I just spent an exhausting but stimulating weekend away from home attending a conference. Nice, engaging teachers and sessions. The last session was an open mic panel discussion and one of those on the panel Mike Misner, an extensive reading enthusiast, commented that “we should assess students by HOW MUCH they have read, not how well they can read”.

On the way home, Devon Thargard (from Super Simple Songs – a simply great site for those teaching young learners!) and I got discussing this as we zoomed along on the bullet train. My own thoughts were also zooming along.

I got to wondering that maybe we have it all wrong – we shouldn’t micro assess. Rather, because language ISN”T a body of knowledge and facts – we should base assessment solely on what the student does. Now I’m not talking benchmarks and functional checklists. I’m talking – a very general assessment of how active they are, doing whatever they are asked. Devon commented that we should “judge” based on how much the student was using/encountering/being active with language. Mostly because that is the only way to be honest. About the only thing we are sure about in regards to language acquisition and learning is — the more students are encountering language, the more they are learning. There are too many other factors involved to discern or go any further in our conclusions about “what a student is learning?” or “if a student has learned”.

I have always thought it would be great to assess speaking by having students wear a device that counts how many times their mouth moved and pronounced an English word. Add them up and you got English mileage and a speaking score.

You could go further and develop head gear which records students actively decoding and “thinking ” English. If it is glowing the purple English color – high marks! A teacher could quickly scan the class and SEE who is learning.

Or how about writing. Couldn’t we assess students by how much they write. They are learning more and after all – the goal of us language teachers is not to create a poet but to create a person who can write in a basic, communicative fashion.

How can we create the odometers of the English language? Is there any technology out there that might help us?

I know I’m writing mostly in jest but I think these are valid things to think about. Assessing students by how active they are with language and forgeting all the fine points…..

If you are curious about more traditional assessment issues and tools for EFL / ESL – see my Assessment in EFL Classroom’s resources.