Friday, May 27, 2011

Oral Exams Part DEUX

This week's blog about the Oral Exams in Denmark brought out lots more questions that I had not considered, so here is THE ORAL EXAM-PART DEUX! 

1. How does the final assessment work in the US?
Well basically every high school student takes an OBJECTIVE exam in the 4 main subjects--English, Math, Social Sciences, and Science. These are usually given in the junior year (11th grade--one year before graduation) so that SHOULD STUDENTS FAIL, the school has one more year to reteach...which actually is not RETEACHING but TEST PREPARATION TO ENSURE PASSING.

These tests range from 40-60 questions (usually) and 
cover the GENERAL range of content from the subject 
EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in the the state takes the
 same test REGARDLESS of his level, his future education plans, his "study line", etc.... 

2. How does the teacher choose the texts for the Oral Exam?

Well I can tell you that I kept a running log of the time spent gathering texts this week... and when I mailed the texts to my external censor yesterday, I calculated that I had used somewhere between 36 and 40 hours since Saturday....  So the equivalent of a full work week. You cannot just pick a short story that has the word "Censorship" in the title because it fits with your theme...  You have to search for QUALITY LITERATURE (usually by RECOGNIZED AUTHORS) that not only connect to the theme you have in mind, but that the students can really DIG INTO! You need texts with MEAT!

And then when you find those texts, you have to ensure that they are NO MORE THAN 4-6 STANDARD PAGES (for A-level) meaning no more than 1300 characters per page (so 7800 characters in all). This means that MOST of the MEATY stories/excerpts you find, you will need to CUT THEM DOWN.... and yes, I fear that guys like Steinbeck and Hemingway ROLL OVER IN THEIR GRAVES (or else come at us with shotgun when we are dreaming) when we do this, but we have to make sure that the text is something the students can read & analyze to the level they need to in only ONE hour... So we find the texts, we read, we analyze, we CUT, we read more, we CUT more, and then even after that, we throw it out because we have cut so much that they are not what we wanted, so we go back to the drawing board.

AND .... in a class of 29 students, you need ELEVEN different texts that ALL meet the criteria, so it is quite a process. However, I can guarantee you that when I mailed my texts off to the censor yesterday, I FELT GREAT. I was 100% pleased with my choices and I know that I have chosen texts that my students can REALLY DIG INTO and with which they can all make a high level presentation.

3. Why does DK use the ORAL exams?

Remember this is not just in language courses...even in classes like MATH, the students have ORAL exams.  When you combine the students' YEAR END GRADES (like from the classwork, hand-ins, etc) WITH their WRITTEN EXAM grade (which I will explain tomorrow) WITH their ORAL EXAM grade, you have a TRUE PICTURE of each student's LEVEL! If we just give them all a 40 question bubble-in ABCD test, we TRULY  (and I believe this wholeheartedly), we KNOW NOTHING about their levels, their strengths, or their weaknesses....all we know is that some guess better than others. 

The oral exam takes SO SO SO much time and effort on the part of the teacher and the student, but I hope Denmark NEVER gets rid of it....   It is one of the most authentic assessment experiences of which I have EVER been a part. 

1 comment:

Alex said...

I like the idea of oral exams in all subjects. It's very low-tech, lovely and old-fashioned. The oral tradition. :) I've read that it's big in France, too. But I think that also in real life, learning to guess with skill is also important. In real life you're often faced with split second decisions, where you have to "guess". It's important to learn how to discard the least likely possibilities and choose the most likely. I kind of enjoy that sometimes. It' a good way to attack a puzzle. Once you've discarded the obviously wrong, sometimes you can even work out the right answer without guessing! Either way, I think that's a valuable skill too.