Tag Archives: performance assessment

Using Portfolios to Assess Student Work more Effectively


10% homework, 40% quizzes, 20% participation….. sound familiar?

The result seems to be students working to achieve a grade as close to 100% as they can, while being confused about how they can even calculate their own grades. Teachers want students to realize the power of a strong work ethic and develop intrinsic motivation necessary for deep learning, however, we often use an enigmatic grading system rather than meaningful feedback. The focus is on the grade achieved rather than the learning. This is problematic and all too common. Learning is not simply an end goal but a process as well.

I use portfolio assessments in my world language classroom according to the following general guidelines.

  1. Change the vocabulary to assessment and performance-based assessments. It more accurately describes what we, as teachers should be doing.
  2. Start with the end in mind. The ultimate goal for our students is to develop a certain skill or content knowledge. Therefore, we need learning targets, both a mixture of skills and content, in relation to which we can assess a student’s current ability and progress towards their goal.
  3. Assessment needs to happen early and often. Students need feedback immediately to know where they stand and specifically where they can improve.
  4. We don’t need to “grade” everything. If the purpose is to give feedback, then everything does not need to be recorded. Nor is it practical to record grades as much as they could be given.
  5. Not all grades need to be numerical. What’s wrong with meets standard, approaches standard, exceeds standard with narrative to go with it?
  6. Informal assessments are as useful as formal assessments. They often take less time, and specific feedback can be given quickly and easily. They serve to guide instruction and student work.
  7. Grades should be disaggregated. What do you do if a student turns in a project that completed all the requirements and has acquired all the content but turns the project in one day late. Some teachers would take 50% off the total score. So instead of a 95, that student now has a 47. What does that tell the student when factored into the 20% category of projects? When a parent looks at the 45%, is it clear what the student could or couldn’t do? Have categories that represent specific skills: work ethic (turning assignments in on time and completion), collaboration, content, critical thinking, etc.
  8. Metacognition should be a part of all major assessments. Students need to reflect on the quality of their own work and the contributions they made to a project.
  9. Open-ended performance assessments that show what a student can do rather than what they can’t, perhaps given freedom to display their achievement of skills as content through the platform of their choosing.

10. Involve your students in the grading process. They can help to choose the wording of the rubrics or alter the categories. They can also peer and self-assess. Rubrics and feedback should be put in kid friendly terms, so they know what they can do to improve.

Here’s an example:

My French II students were doing a unit on French cinema. The goal was for students to gain an understanding of the place the cinema holds in French culture and how that differs in products, perspectives and practices of Americans. The main project was to create a whole class blog for the local community to encourage the viewing of French films from the library. The performance assessments were as follows. They had a conversation with a friend deciding what movie they wanted to see that night and why. They took a description about the movie Les Misérables that we watched that was very short and choppy and made it made it more complex using object pronouns. They chose their own French movie to watch and created a blog post about it, including brief synopsis, general opinion and recommendations. Each student then had to choose one other movie to watch based on the description of their peer and leave a comment to their review.

Each assessment was designed to show what a student was able to do with the language in order to elicit meaningful feedback. I also designed smaller assessments along the way to be informally assessed by peers or the teacher in order to check for progress.  All assessments used the same or similar rubrics with shared vocabulary. Each had component of proficiency, content and, if it was a group task, collaboration. The language of the rubrics were put in student-friendly terms, and modified based on student feedback. Each item that was formally or informally assessed was numbered and placed in the portfolio with a note from the students about the success they achieved and an area of improvement to focus on.

At several points along the way, we as a class stopped so the students could reflect generally on where they were in the process and write something longer than they did in the quicker checkpoints. This reflective process was also assessed using a rubric. These reflections can be used to create individualized work for students or serve as a general temperature check for the teacher in scaffolding the work. The half-year reflection point is especially useful for setting goals, and involving parents. With the use of rubrics, students stop discussion around topics like “getting As instead of Bs” and move to using specific language about their own proficiency and work style. This does have to be modeled in the beginning.

Portfolios give students an individualized targeted method of focusing on what they can do with the language. They analyze their own strengths and weaknesses with the help of the teacher and peers to continually improve on specific areas. They can be either housed in a paper folder in the class or digitally on-line. In my world language class, I prefer the digital version, so we can include speaking, writing, and tech-based assessments, like Voicethread, podcasts or blogs. The students are excited to have, virtually or physically, tangible evidence of their success.

