Methods and Strategies: Alternative Assessments for English Language Learnersby: Anne Cox-Petersen and Joanne K. Olson

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English Language Learners (ELL) are capable of high levels of conceptual understanding related to science. However, traditional means of assessment do not typically reflect their understanding of science content. We found through classroom observation and analysis of student products that while ELL students have difficulty writing in English, they can speak about science with a level of sophistication not reflected on written assignments. This mismatch between assessment practices and student understanding is what motivated us as teacher researchers to assess fourth- and fifth-grade understanding of marine environments through drawings.

Grades
  • Elementary
Publication Date
2/1/2007

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Reviews (13)
  • on Mon Oct 06, 2014 6:12 PM

This article discusses alternative assessment strategies to use with ELL learners. It addressed the issue of the weaknesses these learners have with the traditional paper and pencil testing methods due to their weak writing skills. But the article discussed how they used drawing and talking assessments to gauge ELL learning. They found that allowing students to draw what they know assessed the student’s conceptual understanding of material. The article also discussed the importance of student’s discussions with each other during learning time. I also LOVED the suggestion and comments about the students aiding in the making of the rubric and assessment tool. I do not currently serve ELL students in my classroom but can definitely use some of these strategies with my struggling students. I also will continue to use my turn and talk strategies in my classroom. I have learned as a learner that if I have a chance to talk my thoughts out with others before I complete an assessment that I gain confidence in my knowledge as well as learn from others. Why shouldn’t my students have the same advantage??

Donnetta Harike
Donnetta Harike

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 7:34 PM

I really liked reading this article and how they tested their students with drawings. I would have never of guessed that you could assess a student by drawings. I think that this would also work with those students in kindergarten and first grade, who are below their reading levels. In the article they mentioned that when they talked with the students, they realized that the students knew more than the textbook created tests showed. I found it interesting that the drawings revealed more than the written responses, but then the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The students who are English Language Learners would have a hard time writing what they knew. This is definitely something I will keep in mind, as I have students who might struggle with writing or the English language.

Anna Golden
Anna Golden

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 10:55 AM

When I read Methods and Strategies: Alternate Assessments for English Language Learners. I got excited by the ideas presented here! The author used drawings and interviews to assess her ELL students, all while supporting their acquisition of the English language through journaling, reflections and time to practice their English explanations with their classmates before interviewing with the teacher! Fantastic! This teacher chose a year-long theme for her classroom - the ocean (because they were only 10 miles from the beach!). All of her students had some experience with the beach, and, lucky her, she was able to take her students on multiple field trips to the beach for specific experiences and study! I have always wanted to do the same type of year long theme, only using the Amazon rainforest, but I certainly could not provide the same hands- on experiences that she did! This teacher assessed her ELL students (and I would use this for all students) four times a year by having them draw a picture of what was in the ocean. As the year went on, and they began to learn more and more about marine life, landforms and equipment used to study the ocean, the drawings became more and more detailed and sophisticated. These drawings were accompanied by a follow-up interview, called Draw Talk. During this interview, which the students had already been given time to practice with their peers, the teacher was able to glean even more information about the student's understanding. I love this whole idea and I will use it with ALL of my students!

Marjorie Burt
Marjorie Burt

  • on Thu Aug 11, 2011 11:16 AM

“Pictures are worth a thousand words” is a statement all of us are familiar with. Using drawings as a means to measure the achievements in science for ELL students transcends language barriers and makes it easier for that student to convey their knowledge. ‘Drawing talk interviews’ is another strategy for understanding what the student has learned. Given a before and after image from one particular student shows that even the accuracy of drawing increases from the beginning of the school year to the end for an ELL student. This is a unique approach and the author provides a rubric as well.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Fri Oct 10, 2014 9:17 PM

I was drawn to this article because I struggle with how to assess my ELL students effectively. I had one student previously that I would routinely excuse from testing because I felt like it would be unfair to test him. I knew that he knew more, but I felt ill-prepared to draw the knowledge from him. The article focused on the use of drawings and real-world experiences in order to make connections (such as field trips). The article suggested using the drawings over time so that the students can show growth. You can grade these using a checklist. The students need to complete four drawings over the course of a year and you can interview them about the drawings as well. This was very helpful to me and I plan to use it with my ELL students who struggle next time.

Nina E
Nina E

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 11:53 PM

The researchers chose to use alternative forms of assessment to measure the knowledge of EL students in their science and mathematics class. Many EL students struggle with traditional assessments because they do not have enough time to complete the test and they have an extremely difficult time accurately conveying their knowledge through writing. The authors discovered that the results of the typical paper-and-pencil tests did not match what their students truly understood about the science content, so they decided to use Student Drawings and Draw Talks to better assess students’ understanding. Students were able to draw pictures with labels to demonstrate their level of understanding and then they could use their pictures to assist them in their Draw Talks (discussions). As our schools become more diverse, educators of English Language Learners must be aware of the importance of using a variety of assessments in order to discover exactly what their students know and understand.

