Category: Tests and assessment

World Schhols Debate topics and definitions

Midterm debates are coming up. Here we have some example debate topics:

“This House believes that affluent nations should accept more refugees”

“This House would waive patent rights for AIDS drugs for under-developed countries.”

“This House believes that gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.”

“This House would cancel third world debt”

“This House would ban all handguns.”

“This House supports the use of the death penalty.”

“This House disapproves of cloning.”

“This House believes that international sport is warfare without weapons.”

“This House would impose democracy.”

“This House refuses to negotiate with terrorists.”

“This House would give parents the final say in medical treatment of their children.”

“This House believes that compensation should be paid for the injustices committed by previous generations.”

Here we have a discussion of several things including some problems that can arise based on how the government defines the resolution. In my class, in order to make sure we have a debate on the issues rather than a “definition debate” both teams will agree on the definition before the debate begins. In fact that will be the second step in preparing for a debate (the first step is choosing a topic).

Next, each team will choose its burden – what they feel they need to prove to win the debate.

We will look at these speeches (Korea vs. Canada) to see examples: “This House believes that the developing world should prioritize economic development before environmental protection”.

Prime Minister (definition? Developed nations should bear the brunt, people will starve if we do this thing, 3 points = burden):

Leader of Opposition:

What countries (no definition)? Other problems? What they have to prove around 3:19 and then 3 arguments.

ETS, the Evil Testing Satans, strike again

I hate ETS. I scheduled a GRE for July 2009 and now have to reschedule. So I try to reschedule for July 2010 – which they have in their drop down menu. But choose July or any month in 2010 and they say there are no test dates available. Try another test center and get the same message.

Now it’s annoying enough that I have to pay $50 to reschedule. But now it looks like I have to cancel (which means you pay half the test price or $70) and then book a date in 2010 later – whenever their computers let me in (and who knows when that will be?). So the $140 test, which would be $190 if I could reschedule, will end up costing me $210.

All because ETS has a monopoly – and their test isn’t even that great!

Have fun grading final exams – and dealing with a big cultural difference

I have lots of essays to read, recorded debates and roleplays to listen to, etc. I’m sure that some of you are expereincing the same thing. I’ve heard lots of different ways to handle the grading. Some teachers work in their office, some go to a coffee shop, some go to a bar, etc.

I just bring everything home and grade it there, taking breaks to play with the dogs or talk to my wife.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is how some students, particularly seniors, assume they will graduate and pass all their classes. I just got an email from a student who I’ve seen in about 25% of the classes. She got a job before she graduated and the job had to come first. Anyway, she emailed her final essay because she had to work and couldn’t come to school.

This kind of stuff happens in Korea (not often, but it’s not that rare either) but never in America (where you don’t start working full-time until you’ve completed your coursework) and it’s hard for me to get used to it.

How to provide feedback after oral exams

My normal conversation classes have their oral exams, which they do in pairs by having an 8-10 minute conversation on one of the 6 themes we’ve discussed in class (determined randomly by rolling a die) assessed on the following rubric:

Fluency / listening / conversation building = 0-5

Accuracy = 0-5

Complexity = 0-5

Content = 0-15

Content refers to the number of cultural differences discussed and the amount of detail given regarding each cultural difference. In class we discuss Korean and North American in order to compare the differences so the same thing needs to happen on the exam.

The difficulty is in giving feedback. The content area is likely to be the same or similar for both students and I won’t be able to write the same thing twice (because I can’t write fast enough). This means students end up with individula feedback sheets for fluency, accuracy, and complexity but partners have to share a feedback sheet for content.

This gives me an opportunity to address language issues individually by pointing out errors (plain errors in the accuracy column and avoidance in the complexity part). But it doesn’t do the same for content – the discussion is a team effort and I can’t really separate each partner’s contribution to the overall depth and insight generated during the conversation. So I don’t – I have one feedback slip for content that the two students share.

It’s a little weird, but it’s the best method I’ve thought of.

Rubric for Conversation Strategies oral exams

Midterms are here. For my advanced conversation class based on Conversation Strategies (a text published by Pro Lingua Associates) I’m using the following rubric:


Correct Incorrect

Fluency / listening (0-4):

Rejoinders (0-2):

Terrific, wonderful, That’s too bad, Oh really?, I can’t believe it, I see, That’s nice

Follow-up questions (0-4):

What, When, where, why, who, how?

Confirmation questions (0-2):

How big? Which corner? Could you repeat that?

Clarifications with question words (0-2):

You did what? You went where? You’ll meet who?

Keeping or killing (0-4):

I have no idea, I’d rather not say, I’d have to think about that, What do you think?

Probability (0-2):

Will, should, ought to, might, may, could, shouldn’t won’t

Interrupting (0-4):

Excuse me, wait a minute, hold on, Can I add something? But…

Echoing (0-2):

Did you say…? You said…? That’s…?

Polite requests, responses, excuses (0-2):

Would you mind… I wonder if I could… / would, could / I’m sorry but… I’d like to but…

Getting a response (0-2):

What do you think? Don’t you agree? Do you know what I mean? How do you feel…?


