Assessment Proxies

Illustration of a laptop computer.

I don’t think quiet classes are an unusual problem to have, especially in university settings in Japan. There are usually ways and means to encourage students to interact and communicate in their English Communication courses when we’re face to face.

The problem comes when you are using web conferencing software to teach and are expecting/expected to get some kind of student interaction occurring. I’m not talking about cameras being turned off, here; that’s a different issue, and I kind of understand the reason behind it (the same thinking behind why you wouldn’t invite guests round if your home was unseemly to you). I’m talking about an unwillingness to communicate.

It’s not every student, but a sizeable number of them. They claim to be talking in their breakout groups after the fact, but when they notice I have joined the group, silence falls. Even when I tell them, “I can’t grade you on silence!” nothing much occurs rather than a muttering.

What can I do? I can either grade everyone at an F, which is unpleasant for everyone, or I can do something else. I need some assessment proxies, to show that students have been communicating in English with one another, just not in my presence. Here are some of them:

Record your group discussion task

This was unpopular but not terrible. It also gave me solid evidence (as opposed to disputable, unrecorded performance) about how little or how much students spoke in a task.

Co-written task

I don’t like it, to be frank, because there is less spoken interaction than I would like, and lots of writing, which is beyond the remit of the spoken communication lesson. With a quiet class there tends to be less coming to a consensus involved in group decision making and more devolving decisions to the strongest or keenest student in the group.

Other things that I could do are:

Make a video together

But this is essentially the same as ‘record your task’ but with more room for IT faff and unlikely to result in more English output.

Somebody’s going to say Flipgrid

Why would I ask students to install something on their phone when they can upload work to the LMS or the institutional cloud storage?

Record and transcribe discussion

This could work, but it is a lot of work if the discussion is long. It is also more to mark. However, it does allow for consciousness-raising of students’ own utterances. I have used student task transcription previously with my RPG course.

Produce a podcast or video, ideally for an authentic audience

This is unlikely to be a favourite task, to be honest. Additionally, if it is taken up with no enthusiasm, no authentic audience would want to listen to it, although individual work was done generally well when giving presentations about their favourite architecture.

So, these are some of my assessment proxies (or possible proxies) for interaction while synchronously using voice/video over internet. What are you doing with your quiet classes? Feel free to donate your ideas to me and my three readers!

Inexpensive Listening Pedagogy Course

I’m going to be on a podcast by Learn Your English network with the amazing Chiara Bruzzano later this month. It ties in with their course Teaching Listening Made Easy. I receive absolutely no money or anything for letting people know about this. The reason I am doing so is that when I surveyed teachers Japan in 2016 (see here) the majority of teachers said they wanted more training in listening.

If you are interested, it’s only US$24.99 (half the normal price) if you sign up before 13th July. You get a 30-page ebook, access to a webinar on the topic on 13th July. Then you have your course start on 20th July.

If you are interested you can enrol here. As I say, I get no commission, no kickbacks, I just care a lot about teaching listening because in most of the books that we use, there is no promotion of good practice, only things that any student could do by themselves for practice.

FTSD Podcast: 1 (Pilot) Writing and Relational Cultural Theory

A photo of a microphone.

In this very first episode, I talk about video feedback I made for my writing students and Relational Cultural Theory.

Episode 1 (Pilot) Writing and Relational Cultural Theory

Research that informed this:

Winstone, N. E., Nash, R. A., Rowntree, J., & Parker, M. (2017). ‘It’d be useful, but I wouldn’t use it’: Barriers to university students’ feedback seeking and recipience. Studies in Higher Education, 42(11), 2026–2041.

Jordan, J. V. (2008). Learning at the Margin: New Models of Strength. Women & Therapy, 31(2–4), 189–208.