Checking a student is really learning

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Checking a student is really learning

Postby MrBlobby » 16 Jun 2012, 18:24

Curious as to how teachers in Taichung determine and make sure one-on-one students are learning. I recently had a student for a few years that has recently ended. After ending, I've got to thinking how much progress the student really made and while we learnt a lot together and read a lot of novels, (the class was primarily a reading one), she only incrementally improved her speaking accuracy, fluency and confidence. She also forgot up to a third of what we learned (without being prompted.)

Now I really worked hard for this student. I dislike the endless culture of weekly test prevalent in the buxiban and education system in Taiwan, so I always got round this by reviewing a lot, using online flashcard systems, careful homework selection and lots of speaking exercises, conversation, even limited role-play. However, try as I might, I was never able to change the one thing that would have made the difference which was her overall attitude towards learning.

Students typically learn best when relaxed and willing to learn. So it is here that I face a dilemma. Does the private tutor, a) teach in class but leave the responsibility up to the student to review and retain knowledge gained over many classes or b) set periodic tests on material learn, rote memorization of passages read etc... to make sure the student retains 90%+ of what's learned, though face the possibility of he/she losing interest in the learning process - as many students in the current buxiban system are prone to do?

In general, from experience what do teachers in Taiwan think is the best way to make sure students are continually learning? How do you maintain a good attitude towards learning (esp. when the parents rely on the teacher to provide the main source of motivation).
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby MrBlobby » 22 Jun 2012, 21:28

curious as to why nobody responded to this thread. While it is really up to the student to ensure they preview, review and learn, there are many teaching strategies for making sure students learn what's taught and maintain that knowledge. Any help, or other threads where this question has already been answered.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby GuyInTaiwan » 23 Jun 2012, 08:15

To start with, read about the differences between formative and summative assessment.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formative_assessment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summative_assessment

A large part of your problem here is always going to be that they rely almost entirely upon summative assessment, but do so for its own sake (rather than as a way to determine if the students have really learnt anything in any subject). It's very much a case of the tail wagging the dog, not the other way around. In a way, before you can begin educating your students, you need to educate them about what education should really be about. I use TPRS (check out the CI and TPRS thread), but even I still struggle for quite a while. Some kids just get it, but others simply can't get their heads around the whole idea that learning/acquiring does not have to equal meaningless, esoteric tests. After all, in pretty much every other area of their life, and from every other adult, that's the message they've been getting all of their lives, so going against that is definitely a case of swimming against the current.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby MrBlobby » 23 Jun 2012, 23:25

Fantastic answer. Thanks for that GuyinTaiwan. So I recognize that Iprimarily use formative learning assessment strategies in class but what I don't do is help the students set their own language goals and give them fixed feedback towards those goals. This is key to improving the students self-efficacy.

Formative assessment strategies I use, are reading between the lines, regular minor summative assessments (ex. quizzes), situational English usage (What if...), presenatations on a given topic....etc..

This is however a new area for me, where I may well have done some of these formative assessments before but not realized it. GuyinTaiwan, what strategies do you use to assess student's progress and how do you help them remain (generally) intrinsically motivated?

Thanks again for your help. That last answer was really what I was looking for, as I didn't know the correct keywords to google for the answer!
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby ironlady » 24 Jun 2012, 08:47

MrBlobby wrote:Iprimarily use formative learning assessment strategies in class but what I don't do is help the students set their own language goals and give them fixed feedback towards those goals. This is key to improving the students self-efficacy.


You have to understand, those of us who teach CI-based methods like TPRS do not feel that we need to improve students' self-efficacy. We believe that we need to expose them to lots of interesting comprehensible input, and that their acquisition will take time. We use formative assessments to figure out what point they are at along the way, so as to know what things we need to put in more repetitions on. I was not answering this post because I know that most people teaching English in Taiwan do not or cannot use CI-based methods and mastery learning due to the situations they are in (even assuming they wanted to), and our views on assessment and motivation are radically different from most people who teach using rules-and-output.

