Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Oral Exam

People have been asking me about all these exams I keep talking about because the Danish way of assessing students is QUITE different from the system used in the U.S. And all I would like to say to that comparison is THANK GOD!

Because in Denmark, we have NONE OF THESE:

So I thought it would be a good idea to tell about the kinds of exams my students are taking and what the actual process looks like. 

First of all, assessment in Denmark is A LOT OF WORK!
For the students.
For the teachers.
And for the Ministry of Education.

And the assessment system costs A LOT OF MONEY!
But unlike the way we assess students in the U.S., I can say WITHOUT A DOUBT that every kroner spent on this process is worth every cent... or is that "worth every øre?" 

Gymnasium students are assessed 2 ways-- Mundtlig (Oral) & Skriftlig (Written) at the end of their courses. Most of these occur after the 3rd year because many of their classes are taken all 3 years (A-level). (However those that end after year 1 (c-level) or year 2 (b-level) can, of course, be assessed at that point.)

The third year of gymnasium actually ends in the middle of May, although graduation is not until the last Friday of June. That is because our exam-phase really does take six weeks to administer....because... wait, are you sitting down????  Because the exam process in Denmark is INDIVIDUALLY FOCUSED ON EACH STUDENT...

CRAZY, I know!    

So first--- let me tell you about the Oral Exams because that is what I am in the midst of planning for.  I have two third-year classes of A-level English students and both classes will be taking the ORAL EXAM in English. One group's exams start on June 1 and the other group starts a week later.   (Let's hope THIS does not happen after the students have had me for these 3 years!) 

On average, it takes 3 days to administer the Oral Exams to one class. 

And the process goes something like this:

1. We teach in "forløb"  (units of study) where our literature and lessons all feed into a common topic (for instance- we have had forløb on Censorship, Humanity, The History of English Lit, and Injustice this year).

2. When students are assigned to an oral exam, they are basically tested on the content from the last 3 years. We keep our "undervisningsbeskrivelse" (lesson descriptions) in LECTIO (an electronic database) where we list all literary works that we use as well as what topics, issues and other relevant material that we work with during the forløb. This database is opened to the students as as study guide for exams and it is also opened to the EXTERNAL CENSOR who is assigned to come and assess our students. (Will be a teacher somewhere in DK who teaches in that subject).

3. A week before the exams begin, I , as the teacher, must send exam texts (of 4-6 standard pages) to the censor that I want to use at the exam. I must have 1 text for every 4 students in my class (and the last student on the list who is assessed must have at least 4 to choose from). So in a class of 29, I have to have 11 different texts (excerpts from novels, poetry, short stories, etc). These texts must ALL connect to one of the units of study we have had in the 3 years. 

4. The student comes to the exam at his designated time and draws a number (1-11, for example). That number corresponds to one of the 11 texts I chose. I give the text to the student and then lead him to the preparation room where he has 1 hour to prepare an oral presentation using that text (that he has NEVER seen before).  He can have ALL of his materials from class (notes, handouts, etc)  as well as his Danish/English dictionary to use as references. But most of it comes from within because in one hour, there is not a lot of time for looking stuff up.....

5. His presentation has 2 key parts-- First, a comprehensive analysis of the text he has been given, and secondly-- he has to put that text into context to something else we have worked with.....could be an entire novel, could be the protagonist that connects from this text to another, could be theme, etc...  But this synthesis is what takes his presentation to the highest level possible.

6. So of course he has to read the text first.
After an hour I come and get him and bring him into a room with me and the external censor. And then he presents everything to us orally. Although the censor is the one grading him, I tell my students to focus on me....not the stranger in the room. As he presents, I am making notes so that I can have a dialogue with him about some of the points he made during his 8-10 minute presentation.... he and I have a conversation about a few more details related to his presentation and then his time is up....

7. He leaves the room. The censor then tells me the grade that he believes the student deserves. I have the chance to "fight" for the student if I think the grade is not high enough, but in the end, the censor does have the final say.

8. The assessment is based on several elements such as: grammar, fluency, pronunciation, "Danishisms", vocabulary and of course CONTENT! 

9. After the censor and I agree, I go and fetch the student and bring him back in and then I tell him his grade and the justification behind it......

10. He leaves... Hopefully QUITE HAPPY! 

This process is AMAZING and it is not just the process used because I teach a subject that is a 2nd language... we use oral exams in everything. .EVEN MATH!
Of course it takes time and it takes MANY man hours (hence the expense), but OMG it tells you SO much about a student's level.... and ONLY about his level..... 100% individualize and 100% authentic!

I have just finished selecting the 11 texts for my class whose exams start next week.... and let me tell you.. it took me 3 days... no less than about 6 hours a day to choose these texts...  because they need to be HIGH QUALITY literature that meets the guidelines and that the students can REALLY WORK WITH.... it is a huge undertaking, but WELL-WORTH IT! 

(And did I mention that most students are given a chance to take a MOCK ORAL exam in the summer between 1 & 2 year or between 2 & 3??? Yep, they do! Same process.... just like the real deal! Talk about data that I could use as a teacher to work with them in the year that followed that Mock Exam!)

So in terms of the ASSESSMENT SCOREBOARD, I have to say that right now, it is definitely 


PiNG aka Patti said...

It all sounds rather frightening for the students - I would've freaked out in their shoes!

(J) said...

Denmark is defintiely better than US of A.This blog has proved that.How much better to focus on the individual than anyone else.Denmark is AWESOME.USA sucks compared.Someone needed to point that out repeatedly.God bless Denmark.

Lisbeth said...

How wonderful that you recognize how important it is to select appropiate texts, Kelli (not that I would expect otherwise actually :-)) but I was really disappointed at my English oral when 'my' text was really boring and without any possibility to relate it to history, history of literature or otherwise make the analysis interesting.
However, I've never realised before how long time it would actually take a dedicated teacher to do a good job on this task :)

Anonymous said...

Wow wow wow! What a brilliant way to assess true ability.

Thomas Gemal said...

Ahh, the oral exams memories your blog brings back. Yeah, those oral exams are tough, but VERY fair. You had to study so hard in the final weeks, but since they covered so much ground, you had to know the subject well even before you started studying in order to get a good grade.

The other thing I liked was at university all written exams were open book, calculators, etc. But the exams were long so you had to know your stuff. It reflects how you use your skills in the work place.

Nuno said...

Have you checked out the written work? At our gymnasium, we have found out that plagiarism is rife. I mean, one in 5 students got found out after a recent crack-down. If you haven't already done so, get the anti-copying software. They submit electronically, and you can run it through the programme. A time later, you get the results, which shows how "close" the work is to essays on the internet.

Seriously recommended. What is going on is rife, and unfair to hard working students that submit their own work, and get lesser marks than the copiers (not to mention the copiers getting better university courses than the non-copiers). It really is a scandal.

Rachel said...

Wow! That is something!

Annarella said...

So how exactly does it work in the US?