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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Alternative Assessments and Why They Are Crucial to the Academic Success of ELLs in Mainstream Classes

Mainstream classrooms around the states now have ELLs in their classes.  For many, this is a new experience.  Some are unclear as to how to deliver grade level content to students who are not proficient in English.  The old approach was to send such students off to English Language Development (ELD) or Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) classes.  This is now a rarity. 

In upper grades where students have 6 classes a day, this dilemma has surfaced as a major issue.  Long term ELLs make up the majority of students with D's and F's at the secondary level.  The long term effects of this is an ever increasing number of high school drop outs.  Students trapped in low paying jobs for the rest of their lives.

So what can be done to rectify this situation? Look to alternative forms of assessment.  This is crucial since many of these students, though they sound fluent when they speak, are far below grade level in reading and writing.  Further, many of these students come from homes where the parents/guardians have limited literacy skills in the home language.  Yet, these deficiencies do not equal below average I.Q.s.  They need a different approach to deliver content and build language.

Here are some approaches which I have recommended to educators. 

1.  Weight grades.  For example, set up several categories for points:  homework, groupwork, writing, presentations, quizzes/tests, active classroom participation, learning logs (my favorite), final exams, projects, etc.   Each group is assigned a percentage of the final grades. 

For me, homework was 15%,
cooperative group work 10%,
writing 10%,
presentations 15%,
quizzes/tests 15%,
projects 15%,
finals 10%
vocabulary 10%

With weighted grades, teachers get a much clearer picture of a student's strengths and weaknesses and that leads to a fairer grade.  When the grade is heavily weighted towards formal assessments and final examinations, the ELL suffers.  Weighted grades also provide the teacher with clear specifics to share with parents who are concerned about a student's grade.  Using this approach, teachers can zero in on areas where the student excels as well as where s/he struggles. 

2.  Use rubrics for all major assignments.  Rubrics lay out in detail how student work will be graded.  Further, be sure to share examples of former student work as examples of what the rubric score actually looks like.  Rubrics offer holistic scores where the "big picture" is the focus and not lots of little red marks indicating errors on mechanics more so than content.

3.  When giving formal assessments, allow students to use their learning logs.  For an ELL to remember every detail of key content material in a second language s/he is not that proficient in leads to failure.  If the student knows from the beginning that this will be an option in formal tests, s/he will keep good notes since s/he will be able to use them.

4.  Have regular conferences with ELLs on their grades.  Highlight strengths first and then collaborate on what can be done to improve the weaker grades.

5.  When teaching writing, model, model, model!  Have posters all around the room of examples of good writing (student generated preferably).  Encourage peer partner writing, group writing, and last individual writing (with all drafts).  Again, try to see the big picture of what the student had to say and how well s/he laid out her/his argument first and then in the editing process, provide guidance on addressing errors in mechanics.  Find topics that excite them.  Write as a class.  Make it enjoyable!

6.  If students are failing in a teacher's class, s/he should ask other teachers the student has to see how that same student is doing in their classes.  The insight gained here may lead to re-evaluating the grading process in the teacher's class with that student.

The following two sites offer some ideas on forms of alternative assessments.  Some are for elementary school, but can be adapted to higher grades.

40 ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS


COLORIN COLORADO ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS

Denise

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