This is however a new area for me, where I may well have done some of these formative assessments before but not realized it. GuyinTaiwan, what strategies do you use to assess student's progress and how do you help them remain (generally) intrinsically motivated?


It sounds like you're doing some ESL course, asking about "strategies for assessing student progress" and "intrinsic motivation". Are you sure this isn't for some homework assignment? :D It's really very simple. What do you want the student to be able to do with the language? Specifically? After a period of time doing something that you believe will make him able to do that, can he do that? That's what assessment should be for.

As for motivation, nothing succeeds like success. Most students -- kids and adults alike -- want to be able to do whatever it is they're being made to learn. Failure in the language class leads to acting out, less attention, and generally pretending they don't care and language isn't "cool". Turn that failure to success -- genuine success, because kids know the difference -- and surprising numbers of "problem kids" suddenly aren't problems anymore.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby GuyInTaiwan » 26 Jun 2012, 12:38

MrBlobby: Basically, the least complicated thing, and the thing that you can do over and over again to received instantaneous feedback is to ask comprehension questions.

Basically, you can ask three types of questions: yes/no, or, or wh-.

For example, imagine you had these two sentences:

1. The dog is brown.
2. The cat is orange.

Yes/no: Is the dog brown? Is the dog orange? Is the cat brown? Is the cat orange?
Or: Is the dog brown or orange? Is the cat brown or orange? Is the dog or the cat brown?* Is the dog or the cat orange?*
Wh-: Who/what/which animal is brown? Who/what/which animal is orange? What colour is the dog? What colour is the cat?

I actually wouldn't use the two sentences marked with an asterix because they could be a bit ambiguous. However, that still leaves ten questions (fourteen if you do "Who is brown?", "What is brown?" and "Which animal is brown?", plus the same for orange). Of course, you need to mix these up. If what you do is predictable, then it's less effective.

Basically though, you get immediate feedback to find out if they understand something or not. Even if they get it correct, they may be guessing, so you can still ask them what part of their answer (or your question) means. If they get the question incorrect, then you can break that down to find out which part is causing the problem. For instance, do they understand the question, but not know the information required for the answer, or do they not even understand the question?

In that vein, another thing you can do is ask them to translate something (either whatever you've just said or a part of the story, or maybe even the whole story), to see if they understand.

All of this requires some level of Chinese, obviously, so you can know if they're correct. I know it also doesn't fly in many classrooms here because there is a huge (illogical) aversion to using Chinese and people would rather battle on to book three or book four than make sure they actually understand book one and they'd rather guess their way through every class, hoping they're on the same page. People need to get over that though. It's about establishing comprehension, or figuring out where that's breaking down and working on the problem. The trouble is that people here believe the following:

1) Straight immersion will take someone from 0% comprehension to 100% comprehension. Sometimes, it will. Sometimes, it won't, if it's simply too far beyond a student. The distance between the two points affects the time involved. The way it's done here though is often, at best, highly inefficient. At worst, it's a complete waste of time.

2) Production (output) is everything. As such, there's a massive emphasis on speaking (parroting), memorisation, and reading aloud, even if the kids have no idea what it is they're saying and can't use it in any meaningful, and novel, way. I have even heard foreign teachers say that they want their kids to be able to read aloud, even if they don't understand what they're reading. It's absurd and needs to be abandoned.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby TaiwanVisitor12321 » 26 Jun 2012, 18:11

GuyInTaiwan wrote:2) Production (output) is everything. As such, there's a massive emphasis on speaking (parroting), memorisation, and reading aloud, even if the kids have no idea what it is they're saying and can't use it in any meaningful, and novel, way. I have even heard foreign teachers say that they want their kids to be able to read aloud, even if they don't understand what they're reading. It's absurd and needs to be abandoned.