Chrissie
Chrissie

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 5:39 PM

This enjoyed reading this article but thought that it was a little behind in thinking. Written 7 years ago I am sure it was new in thinking that we could get rather in our learning with ELL students if we knew more about their background and used different forms of assessments with them. But in today’s educational world I believe this is more of a norm than not. The knowledge you gain from a taking inventory on any student but especially ELL students is priceless. You open the door for them to trust you and gain the respect of parents because you are taking an interest in their kids as people. I remember doing this for the first time in my classroom and still to this day remember kids by what I learned that day. I am able to relate concepts we learn to their interests and compare and contrast ideas using things they enjoy and even things they don’t enjoy. This not only making learning fun for them but teaching fun for me. It’s a win win! It may be the first grade teacher in me but I love to see what kids share when drawing. It is much easier for ELL students to show what they know rather than have to but it all into words. The more that we can include these 2 concepts into our planning, teaching and assessments the better off we will be not only in academic testing but more importantly lifelong learning of concepts.

Kathryn Smerker
Kathryn Smerker

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 5:36 PM

Although his article was interesting and I agreed with the main idea, I wonder how practical it really is. I completely agree that students don’t always show all that they know on the standardize tests given. I have often said I wish “they” could come in and observe my students in action. Oh the things they would see! They would see that James can solve and question better than most adults and that although Alice can’t understand or speak all the vocabulary correctly she can draw and show you that she understands concepts. So this sounds like a jack pot idea. Kids would be able to show what they really know. The list of concerns/suggestions hit the nail on the head for me, with the biggest being teachers grading their own tests (concern) and Spread task out over time (suggestion). We already have people that question every little thing that we do as teachers and cheating rumors can you image if we graded our own tests? How would we find a way around this? I did get very excited when I read about spreading out the tasks over time. This to me is the most real world assessment that was shared. Never in my adult life have I been asked to share everything I know about reading, math, or science in one sitting. You use the knowledge in pieces when it is needed. I believe that we could get a better look at what students know if we complete tasks over a period of time rather than in a one day paper pencil test at the end of the year.

Kathryn Smerker
Kathryn Smerker

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 4:19 PM

This article focused on how the authors used drawings as an assessment of their ELL students by creating a rubric, making students aware of the rubric and the details on it, and then grading them using the rubric. I thought it was a clever and creative way to demonstrate the knowledge of those students whose vocabulary may not be as well-developed due to lack of English language skills. My only concern with it is that drawing pictures is not going to be allowed on the state tests and at some point these students will be held accountable for their knowledge in a way other than drawing and talking. Otherwise I think the use of pictures and interview about the pictures is a great idea. I would also like to hear other strategies beside this too. ?

Kelly D
Kelly D

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 1:11 PM

After reading the article, Alternative Assessments for English Language Learners, I was excited to think of a different way to assess the ELL cluster in my classroom. The article explains that using drawings as an assessment tool throughout the year can show improvement in student’s learning of a science topic. The idea of drawings as the assessment tool allows the student to show what they know without being fluent in English. I also loved the rubric layout and allowing the student to be knowledgeable in the contents of the rubric. Students can strive to become stronger learners with each assessment by increasing the depth of knowledge in their product. The expectation in the rubric are clearly defined and can be used for other topics in kindergarten science such as the parts of a plant. Knowing the rubric expectations allows the ELL learner to take “ownership of their learning”. I definitely plan to use this assessment strategy in my kindergarten classroom!

Cindy Fountain
Cindy Fountain

  • on Sun Oct 05, 2014 11:25 AM

I found this article very enlightening. As a teacher with an ELL cluster, I have given several alternate assessments but drawings are something that I haven't really thought about much. Something that sticks out to me is when the authors said, "...drawings often reveal more than written responses. Because drawings do not require mastery of the English language, they likely have fewer barriers than other written assessments for ELL students." I will keep in this in mind when planning my assessments as I do tend to use more modified traditional assessments where I could easily use drawings.

Danielle B
Danielle B

  • on Tue Apr 18, 2017 8:36 PM

In this article it talks about how English Language Learners (ELL) students are impressive when it comes to the understanding and comprehension of science, but unfortunately it doesn’t show through their writings. This was actually very new to me. I found it very interesting how a great way to gather data when dealing with ELL students is by incorporating drawing and “drawing talk back”. How it gives them a chance to shine and show their strength since many lack in writing English since they are just learning to master the language. My only negative view of this article was that I expected more in the sense of more data to support how drawing is a big difference from students writing assessment in numbers and more examples. I felt like this article engaged me in the beginning but lost me toward the middle and ending in expectations for the article in how informative I wanted it to be. But all in all I will definitely take this way of assessing ELL students into account.

Cristina Reyes
Cristina Reyes

  • on Thu May 29, 2014 2:22 PM

While it is beneficial to incorporate alternative methods of assessments to ensure that ELLs understand the science concepts, we have to keep in mind that these students are in need of English Language development. I would have liked to see how language was embedded in this project. Let me know if you have done more research in this subject.

Soleil Roper  (Fulshear, TX)
Soleil Roper (Fulshear, TX)


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