Enjoyable Testing that Works, Really

Deborah Blaz finds that integrated performance assessments motivate students

If you Google “IPA,” you will first find lots of posts about alcohol (India pale ale) and next the International Phonetic Alphabet. You must type in “integrated performance assessment” to find anything about this method for teaching world languages. But despite its lack of prevalence in Google searches, an IPA has a lot to offer: it motivates students, teaches them, and assesses their proficiency, in an active way that also gives students choice and is perceived generally as enjoyable.

What Is an IPA?

It is an assessment, formative or summative (your choice), with at least three tasks involving only one theme or concept (vocabulary, grammar, or cultural) and one of each of the three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. The three tasks are designed for students at their level of proficiency (novice, intermediate, or advanced). All use culturally authentic resources as well, which is arguably the greatest positive aspect of an IPA.

Also, these tasks may be done in any order, as they are of equal importance and should have equal weight in terms of assessing the attainment of the skill or knowledge about the topic.

Interpretive Tasks

An interpretive task usually involves having students listen to something, watch a video, or read something, ideally an authentic resource. Students then respond to questions on two levels: literal and interpretive. A literal-level question when reading a recipe or watching a cooking video might be “What is the word for potato?” or “How many vegetables are listed?” It is also typical to list ingredients, make true/false statements in which some options are not observed (decoy answers), or list the steps or phrases used in correct order as literal-level work. An interpretive question for the same assignment might be an open-ended question such as “Which meal would this dish be appropriate for?”, “What American dish might this be compared to?”, or “What is another ingredient that could be added to make this even better?”

Interpersonal Tasks

An interpersonal task generally involves speaking with another person in an unrehearsed and negotiated manner, though doing a survey on social media (if it involves discussion), writing a pen pal, or doing a FaceTime call with an expert on a given topic might also qualify as interpersonal tasks. “Unrehearsed” means learners need to interact spontaneously, with nothing memorized or read from notes. “Negotiated” means they must listen to the other person/s and react to what is said.

Continuing with the topic of food, students could plan aloud what to buy for a party, how much to buy, who will prepare it, and how. Another option could be a shopping situation, in which one participant states the event (i.e., a birthday) and the dishes they wish to prepare and the other suggests ingredients or alternative options.

Presentational Tasks

  • A presentational task is an oral, visual, or written performance done before an audience. It can be individual or done by a group. This should be a “polished” product, and therefore each step in the task should be organized and evaluated (I like to use checklists for this). These tasks are often memorized and scripted.
  • The first step is preparation: defining the task, finding resources, writing a plan or outline, and doing a rough draft.
  • The second step is practice: doing the task at least once in its entirety.
  • The third part is revision after practice, fine-tuning the rough spots, fixing grammar errors, etc., with perhaps a peer or small audience suggesting ways to perfect it.
  • The fourth would, of course, be the final presentation. For a food unit, a video or live performance in which a student prepares and serves a culturally authentic dish is both high interest and enjoyable for the audience, as students love to sample food. Here is a form I have used for this task:

PROJECT PLANNER
Name(s) ___
TOPIC _____

RESOURCES (at least three)_ Due date: __________ Print: Internet: Other: _____

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION Due date: __
I/we will be doing the following: __________________

CHECKLIST / PRACTICE _ Due date: _____________ You must complete the checklist for your type of project and have a classmate fill out the checklist for you, too.

SHARING_______ Due date: __________
Here is how I plan to share my project with the class: _ display presentation on this date: _

EVALUATION FORM _ Due date: _ Complete the reflection form.

Optional Component for an IPA

As you see above, a reflection piece may be added afterward, both for the student’s benefit and for yours (it will show you where the student found things confusing or difficult).

How to Do an IPA

First, I would recommend doing an online search. This method is growing so quickly in use that there might be one already done or that you could adapt, saving a lot of time. Some are offered free (i.e., madameshepard.com for French or http://carla.umn.edu/assessment/vac/CreateUnit/unit_examples.html for some in a variety of languages—some better than others) and others offered for sale on sites like teacherspayteachers.com or tes.com. Even if you want to make your own, looking at one first is a good idea, just to see what is involved.

Ready to write one? First, identify the topic, and then use backward design. Start with an essential question or statement, such as “I can read and comprehend a recipe” or “What is usually served at a TL party?”, and then look for authentic resources in order to identify the specific tasks. Then, create worksheets (or find them online) or create Google forms or Edpuzzles for the interpretive task and checklists or rubrics for the interpersonal and presentation tasks. Here are sample checklists:

CONVERSATION:
_ Begin conversation appropriately Make eye contact with your partner
Stay on topic
Use appropriate voice volume
Take turns speaking
Ask questions
Make comments
End conversation appropriately
Spoke for an appropriate length of time
_
Covered all aspects of task

VIDEO:
Student Classmate/peer review
_ Introduction (oral or on video)
_
Interesting beginning
_ Sound quality good
_
Dress and props appropriate
_ Pace: Not too slow, not too fast
_
Seriousness of performers
_ Accurate information
_
Correct pronunciation
_ Correct grammar
_
Interesting ending

I like to have ten-element checklists, so students can easily calculate the percentage and grade to expect based on that. Finally, select a hook or method of introducing the IPA, and you are ready to go.

Finding Authentic Resources

For novice-level reading, I like to Google “infografia” (Spanish) or “infographie (French) with a plus sign and the topic. Novice-level readers love to read graphs or flowcharts, and good ones have been easy for me to find. For more advanced levels, go to news sources (especially those geared to children, such as www.1jour1actu.com or www.newsinslowspanish.com). Facebook groups for subject-area teachers have also been great resources for videos and articles other teachers use.

Twitter is also a useful resource. Choose a word or phrase, join it to a hashtag, and see what comes up. I have done this for #diadelosmuertos as well as #quandjetaispetit and made a worksheet of actual postings for students to read. Note: I do not have students do this as postings may use bad language, grammar, spelling, or all three.

If you teach French, I have a public IPA resources collection online at this address: www.symbaloo.com/mix/frenchiparesources


Sound like a lot of work? If you are starting from scratch to write an IPA, it is, so give yourself plenty of time, but once you have piloted and tweaked them based on student performances, these are good for years and years and give you a great opportunity to be the “guide on the side” through the process, pull out struggling students for some one-on-one remediation or counseling, and in short, free you to help where help is needed.

Deborah Blaz, a French teacher and World Languages Department chair at Angola High School in Angola, Indiana, and adjunct instructor at both Ivy Tech and Trine University, has taught French and English to grades 7–12 for the past 40 years in Indiana. Ms. Blaz, author of six best-selling books on teaching strategies for Taylor and Francis Group, is a frequent workshop and keynote presenter nationally and internationally and was named to the All-USA Teacher team, honorable mention, by USA Today in 1998. She was also honored as the Indiana Secondary French Teacher of the Year in 1996 and received the Project E Excellence in Education award in 2000.

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