I do 4 major speaking exams during the year, one for each quarter.
To start, all students bring a cell phone or borrow one from someone else. I had out the directions paper and then a folded piece of paper with the test. We either go outside or into the gym. I tell them to open their test paper and on the paper there is a comic strip that they are meant to tell as a story and usually also another small sheet of paper with 5 personal questions to answer. I give them a certain about of time (3-4 minutes, unless it’s the final exam, then longer) to look silently at the pictures and the questions and mentally prepare what they would like to say. No writing, no talking. Then, I tell them to start the calls. They call my Google Voice account and leave voicemails. Unfortunately, it cuts off after 3 minutes, so they have to call back to finish up. Obviously, the higher the level of Spanish, the longer they talk, but all their calls must be completed in about ten minutes (unless it’s the final).
Despite being quite good at Spanish as a high school student, speaking tests always terrified me. I felt very judged and nervous and put on the spot, so I know many of my students get stage fright. I already know from class who is going to say a lot and who is going to say a little, but the speaking exam is a good experience for them. Almost everyone whines, “I did horrible!” and then I go listen to their 5 minute Spanish story and shake my head. Nah, the grammar may not be perfect and their pronunciation is generally quite far from perfect, but I don’t think they fully appreciate the fact that they can talk! In Spanish!
I haven’t listened to this year’s freshman tests yet. I’m wondering if they’ll be much better than usual because they’ve had about 10 speaking tests between 7th and 8th grade, some face to face and some recorded on my computer. I wonder if they’ll have my best Spanish 1 Quarter 1 exams so far because they’ve had that extra practice!
Right now I’m halfway through my Spanish 2 exams. These take forever to grade. I listen to each, using a mini-rubric with each students name on to circle where there are at in Content, Structures, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Pronunciation. It’s pretty time consuming to grade and every time I am in the middle of it (like now… as I distract myself and blog), I think “Why do I do this to myself?” Inside I know it’s a good experience for them, but it does take time to grade.
I’m always really excited when someone who barely speaks in class whips out some awesome story. One of my Spanish 3’s has always been one of the lowest in my class. As I was grading my Spanish 3 exams last night, I got to a really good one and thought, “Wait, I already graded this student…” and then realized it wasn’t actually the high-performing student’s voice… it was the student who was usually very low. Apparently this year it clicked! Tons of Spanish coming out and with a darn good accent too. Moments like that make it worth it.
Because my Spanish 2’s did their reading today in class very fast, I decided to show them some of the videos from ACTFL’s speaking proficiency guidelines. I think it gave them a lot of confidence to see other language learners and see that, according to those guidelines, they are not such bad speakers like they think they are. (Although, as a student, I also was overly critical, so I get where they are coming from.) I think I may show those videos to other classes as well, since it seems to get my 2’s feeling proud of the minutes they spent talking.
I know I am only writing this blog to procrastinate, so I will return to listening.