Week 31: Listening Assessment

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There’s more to observing than meets the eye. And when it comes to oral language, it is really about what meets the ear.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations around listening comprehension and oral expression.  

Assessing can be a humbling experience because it lets me know just because I’ve taught “it” doesn’t mean the students have learned “it”.  In fine-tuning my listening skills, I have learned just because I’ve said “it” doesn’t mean the students heard what I said correctly.  Here’s an example that happened during math.  To review the names of the four basic shapes, each student got a shape to hold. Then, I played Greg and Steve’s song, Shapes. It is a listening game and the song tells the students holding a particular shape to stand or sit down. After playing the song a couple of times, I introduced the term plane figure.  We talked about how many corners and sides each plane figure had and charted on a table I had created ahead of time.  To practice using the vocabulary words, we played a game called Guess My Shape. To learn how to describe using academic vocabulary (an expectation in the CCSS), I provided the sentence stem, “My plane figure has ___ corners and ___ sides.”  Students were eager to play. Hands were waving in the air signaling, “Pick me! Pick me!” Here’s what one student said, “My plane finger has four corners and four sides.” So, even though I had the words plane figure written down this student heard finger rather than figure.  Who knows how many others thought I said finger. Obviously, I needed to work on enunciating. To clarify, I wiggled my fingers and said, “These are fingers.”  Then, I held up a shape and said as clearly as I can, “ This is a plane figure.” What I love about first grade is they are easily amused and find everything you do with exaggeration so hilarious. On a side note, I learned using humor can help the information go from short-term memory to long-term memory.  In this case, I think it did.  The next day, we played the guessing game again.  This time, I didn’t hear anyone say “finger”. It just goes to show how important student talk can be as a formative assessment to find out what did students actually hear.    

During collaboration with my grade level, everyone had similar stories to share. We decided a habit we need to develop is to “chunk and check”. Present a chunk of information, such as a new vocabulary, and check if the students heard correctly by having them repeat it back.  Next, have them tell their partners what they just learned.  Then, check again by having someone repeat one more time before chorally saying it together.  This might be a good routine to incorporate not only to assess but to give students multiple opportunities to rehearse and use the academic vocabulary.  I would also add, when I have students turn and talk when I am introducing a new unit of study, I usually listen in on students that I know are active listeners and do not need English language support.  I use these students to gauge how effective my instruction was. If they didn’t understand, then I have to wonder how ineffective it was for students who have limited background knowledge and need English language support. I find to just keep moving on, without assessing at different points during instruction to adjust in the moment, requires more time, energy, and resources in the long run to catch up students left behind.  After all, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. It is harder to change what has been cemented than to take time to adjust when it is still malleable. 

Listening to students carefully to determine what they hear and how they are processing the instruction I am delivering is an invaluable assessment.  By taking the time to fill in the gap I am noticing while instruction is happening, I hope to prevent the achievement gap from widening especially as we move to more rigorous standards outlined in the CCSS. 






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