Assessments often focus on knowing about the language at the exclusion of what the student can do with the language. Below are some guidelines to help distinguish these two practices. Take some time to find the balance of assessing what students can do with the language (context-based) and what they know about the language (minimal context). I focus on the language particulars more when tasks involve writing and more on what students can do with the language when speaking.
These are some assessment characteristics that show what students know about language:
- They assess discrete points.
- The answers are either right or wrong.
- They are easily and quickly scored.
- They test language content: vocabulary, grammar, and culture.
- They involve the lower-level thinking skills of knowledge and comprehension.
- They are usually given in formal testing periods.
These are some assessment characteristics that show what students can do with language:
- They require that students create a product or do a demonstration.
- They are scored holistically.
- They are task-based.
- The tasks are situation-based or use real-world content.
- They involve higher-level thinking skills of application, integration, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
- They are given in both formal and informal testing situations.
Take a look at the tasks and activities that you give students and determine what it is that they are actually assessing. Are they focused on what students know about the language or what they can do with the language?
Activities that show what students know about language:
- Multiple choice
- Fill in the blanks
- Give the correct form of the noun, adjective, verb
- Change one word for another, e.g. noun for pronoun
- State the facts
- Follow the model
- Repeat, recite
- Answer the questions
Activities that show what students can do with the language:
- Complete the sentence logically.
- State your opinion, thoughts, or comments.
- Give personal answers.
- Create a situation.
- Seek information.
- Develop a product, e.g. advertisement, brochure, collage, poem, song, essay, video, etc.
- Demonstrate your knowledge.
- Summarize, paraphrase.
- Change the ending.
Find the balance in assessment and make sure that there are opportunities for students to demonstrate what they can do with the language in addition to what they know about it.