The idea is to assess their ability to use the strategies from the first 10 units in a 10 – 15 minute conversation on whatever topic they choose. They’ve had time to plan what they want to say and how to incorporate the different strategies. The fluency / listening at the top refers to how well they build a conversation together by working with what their pareter says (they do the exam in pairs but are graded individually).

What do you think about the rubric?

I’m back from correcting quizzes and other stuff even less fun

Grading SLA quizzes is always interesting. First, there are a number of concepts that need to be discussed and then I ahve to evaluate how well each concept was analyzed. So if the question has to do with comparing environmental influences in L1 acquisition according to Behaviorists and Cognitivists, I need to make sure that the student mentions both input and language models. They must be in the correct context – too many students talked about Behaviorism and input which tells me that I didn’t empahsize input as solely a Cognitivist idea strongly enough.

Then the hard part – the student needs to analyze the differences between models in Behaviorism and input in Cognitivism. And there should be some mention of models being imitated and then a good explanation of reinforcement compared with input triggering the LAD to begin gathering rules from the rules that make up the input. Which of course meand we should compare rules and habits. Reinforcement with the LAD organizing systems based on rules plucked from the input is another issue.

And that’s just question #1… Obviously, the few students who ace this timed essay test have achieved something really great.

By the way, correcting quizzes isn’t my only excuse for not blogging more frequently. I’ve also had a lot of work done behind the scenes to amke this blog run on newer software and be more resistant to spammers. Let’s hope it was worth it!

Getting ready for grades

With 2 days of class before final exams begine, I’ve come to a realization – having classws with no curve take a lot of pressure off teachers assigning grades. Now in my experience students who do not get an A in an uncurved class are complaint candidates but there will be fewer complaints from B students in uncurved classes then the B,C, and D students in the curved classes.

In addition to dealing with fewer complaints, since there’s no need to assign a certain number of each letter grade, when doing the uncurved class it doesn’t matter if one student gets an 83 and another gets and 82. In the uncurved class I could give them both A grades if I wanted. In the curved class, 83 might be the cutiff ofr an A so that a student with one less point gets a B+. As you might imagine, I end up checking my math several times in those classes.

The reason I bring this up is because I only have 2 curved classes this semester. I like it like that.

Responding to student complaints

So far I’ve gotten two emails about grades from ym students. The first student I felt really sorry for and in answering her email I wrote:

Hi ________. I wish I could give you the grade you deserve.You do deserve higher than a C+ and you did an excellent job this year. According to my records you were absent only once and you got a 15/20 on the final

exam. Your number grade was 86/100.

However because of the university curve, I had to give the “B” grades to people who scored higher than you. In your class students with scores from 88-91 received “B” grades.

I know this seems unfair. In fact in some of my other classes a number grade of 86 received an A+, but in your class there were more high-scoring English

learners than in most other classes.

I’m afraid the only thing either of us can do is petition the university to change their grading curve system. I will see to it that this email gets to the coordinator of the IFLE.

And have a merry Christmas and happy New Year. I know it’s hard, but try not to worry about the C+ because you are an excellent student.

The second student received a B even though her average was ten points lower than the first student who complained about her C+. I know it’s crazy, but the curve is based on each class regardless of how good the students are. So a class full of motivated students has more victims than a class full of students who don’t try. I replied:

Hi ________. I would love to give you a high grade that reflects your excellent effort this semester. Sadly, I can’t. I can only compare the points you received to the points other students received because of the university curve. You finished with 76/100 and while you did an excellent job on the oral final, missing that test hurt your grade (8/20 for tests) and the final written test also didn’t help.

I understand that you want a higher grade, but I think you were lucky. There aren’t many students who can miss a quiz and still get a good grade (and a B is a good grade although it’s natural that you want better). When I was calculating the grades, I noticed that you were the last student to receive a B. One less point and you would have gotten a C+.

I will send a copy of this email to the coordinator of the IFLE. We can hope that there won’t be a university curve in the future, but for now I can not change your grade. I know this is bad news, but there’s nothing I can do Please don’t let something like this ruin your holidays. I hope you have a very merry Christmas and happy New Year. And thank you for the Christmas card! I really did appreciate it.

Grading exams

I hate grading exams. I’ve tried to make it a little more tolerable this year by giving students situations and asking the to write something appropriate, and it is a little more fun (still not fun) and it takes longer. I have a few long long days in front of me.

I was talking to a colleague who was amazed at the amount fo work we do here at Catholic University. At Seoul University (or was it the University of Seoul?), students take their tests on a computer and the machine calculates their scores. No free response obviously, just listening and various multiple choice type questions. Anyway, it sounds good right around now…

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Final exam time

So I spent most of my day working on final exams. What I’m doing this semester is asking fewer questions that require more thought by putting each question in a special context. So I might ahve 2 or three sentences explaining a situation and then ask students to produce something relevant based on a word or two I give them that forces them to use the grammar we covered in class. Obviously I won’t be giving any real examples, and I’m too burned out to think of more right now, but I promise to share more of what I’ve done later.

And if you were wondering about the timing of the final talking tests, it hasn’t changed.