So how would you deal with reading? I've recently improved my classes, but my class sounds an awful lot like your above description, mostly due to reading and vocabulary (lots of it, each lesson).

I really need to work on TPRS more (I have TPRS in a Day, PQA in a Wink, and the whole DVD set... I have not made it through all of that yet, so I have work to do), but I can't get around all the reading and vocab I have to do each class, which doesn't motivate me to keep learning a skill I don't think I can really use. Lately I make everyone answer a question at the beginning of the class, and that uses up too much time and I have to rush through the rest of the class. I don't know how to work TPRS into my classes, basically. If we don't read, there will be complaints, guaranteed. At the same time, they barely pay attention to my explanations, and rarely discuss anything or ask questions. Because they don't pay attention, it's hard to ask them questions about it, and I really don't have time for that anyway.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby tomthorne » 26 Jun 2012, 18:42

Oh, FFS! You just need to shout "Do you understand?". When they nod you move onto the next pointless piece of grammatical trivia. Job's a good'un.

If you're really cutting-edge you can add a multiple choice test at the end of the course.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby ironlady » 26 Jun 2012, 20:30

TaiwanVisitor12321 wrote:So how would you deal with reading? I've recently improved my classes, but my class sounds an awful lot like your above description, mostly due to reading and vocabulary (lots of it, each lesson).


Let's say you're in Dulan. You can either drive to Taidong, or to Ershui (yes, straight across the island). If you try to drive to both Taidong and Ershui at the same time, you won't get anywhere.

If you have to drive to Ershui (teach massive amounts of material and concentrate on grammar/patterns a lot), you cannot do full-on TPRS. You cannot. UNLESS you are willing to triage. You select the few bits of language that are truly high-frequency and do massive input on those, and simply give the other vocabulary as memorization homework and quiz it to prove you've covered it.

They will not know that other vocabulary. But they wouldn't have known it in the first place either, taught as it is generally taught. Does anyone have kids [plural,a s in "all the students", not just one] who really know AND can fluently use everything in the textbook? The vocab and items that were taught using CI, on the other hand, will be acquired and available for unconscious use.

Do not be fooled by the DVDs from Slavic -- he not only doesn't have to teach anything traditionally, he also has tenure where he's at. That means he can do precisely what he wants in the classroom, for the most part. It makes an enormous difference.

If you must teach too much stuff, don't go full TPRS. Learn to circle really well. Now use circling whenever you encounter something that's worthy of circling. That provides dense input. Don't circle what they already know, and don't circle stuff you don't care if they know (even if it's in the chapter).

For reading, you may want to learn about embedded readings. Laurie Clarcq does them. It involves some prep time for the teacher to prepare multiple versions of one reading. The problem is that embedded readings assume that you're teaching language that will actually be in the readings...your mileage may vary depending on the textbook/material you're being told to use.
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Re: Checking a student is really learning

Postby ehophi » 03 Jul 2012, 02:44

I have objective measures for almost every project that I assign.

The vocabulary testing that I do tests for cumulative knowledge of a given book every week. Students who can consistently score 90% or higher or who can score better than they did on their previous test have more likely picked up on the terms. It works out as a sort of mathematical truism, but I'd have to spend more time spelling out how I teach vocabulary and generate the tests to show why that is the case.

The audio testing that I do tests for their abilities to recognize and pattern words (in textual form) from spoken language.

The writing work that I assign tests for the ability to write correct text. Students are motivated to write correctly because the number of errors counts toward a debt of writing that they owe me. Students who have gotten their debt to zero (and over half of them have done so) only have to answer a question, which I write as a simple follow-up to whatever they wrote the previous week. There's more to it, but the basic incentives are for students to self-correct and actively seek assistance from me in problem areas.

I don't test spoken skills. I've not yet found or made a means of consistently and objectively assessing and comparing speaking ability. I do some exercises to get their pronunciation right on things, but I don't know how to form it into an objective assessment for regular checking.
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