Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An Authentic and Memorable Final Exam

This semester, my intermediate ELLs took their skills to another level with their final exam. I rely heavily on formative assessments throughout the semester, but this group's major summative assessments were all essays. The final essay was a personal narrative, complete with sections for autobiographical info, comparison/ contrast (home culture/ country and the USA), cause and effect (challenges faced and solutions), self-assessment (goals set and steps taken toward achievement), and quoting evidence and information gathered from personal interviews with family members.

Each step of their essay was formatively assessed, through conferences, self-assessment with their rubrics, and subsequent changes made according to the rubric and feedback, so by the time final exam time rolled around, I wanted it to reflect what they had learned in an authentic way.

So, they wrote stories. From the essays they had written, I asked them to pull one challenge out and expand upon it, ending with a lesson they had learned. I told them they were going to create short picture books with their writing, and boy were they reluctant.

Then they learned they would be reading their stories to 1st graders. Once they realized that reading to 1st graders would be "no joke", they got busy. Normally, this crew comes into 1st block class all hyped up from playing soccer before school, and I have to rein them in.

Not anymore. They worked hard writing, revising (!), reading to each other to make sure it made sense, and drawing pictures they thought the kids would like. No other final exam could have told me more about what they'd learned.

But then I saw them in action--witnessing them reading, stopping to ask clarifying questions, and interacting with the younger students showed me yet another side to this group of students who has taught me so much this year.

I plan on scaling it up next year with my next group of language learners, earlier in the semester. My expectations are deliciously high.  (I want to thank Heidi Hayes for her willingness to collaborate!)

Authentic audiences prove to be a powerful motivator--even for my most reluctant learners. The readers learned much about themselves this day! Best final exam ever.

Some were even asked to share their stories with the fifth grade classes--what a thrill that was for them!

So, to all my students, thank you for the many, many things YOU taught me this year, too. Can't wait until August to try it again!

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