• “Read-Aloud” Method for Collaborating with Colleagues to Assess ESL Students’ Writing Level

Cover read aloud evals

 

Traditionally, when evaluating students’ writing levels, the “evaluators” silently read the essays in their offices, oftentimes fill out a rubric and come up with a score. Most of us would agree that such a process is onerous and often results in students being misplaced.

The method that I’ll describe here has important benefits for teachers and the ESL program as a whole. I’ve used this in several ESL programs for two situations(1) determining which students should be promoted to the next level at the end of a term, and (2) placement of new students. It’s especially helpful for determining the proper Writing-class level of borderline students, in other words, ones whose writing levels are not obvious.

To demonstrate how the method works, let’s look at those two situations.

Situation (1) End-of-term promoting students. It’s quite common for there to be some borderline students in a class at the end of a term. To take pressure off the teacher to make the decision about whether or not to pass specific students and to save the teacher from spending extra time re-reading and re-evaluating those students’ past essays and assignments, collaborating with other teacher(s) is very effective and efficient. (See User-Friendly Writing Panel Process: Time and Energy Efficient And Effective).

During the collaborating session, these steps have been most helpful.

Step 1: The teacher who would like advice about a borderline student(s) meets with one or more teachers (preferably one of them is the teacher at the next level).

Step 2: One of first borderline student’s essay will be discussed. It’s best if the essay is one that the teacher feels seems typical of the student’s writing. Also, it should be an essay which nobody helped the student with. Thus, an in-class essay is best.  It’s also helpful if the essay can be projected on a screen, but this is not a requirement.

Step 3: The student’s teacher begins to read the essay aloud while the other teacher(s) follow along on the screen or just listen to the reader. 

 Step 4: After reading the first paragraph or the first few sentences, the reader stops. The teachers can discuss their first impressions of the student’s WRITING STYLE, NOT THE CONTENT. (*See samples of impression comments below.) 

(For more about content in ESL students’ writing tasks, see • “Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays )

Step 5: The reader continues with the next few sentences. The other teachers can stop the reader at any time to comment.

Step 6: When there is a consensus about the student’s writing level, the reading stops. I.e., it’s not necessary to read the complete essay.

*Typical impression comments that teachers make:

Comments of writer’s strengths

  • The sentences are simple but the grammar is under control so far.
  • Good use of conjunctions.
  • The writer used good subordination in the second sentence.
  • There are some simple mistakes but they don’t see too serious. These are typical mistakes for Level 4.
  • So far, this student’s writing style is very similar to students in Level 5. He would do well in that level.

Comments of concern

  • There is one run-on sentence. It’ll be interesting to see if it was just an editing error or if there are more in this paper.
  • The last sentence that you just read is confusing.
  • This looks like Level 3 writing so far.
  • There are some basic mistakes. If you told him that he had some mistakes in that sentence, do you think he could find and correct them? Or would you have to help him correct them?
  • Her sentences are mostly S+V style. The students in Level 4 tend to use more complex sentence patterns, so I’m worried whether it would be too big of a leap for her to be promoted. Maybe if she had a tutor, she could do it.
  • Her grammar is a bit weak for my level. Does she have good study habits? Has she been improving in your class? If she has, she could probably be successful in the next level.

Situation (2) Placement testing of new students. Typically, new students entering a program are assigned a topic and given 30-60 minutes to write in order to assess their writing skills. Then the essays are divided up among two or more evaluators, usually teachers in the program. Often, it’s clear from a student’s writing which level would be most appropriate for him/her. However, for those cases in which the level is difficult to determine, we can follow a similar process as described above.

Step 1: The evaluators meet.

Step 2: The first “difficult-to-determine” student’s essay will be discussed. It’s helpful if the essay can be projected on a screen, but this is not a requirement.

Step 3: The evaluator who initially read the essay begins to read the it aloud while the other evaluators follow along on the screen or just listen to the reader.

 Step 4: After reading the first paragraph or the first few sentences, the reader stops. The teachers can discuss their first impressions of the student’s WRITING STYLE, NOT THE CONTENT. (*See samples of impression comments below.) 

Step 5: The reader continues with the next few sentences. The other teachers can stop the reader at any time to comment.

Step 6: When there is a consensus about the student’s writing level, the reading stops. I.e., it’s not necessary to read the complete essay.

*Typical impression comments that teachers make:

  • In this paragraph, it looks like just a list of ideas without connections. It needs transitional expression. In Level 3, we work on those. So that might be a good level for this student.
  • This student has some problems with verb tenses so far. That could indicate Level 2.
  • He is trying to write pretty sophisticated details but has trouble controlling his grammar, especially with subordination.
  • So far, she seems to know her grammar limitations. It’s pretty simple but clean.

Some of the benefits of this process

  • Instills confidence in student-placement. The evaluation is holistic drawing on the professional viewpoint of the teachers and their experiences working with students who have the skills demonstrated in the papers. This does not happen when trying to use rubrics and scores.
  • Great for norming. Teachers can confirm with each other what the grammar-in-writing norms are for the various levels. These norms are practically impossible to meaningfully describe in written form.
  • Invaluable for teacher who are “new”. “New” can be someone new in the field of TESL, or new to a program, or new at a writing level or who will be teaching a new level soon. This process provides these “new” teachers the opportunity to hear experienced teachers discuss what stands out to them in students’ writing and how that relates to the various levels. The also have a chance to ask for clarifications.

For more about consulting with colleagues about students’ writing skills, see

An Early Course Correction: Making Sure You Are Evaluating Your Students’ Writing Accurately Before It’s Too Late

This Process Contains Huge Benefits For Writing Teachers, Students and Programs.

David Kehe

 

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