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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Adjust Your Teaching Styles for English Language Learners (ELL) in ESL/Bilingual Classrooms

Time Effective Approach to Assessing ELL/ESL Students
Tobey Cho Bassoff

In assessing the English literacy growth of ESL students, we, as general classroom teachers, often struggle to find a balance between time and quality assessment. The result is that we form assessments that are often intuited and incomplete.

When we intuit progress, or a lack of progress, being made by our ESL students, that progress is often linked to an activity or “moment” in time. However, when forced to actually recollect the “moment” and the evidence that led to our assessment, we struggle to produce it. (Having a large class is the number one reason why). Taking time into consideration, there are practical approaches we can use to develop a better picture of language acquisition that is quick and powerful. These include: snapshots, instant portfolios, visual graphs, and student driven self-reflective assessments. 

One answer is in the “snapshot!” Snapshots are white labels or pieces of paper divided into blocks with students’ names affixed to each box. When a significant “moment” happens, for example, when a student uses a new vocabulary word correctly in guided reading, you can grab a clipboard with the labels and record the day and the moment. At the end of the week, put the labels into portfolios for your students. When it’s time to conduct a formal assessment, pull out the snapshots and assess students with the confidence of concrete evidence.Snapshots become part of an instant portfolio. These portfolios, as the name suggests, are a compilation of student work. They are called “instant” because they are comprised of assessments that take place on an on-going daily basis in the classroom. My portfolios are stored in a purple crate in a highly visible place in the classroom. The crate is organized alphabetically, by first name, and divided into folders labeled: reading, writing, math, science/social studies, notes, teacher assessments and student assessments. Students access the crate when they have something “significant” to add, or when they want to see their progress. Students become vested in their learning when they have a reference point for growth and achievement. The crate also stores lists of high frequency words and grids to chart student growth in reading and writing.

Visual grids are an idea that comes from Marie M. Clay’s An Observation Survey (Heineman, 1993). They visually graph the students’ progress in reading and writing in numerous ways. They can be graphs depicting the increasing difficulty of books read or the number of high frequency words a student has mastered. For my fifth grade ESL students, this is a remarkable motivator for learning because they can see visible growth in their language acquisition.

One final approach to quick and powerful assessments is a student self-assessment graph. I got this idea from an “Understanding by Design” conference hosted by ACSD in Washington, DC (November 2002). The principle behind the measure is to get students to become self-reflective about their learning. The teacher develops a line graph with all of the different subjects that are suitable for the class. For example, in fifth grade I chose English language (for my ESL students), reading, writing, math, science, social studies, spelling, and homework. On the graph, the subjects are located on one axis and the continuum for growth is located on the other axis. Students visit the same graph when the school year begins, and around each grading period. Each time the graphs are visited, students mark their progress with a different color pen. The teacher completes a similar graph. During a student-teacher conference, or during parent-teacher conferences, the graphs are discussed separately. The results were incredible! Students begin to take ownership in their learning as they discuss ways to reach the maximum of their potential across the content areas!

Whatever assessment avenue you choose to follow, remember that teaching becomes most powerful when we are deliberate and informed about the learning that is taking place. This is especially true when you are teaching students to speak a completely different language. Students want to see their growth, and when they do they are validated in the effort that they put forth in your class and in life. 
 
Questions or comments? E-mail Tobey.

 

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