My ultimate goal would be for reported “grades” to be a narrative and based on meeting a standard. This however is a larger school or district decision.  Therefore, when using a portfolio assessment, a teacher will have to decide for themselves what it would look like as translated into a numeric grade.

I hope we can all begin to contemplate the power of this type of assessment. Think about when you were in school and received grades you did not understand, that did not in actuality assess what you knew or were able to do with the skills and content that were acquired. In most classes, grades are an end result. Learning should be the end result with grades a way to focus the students and give them direction on how to create an individualized implementation plan.


Follow the Leader


You don’t have to be a school administrator to lead school reform.  My former school principal, @MsKWeldon had a wonderfully positive approach.  She said she was speaking to anyone willing to listen.  (There would inevitably be naysayers who would find problems with anything and everything, and she wasn’t going to twist their arms.)  Her idea was that the enthusiasm of those who were “on-board” would serve as an impetus to those who were not.
Let’s watch this idea in action:

When you are trying to incite a positive change or adjust streams of thought, focus on those who are willing to join.
My last year of teaching, I worked very closely with my colleague @senoralopez designing rubrics to increase proficiency and thematic units based on authentic texts and authentic performance assessments.  The first followers joined because they overheard the enthusiasm in our conversations about planning, not because a new initiative had been forced upon them.  They were embraced!

Voice Thread as an Assessment in the World Language Classroom


Voicethread is a fabulous tool for a world language teacher for several reasons.
1. It is a performance assessment.
2. It can be differentiated to varying levels and needs.
3. The student is the creator and the audience.
4. It can be viewed publicly.

In my French I class, we completed a unit on the children’s story, Il y a un Alligator Sous Mon Lit (There is an Alligator Under My Bed). The students learned the rooms and furniture of the house, prepositions, fears, and how to compose a message before reading the story. Then they listened, read, watched, and acted out the story through various activities. There were many formative assessments along the way to test acquisition of vocabulary, and the summative assessment was to create a unique story based on the format of Il y a un Alligator Sous Mon Lit.

This assessment showed me what the students are able to do with the language. Rather than testing the students for discrete information, in a test or quiz that shows what they don’t know, they took what they learned and produced the best product they could at their proficiency level.

This class is extremely varied in needs and proficiency level and, I was able to modify the requirements to fit each student. Some students had more requirements than others. I provided templates for certain students, while more advanced students were given less direction. I compacted the past tense for one extremely advanced student and she wrote he story using the preterite and imperfect complete with irregular verbs!! Voicethread allows individual needs to be met on both ends of the spectrum!

After the student creates the Voicethread,they were required to view and comment on all of the other students’ Voicethreads. Because they know their project is public and viewed by their peers, the quality is better.

Using this tool in the classroom enables students to become better equipped to use Web 2.0 in a productive and responsible manner.

Below I have included a few examples of varying proficiency levels:

“Why does (s)he get an easy quiz??!”: Fulfilling all needs in a classroom of mixed abilities




It doesn’t matter what road the students take, as long as we are maximizing their growth!








I have a group of French I students that is truly mixed ability: IEPs, heritage learners, students who have taken other languages, students who are repeating, all grade levels.  There are eight students and I often give three different assignments for all activities because it is what is required of me.  A few teachers have asked me how I get away with doing that, meaning, don’t certain students ask why other students are getting easier assignments?  The way I can “get away with it” is through that intangible product of a positive classroom climate.  This class has known and accepted from the beginning of the year that there are many different entry points when learning a language, and everyone will always be at a different proficiency level.  I explained to them that it is up to me to make sure that they are each challenged.  By instilling this in the beginning, continuing to reinforce it, and not let any student take the easy way out, it has come to be a classroom norm.

So that’s the easy part really!  The hard part is developing activities that can assess all learners.  This is where rubrics enter, rubrics that are based on proficiency, requirements, and effort (another discussion all together…).

Here’s an example:

We finished a story-based unit on a fable.  The summative assessment was to choose a moral or lesson and create your own fable using an online comic website, toondoo.com.  All students were able to do this, just at varying levels of proficiency.  Some students had less requirements, and some students had more.  It wasn’t something that I advertised, but it wasn’t something that I would hide either, as already mentioned.  The rubric was the same for every student.  A student who was more proficient in the language would, in most cases, get a better grade, but a less proficient student was still able to be successful.

In this type of learning environment, there are no “wrong” answers.  It’s about what each student is able to do with the language skills he or she has


Who dictates what is taught?


