salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As promised, today we’ll take a look at some recent comments from readers about the issue of assessment. Our faithful reader and collaborator Ann M noted yesterday that
I agree that translation is terribly hard to mark, and when I use it for targeted checkups, I sometimes say that I will grade ONLY the part I am testing at the moment, e.g. whether they correctly show the subject and direct object by their translation or whether they correctly distinguish singulars from plurals. I may also tell them I am limiting the vocabulary they have to be able to recognize. I love other approaches to assessment, to the degree that assessment is necessary. (I think we probably assess students way too much! Just think if WE got assessed as often and for as many things as our students do.)
I like the idea of the “targeted checkup,” whether one uses translation or some other type of measurement. I also thought Ann’s point about the amount of assessment that teachers tend to do is quite interesting and important. One of my many “hats” in my face-to-face teaching world is to support teachers in their use of an online student records management system; if they have problems with grades or calculations, the phone rings (usually in the middle of class) or the email box fills up. What amazes me isn’t necessarily the number of assessments, but the amount of time that some colleagues wait before “grading the test” and “putting in the grades.” It seems to me that, if the purpose of “giving the test” was to measure students’ learning of the new concepts you’d taught them during a unit, you’d want to know (as quickly as possible!) whether they did, in fact, learn those new concepts. After all, if they did, you could move on to the next new concept; if not, you’d know you needed to do some more work with it. So, in a logical world, wouldn’t you want to “grade the test” and “put in the grades” right away?
It must not be a logical world! 🙂 Or else I am the greatest hypocrite in it! 🙂 For I, too, have been guilty of “giving the test” and not looking at it for a few days. Actually I’m more likely to do that with “the quiz” (which we’ve scored together in class) than “the test” (which I almost always have graded and returned by the next day). With “the quiz,” I’ve heard students’ responses and we’ve discussed each answer, so I already have a sense of the problem areas, and so do my students. But with “the test,” they need that feedback as soon as possible.
Anyway, this practice of “giving the test” and “waiting to grade it” seems to be endemic in the culture of teachers! But then I ask myself, “what was the purpose of the test? And is it still fulfilling that purpose if I wait three days to look at it?”
meā quidem sententiā, the problem is less with the amount of assessment than with assessment for assessment’s sake. Too often, I’m afraid, we give tests and quizzes because … we give tests and quizzes! You’ve probably noticed that the Tres Columnae system doesn’t feature “large” tests (we can add some if people really want them, but we think they’re somewhat imprecise measures, especially if there’s a single reported score that covers multiple objectives … or multiple types of objectives, or multiple curricular strands). You’ve also probably noticed that “exercises and quizzes” have a good deal of overlap. As learners are practicing a new concept or skill, we want them to know how they’re doing, so we want immediate feedback for them. And if we have that immediate feedback, there may not be a need for a more formal assessment. After all, both the teacher and the student can see at a glance how well the student has grasped the new concept or skill … and isn’t that the purpose of giving the test or quiz anyway? 🙂
We had another great comment from our faithful reader Elizabeth, who says this:
I rarely give translation assignments as a grade, but often verbally translate exercises with students, either with or without directed questions. The larger issue, for me, is how to read without mentally translating — it’s not easy to read the Latin as Latin and not mentally use English thought words to make sense of it.
In fact, her second point is so important … and so closely related to our next series of posts … that I want to save it for Monday. As for her use of translation, and the way she models the skills involved for her students, I think that’s an excellent example of using a tool (which translation is) for an appropriate and reasonable purpose. She’s clearly given the matter a lot of thought, such that translation is a conscious choice rather than a default approach.
In my face-to-face teaching world, I sometimes use an assignment called a “Guided Translation” which is essentially a cloze activity – I’ve prepared an English translation of a passage with some blanks, one per Latin word, which students work together to complete after reading the passage out loud, Latīnē, a few times. What my students don’t realize at first – but quickly discover – is that, over time, I’ll provide “blanks” that are unfillable; that is, I deliberately choose sentences or structures where a supposedly “literal” translation is difficult or unclear, and they ask me if they can modify the blank structure to make a more meaningful, understandable, or idiomatically English product. That’s actually the main purpose of the assignment: I want them to see that “translation” means many different things, and that one type of “translation” (what we often call a “literal” one) can, at times, be impossible. That leads to some fascinating and very productive dialogues with my students at the Understanding level in the Paideia framework.
If you haven’t visited the Version Alpha Wiki site in a while, or even if you have, I want to put in a plug for our faithful subscriber David H and his new story about his friend Ortellius’ garden. David tells me that when things get stressful in his day-to-day life (he’s a college professor in a field other than Classics, at a school that doesn’t currently offer Latin), he relaxes and de-stresses by visiting Tres Columnae and reading or writing. I’m so glad we can help him! David promises me that a new story, about the kitchen where Ortellius cooks his delectable produce, is coming soon! 🙂 In the next week or so, we’ll be adding some more stories, too, and we’ll also be looking at more exercises and quizzes … and thinking about ways to make it easy for non-tech-savvy participants to submit exercises and quizzes.
quid respondētis, amīcī?
- In your experience, what’s the purpose of “big” or formal assessments like tests or quizzes?
- Do they happen “just because,” or are they helpful as a real measure of student learning? Or is it (as it is in my case) a complicated picture?
- What about assessment results? Do you “record and move on,” or can you actually use the results to shape your instruction in the days after the quiz or test?
- What do you think of the blend of instruction and assessment in the Tres Columnae system?
- And finally, what do you think of the idea of a “self-defeating” assignment like my supposedly “Guided” translations that really are designed to help students become skeptical about the idea of translation?
Tune in next time, when we’ll consider these ideas from another angle and preview our posts for next week. If all goes well, we’ll also have another new story to share. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming!