(Click here to read the updated version of this post)
I am expected to give a 90-minute final exam at my school. The next time, I think I will try to replicate my latest attempt which for me went remarkably well, was enjoyable, required no prep, took me about 30 minutes per class to mark and grade, and provided me good evidence of their abilities, which were of no surprise.
I did this with notecards. There are four parts. I like putting Parts A and B on the front and Part D on the back (Part C gets regular 8Xll" paper for the timed write, it's easier to read).
I have kids turn their cards over while they're not using them, to discourage any answer-changing and for me to easily notice such activity if it were to occur.
Part A - Storytelling
I have a big flip chart in my room that holds most of our class characters (born of One Word Images and Invisibles strategies). I go through them all and say the character's name, no more than 5 seconds each. Then I either ask for a couple recommendations and go with the one that seems most popular OR I decide which story I'll tell them. I did it both ways and both seem appropriate. The storytelling only takes about 5 minutes.
This works for me and my different classes because all of our stories inevitably involve complex characters liking some things and hating others, doing this or that, feeling and being a certain way, going somewhere, being able or not able to do certain things, living somewhere, wanting but not having X, saying Y and perhaps thinking Z. The high-frequency language net is therefore fairly consistent.
If a word is out-of-bounds, they must let me know and I'll quickly do my best to make it comprehensible for the remainder of the storytelling. I give them permission, as always, to slow me down, have me repeat, write a word on the board, etc. Afterward, I ask them 5 comprehension questions about the story.
Here is Roger el Mapache, one of our characters whose story I told to another class for this part of the exam.
Part B - Story Asking
This section is a take on Ben Slavic's simple idea for a final exam. It is the longest part of the exam at 30 minutes. At the end, I ask them 10 comprehension questions about the story.
I started out by building a character with them. I simply ask, in Spanish, "What is there? Is there an animal? Or a food? Or a thing?" Working from a script is another option if you'd like to stay more anchored in a certain spot while building your story.
I did not pressure a class artist to illustrate, instead leaving it optional. I was worried they might feel unable to concentrate 100% on the story given the high-stakes character of the exam. A couple kids decided to illustrate anyways.
Above is the result from one of my classes (the same story you'll see below in Part D - Reading).
Part C - 10 minute Timed Write
I did it both ways: with a prompt and without. I think both are fine and I like switching it up. If I do provide a prompt, I make clear that this is only a place to begin their story or a scene through which to weave their character. All kids understood this well enough.
This photo of the two women sniffing around in a car is the prompt I gave to my Spanish 2 classes.
I usually paraphrase some of the timed write guidelines that Ben Slavic published on his blog a while back. Something like "If you get stuck, bring in a new character, create some dialogue, describe things. If you don't know how to say something, find a way to say it using words you do know (circumlocution) or don't say it... avoid English. Try to keep your pencil moving the whole time."
Since I do not factor writing in Level 1 grades, and beyond Level 1 it is only a small fraction of the entire grade, it does not really affect the Final Exam grade either. But it does usually confirm for me a student's grade, or help me decide in the case a student is teetering between an A or a B for example. Mostly though, I really enjoy reading what kids can write after a year with me.
Sometimes you get something pretty special like the sample here. This student wrote a story about a personified gun being sad because of the bad rap that it gets, when really it's just trying to do all that it's asked of by its boss. I find it extraordinary because of the higher-level application of Spanish that this Level 1 student demonstrates, melding fiction with what I understand to be political commentary.
Part D - Reading
I wasn't sure if I would be able to pull off the No-Prep reading section of the exam. I had a back-up for my first round of morning finals, but I found that 10 minutes was just enough time to type up the story that we had created together during Part B. (You could always make the writing 15 minutes if ten is not enough.) When I finished, I quickly went through and changed a handful of details... 8 seems perfect.
I instructed students to simply tell me what is inaccurate and what is accurate, in English. For example, in the first sentence, it says "Hay un mono que vive en la playa de Africa (There is a monkey that lives on the beach of Africa)." In our story, the monkey actually lives in the forest (bosque), so they would simply write something like the following: "He doesn't live on the beach but rather in the forest". I will be clearer about how I would like them to communicate these the next time by writing an example on the board instead of just saying it.
(Note: There are some things we discussed during the Story Asking that are not necessarily clear from reading the version above. For example, we discussed why the hammock that looks like a banana is important if Chucky is afraid of hunters... because it camouflages him while he sleeps. Also, we decided that Chucky loves to dance, but only to Enrique Iglesias music. This is why, upon hearing the song El Perdon, he risked his life and ran toward the sound of the music and stole the radio and proceeded to dance for many years inside his tree tunnel. We also decided he turned down the volume as soon as he stole it. Also, unbeknownst to a bystander, the salt-toting bird is a character from a different story, and there are at least 2 inside jokes that help to color the plot, thereby allowing the story to progress quicker and with more detail. Including ALL details, the supporting rationale for characters' actions, and backstories, would be pushing it for the short time allotted to writing this story.)
Are Final Exams necessary? They're not for my assessment of students' abilities. However, being able to do them in a way that 1.) respects the mostly non-targeted nature of my instruction 2.) assesses receptive vs productive proficiency and 3.) requires zero prep -- makes me not likely to fight it. Getting to enjoy a couple more stories with the kids one last time before summer, even if it is somewhat "high-stakes" (10-20% of semester grade), is not a bad deal.
Would you use something like this for a Final Exam? What would you change to make it better?