Language to Communicate and Learn
Evaluating the talk competency in an ELA classroom
Evaluating students' reading comprehension and writing skills are usually straightforward. Although there are many different ways of doing either, these assignments are concrete, with rubrics that the students are used to. What always trips me up is evaluating how students use language to communicate and learn. Teachers are expected to evaluate this competency once a year, and up to three times a year. I have always found it difficult since there is only so much time in a term, and my students need to improve their skills in the other two competencies. They can all talk, there is no doubt, but getting them to do so about something academic and for evaluation is something I have been working on for the last few years. This year I think I've got something that works.
To start, I have chosen to evaluate the talk competency only once each year, for third term which counts for 60% of their mark for the year. Of that 60% the talk competency will count for 33%. It's a hefty amount to put on communicating, so I accumulate marks during all three terms, but only include them on the final report card. I bring this to the attention of my students and their parents at the beginning of the year, and they agree that it is best to focus on reading and writing for the first two terms. (I still evaluate these competencies during third term.)
Term one came to a close a few weeks ago. Every week students were given a short story to read and analyze. They had to show their comprehension of the story by writing about the author's purpose and a specific literary device used to convey this purpose. Literary devices were assigned to each story. Every student submitted a response, and in addition two to three students were responsible for giving an oral response. This is where I could evaluate their reading comprehension and use of language with the same assignment. For me that means fewer projects to prepare. When the students assigned to the story are done with their oral response, I then open the class to discuss the ideas presented by he students who spoke, or to share other perspectives on the story.
The days where I talk to my students about literature are my favorite. I get to see how insightful they are. In an open discussion, I get so much more than what they can express on paper. For students who struggle with articulating their understanding in writing, this is valuable. The discussion is informal, and usually all I do is prompt them for ideas, and guide the discussion, giving students a turn to speak.
As they offer their insights, I use a checklist to keep track of how well they use language to communicate. Each student has their own checklist for each date of discussion. I've printed them onto cue cards, punched holes in them and put them onto a key chain ring. This makes it easy and quick to flip from one student's checklist to the next. We've read eight stories this term. On the checklist, I highlighted the date each student was responsible for giving their oral response. They were told that they would have to meet all evaluated criteria by the end of the term. For the quieter students, this put less pressure on them since they were not required to speak up each day. It work beautifully.
The best part is that although our discussions began focused on the story assigned that day, our conversation often turned into students giving personal examples that related to the themes of the stories, or making connections to other stories. I patted myself on the back for that a few times.
Want a list of short stories, literary devices and a copy of my evaluation rubric? Email me for information, and I'll be glad to share.