My students look forward to a Mardi Gras party all year, so they can eat in class.  I might as well take advantage of it! I created holiday unit in French II. The students learned all about the 14th of July (la fête national) and how Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the world. In this way, I let the students dictate what is being taught. I will not just take a day out of the year to have a party, but I will create a unit based around an authentic cultural experience.

The summative assessment for the section on July 14th is a performance task using Voicethread.com.  The students create a scrapbook summarizing how they celebrated the holiday in France, being “invited” by another student who happens to be “studying abroad”.  An opportunity for interpersonal communication is generated as students ask the “host” what they will be doing, seeing, eating, etc.,  Some of my students during this section of the lesson asked me, “Can we review how to form questions.  I feel like not everyone is doing it right.  We need to go over it.”  Imagine my marvel…. “Sure I’ll teach you the interrogative!!!!!,” I say.  Retention of a grammar point desired to be taught by students because they “need” to know it will always be higher than that of a discrete grammar point which has no meaning.

We need to teach grammar as a function of the language, and language as a means to communication!  Let the students and the desire to communicate dictate what “needs” to be taught!

Mid Year Portfolio Assessment


Before teaching French, I taught science, so the idea of a writing portfolio was something that I never tried before until this year.  The portfolio is simply a manila folder with a cover sheet, filled out by the students, that lists the date of the assignment and notes about what they could do to improve upon their writing.  Each writing performance is scored using a rubric, in most cases the same or a similar rubric.  Whenever the students receive work back, they put it in their folder.  They look at any notes, not corrections, I make on their paper, and then write notes to themselves on the cover page.  Halfway through the year, they take everything out, examine it chronologically and fill out a form that speaks about their success and improvements still needed to be made.

I was proud as their teacher to be able to see the evolution of their work throughout the year.  Never until this year, have I seen such growth in my students in such a short time.

What worked:

For many writing assessments, the class completed collaborative brainstorming.  This took many forms: a scaffolded list of ideas that they shared with the class, stations they used to break the task down into smaller pieces, blog posts that afforded them the opportunity to free-write, i.e.,writing just to write.

Peer proof-reading was a part of many longer, non-timed writing assessments.  The students passed their papers in a group of 4.  1st pass: read for organization, details, effort, 2nd pass: check grammar, 3rd pass: check spelling, accents, 4th pass: check that all requirements are fulfilled

Having a writing portfolio makes students focus on the writing process.  Opening that folder each time gives them the desire to see improvement in their writing and provides them with focus.

Using authentic texts in the classroom shows students what the living language looks like.  They acquire such an abundant amount of vocabulary and awareness of the language that is not actually taught directly.

Grammar is taught specifically with a purpose, not just as the next discrete concept to learn.  Writing is done as a performance assessment and the grammar is necessary for its completion.  Using performance assessments make the writing meaningful for the students.

As a teacher, I am more cognizant of what they are actually able to do with the language.

Places to improve:

I could have the students write what they are proud of for each entry and 1 improvement they have made, so they can reflect on their writing each time, rather than simply citing my suggestions.

I would like to have a true beginning of the year entry to serve as a point of comparison, without using any of the techniques I employ throughout the year.

What techniques do you use to help your students improve their writing, L1 or L2?

Thanks for reading!

Café d’Amour


The past month, I have worked with my French I students on a café unit. We made comparisons between French and American café and restaurant customs, looked at pictures online, previewed and then interpreted menus, and completed interpersonal activities to acquire vocabulary with many formative assessments along the way.

Today was the culminating activity, le Café d’Amour, as chosen by my students. They created the menu offerings and prices, and rotated through, playing the client, the server and the back of the house. This class varies immensely in their capabilities, more than any class I have taught in 7 years, and has quite a few behavioral issues. I was, needless to say, nervous how this would work being an unscripted interpersonal activity.

I was thrilled at how successful the activity was, all students using as much French as they were capable, being kind to each other, and smiling and enjoying the experience. My pleasure came from the fact that they had fun with the assessment, not simply because they were eating (something that all students enjoy..), but because they were using their French!  They all succeeded according to my interpersonal rubric, and all the while hardly conscious of the fact they were being assessed.

This task was effective because they chose the menu, and had stake in the activity. It was also successful because we spent time comparing American and French cafés. When we were setting up the parameters of the activity, I found many of them saying, “Noooo..they don’t do that in France!”  The final reason for the success of this activity was that it was appropriately scaffolded, something I will continue to reference and feel is one of the true secrets to achieving proficiency in a world language classroom!

My students were thrilled to be eating in class, and I was thrilled that they could eat, acquire and apply the language all at once!

Thanks for reading and bon appetit!!