Monthly Archives: April 2013

level tests

I’m preparing a theme-based English camp. Using the feedback from the students, teachers and staff of last year’s camp, I am tweaking, changing and hopefully improving the syllabus for the new one.

What I’ve got is one week, repeated three times. There’s lots of room for reflection and adjustment as we go along. There are no returning students, so I can recycle some of the topics.

I have three main themes: sending a letter at the post office; international travel at an airport; and working and serving in an international restaurant. Each theme lasts a day; I learned last year that it’s a mistake to plan anything inflexible for Monday and Friday. Friday is only half a day, and we use it for wrap-up activities like a Golden Bell team trivia game and making and signing memory books for each other.

Monday feels like a waste of time. The students come and get settled in their rooms. There is an opening ceremony and they take a tour of the campus. (The campus tour is going to be really important this year as I implement Ratna’s Amazing Race activity later in the week.) Then they have lunch and come back to the auditorium for “Level Tests”.

"Before the test" Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @Senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

“Before the test” Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @Senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

This is what level tests looked like last year:
Students sit in our auditorium and we give them a reading comprehension test. The test has three parts: a really easy part that asks factual questions about the reading (along the lines of “What color is the ball?” a. red b. blue c. black), a mid-level part that has a slightly more complex passage and long-answer comprehension questions (mostly factual), and a higher-level part that has part of a news article and comprehension questions that inference and expressing an opinion. This test takes about 20 minutes for the students to either complete it or give up.

"Listening" Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

“Listening” Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

It has two huge problems, though: the students cheat off each other because they feel it’s a high-risk situation and I am not an expert test-maker and honestly have no idea how to tell if this test is assessing what I hope it is assessing (i.e. reading comprehension, not test-taking skills).

The second part of the level test, going on at the same time, is an interview with one of the teachers. One by one, 90 students go to the back of the auditorium where teachers are waiting with lists of questions progressing from basic, formulaic questions to questions that involve long sentences, more complicated grammar and more of the students’ own opinions. Each 11-year-old kid gets about three minutes to demonstrate their verbal abilities (or clam up and cry).

"Emotions" Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @dfogarty, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

“Emotions” Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @dfogarty, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

There are a few problems with this system. First of all, we misfire more than I would expect to. We don’t have the time to have two teachers interviewing each kid and discussing their level afterwords, so it’s nearly impossible to make sure everyone’s idea of “high” “medium” or “beginner” are the same. I give them criteria, but I can’t directly supervise. Second of all, it’s bloody boring tedious. Thirdly, it is stressful for the students.

I’m not even convinced that it’s all that necessary. On the one hand, it’s pretty difficult to teach a class with both beginners and advanced students, but on the other hand it’s just four days and they’re mixed some of that time anyway, and the two hours of stressful level-testing can probably be better used.

So I have some questions for the blogging world:

1. Do you do level tests? Why or why not?
2. If you do level tests, how do you do them?
3. Would you be willing to share ideas with me – what can I do differently?

 

(P.S.: Giant thanks to #ELTpics. I’m a first time user, but I’ll be back!)

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