I am expected to give a 80-minute final exam at my school. Each time I’ve done this now it has gone remarkably well, is enjoyable, requires no prep, take me about 30-45 minutes per class to mark and grade, and provides me good evidence of their abilities, which are of no surprise.
There are four parts:
B: Story Asking
C: Timed Write
I have students do Part A and Part C on either a regular 8.5 x 11" paper or in their composition notebook, while Part B and Part D go on a notecard. (Photo above shows Part A on the notecard, but I've changed how I assess their interpretive abilities on this first part of the exam as you'll see below.)
I have kids turn their cards over or slip them into their notebook while not in use, to discourage any answer changing and for me to easily notice such activity if it were to occur.
(Read about a couple recent adaptations to the Final Exam process here)
Part A - Storytelling
I have big flip charts in my room that hold most of our class characters (born of One Word Images and Invisibles strategies). I either go through one quickly saying the characters’ names and go with the one that seems most popular, OR I decide which story I'll tell them in advance. The storytelling only takes a few minutes, but I think it may be the most valuable part of the entire assessment.
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 there are gaps, it is easy enough for me to substitute vocabulary, change certain details, or simplify the plot to better align with that class’ vocabulary net and proficiency level.
Initially I allowed them to stop me and ask questions if they did not understand, but I no longer do. I want to assess their ability to follow an uninterrupted steady string of language and create a movie in their heads. To help get this movie started, I think it makes sense to display a connecting image, whether it’s the illustration of a class-created character, a stock-photo, a stuffed animal, or something you draw for them. Afterward, I give students about 5 minutes to summarize the story, in L1 (English for my students), including as much detail as they recall.
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 (about 30 min). At the end, I ask them 10 comprehension questions in Spanish about the story.
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’ve done it both ways: with a photo prompt and without. I think both are fine and I like switching it up. If I do provide a photo prompt, I make clear that this is only a place to begin their story or a scene through which to weave their character.
Before we begin I 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."
I do not factor writing in Level 1 grades, and beyond Level 1 it is only a small fraction of the entire grade, so 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.
Part D - Reading
The first time I did this I wasn't sure if I would be able to pull off the No-Prep Reading section of the exam. But I’ve found that the 10 minutes of Timed-Write time is just enough to type up the story that we create together during Part B. You could always increase the Timed-Write to 15 minutes if ten is not enough. When I finish, I quickly go through and change a handful of details. Changing 8 details is about perfect.
I instruct students to simply identify what is inaccurate, in L1. For example, in the first sentence, it says "Hay un mono que vive en la playa de África (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 recommend writing an example on the board of how you would like them to show you they understand, whether it’s by writing a full sentence or making a two-column chart for “incorrect detail/correct detail”.
(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 Perdón, 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. Furthermore, 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 in the reading (e.g. the supporting rationale for characters' actions and their backstories) would certainly 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" (15% 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?