War and read the novel La Hija del sastre. I’m front-loading some culture so on Thursday we discussed different types of government. They defined and gave characteristics of a democracy, a monarchy, and a dictatorship. I allowed them to volunteer an idea if they wanted to but I have a lot of kids in level 3 who are lurkers, quiet observers, who prefer to absorb other people’s ideas. I did not require that everyone contribute, this was not an assessment, they were all engaged but the more extroverted students carried the creation of our definitions and characteristics.

So Thursday was a day that the lurkers could lurk, tomorrow is not. Tomorrow we are going to take a peek at Picasso’s Guernica. I am going to use Guernica as an interpersonal speaking assessment. Everyone will have a partner and everyone will participate. I will play this slide show and the pairs will discuss the painting together. It is a simple 10 minute activity that gives me plenty of time to walk between the groups and assess their conversations. Feel free to adapt to something you’re studying in your class. I definitely got the idea from my fabulous PLN and adapted it for my class!
Picasso’s Guernica TPS

I do a couple of these types of things each week so I am able to see progress in my kids’ use of the language but I also honor their personalities and allow them to contribute as they feel comfortable on the other days. (Everyone is entitled to assess participation in the way that fits their own classroom, don’t think I am telling you that you have to do it my way.) I’m not saying these kids are not comfortable speaking the language, they don’t need to “practice more” so they will feel better about speaking, they are truly quiet learners. They want to be talked at!

I posted a little about my class during #langchat this week but the 140 characters are never enough to really give a clear picture of what the classroom looks like. I asked the question “Does every student HAVE to participate?” I think it sounded like my kids were refusing to participate in assessments, refusing to speak at all but that was not what I meant. I am thinking about the many days we compare, contrast, brainstorm, debate… Those are no pressure, no grade days for me. We just enjoy being able to speak with each other in our “secret code” language and if a student wants to contribute, they’re praised and if they don’t, I’m ok with that. We differentiate so many things in our room, we can’t forget that “lurker” is an acceptable state of being! 🙂

Fighting fear of change…

This tweet from @casas_jimmy is brilliant! We have all struggled with colleagues who are scared or reluctant to change… And many of us have struggled with making big changes. Jimmy’s advice says it all! Everything doesn’t have to change at once, identify a piece that would really make a difference and start by encouraging that of our teachers and learners!

What would that piece be for you? Would you/your colleagues be willing to tackle mini goals throughout the year!?

Review before the new!

In Spanish 3 we are getting ready to start our Spanish Civil War unit and La Hija del Sastre… Later than usual by far… And I really wanted to review our study of the Civil War in El Salvador so it would be fresh in their minds for comparing!

I decided to use an activity that I learned in a reading workshop with Carol Gaab, gallery walk. First I had students individually list things that they remembered from our study. At first they said they didn’t remember anything but when I reminded them of all of the #authres we had used, it all came back to them! After their solo brainstorm, they worked in pairs to create a combined list of all their facts. When they had their paired list ready, the pairs formed groups of 4 and made an extra large list on a piece of butcher paper. We hung them around the room and the groups of four read everyone else’s posters and then turned in a summary of all they now remembered about the war!

It was a GREAT review and they are feeling confident about the info as we are on the verge of starting a similar study!