Defense of the Oral Defense
Kathie F. Nunley
ASCD's Classroom Leadership, February 2000)
many other teachers, I have been failed when using written evaluations
as the single method of assessing student learning. I would
spend hours designing a test only to be disappointed with the
results. Students didn't study, too often they just guessed
their way through the multiple choice, then left the short answer
questions blank. Even those that seriously tried to do well
rarely reviewed the teacher comments on their returned tests,
and they seldom thought of their errors as a source of learning.
bothered me that students were coming into my class with 10
years of public education but thought that the goal of a test--or
any assignment, for that matter-- was just to get something
on paper, put their name at the top, and turn it in. The idea
that they should have learned something from the experience
never entered their heads. So I changed my methods. Now, instead
of a written test, I use an oral assessment as the primary means
of evaluation. Students must explain to me what they have learned
to receive points or credit.
benefits of oral assessment are enormous. I meet with every
student, every day. And what I'm asking my student's to do is
think. "Tell me about that idea." I don't understand that definition,
explain it another way." "How does this relate to what we learned
last week?" These are the sorts of questions I ask students,
one on one, every day.
may be amazed at what your students are and are not learning.
So often we see a student in the back of the room who obviously
isn't getting it. We intend to make it back there but just never
get to him. Then the end of the term arrives, and we really
feel we have failed that child.
you move around to every student , this doesn't happen. Now
we correct problems early on. If a student is working out of
a textbook that you feel will be a real struggle for him, you
can redirect him to something more appropriate. You can straighten
out errors in his thinking immediately. You can ask him to elaborate
on his ideas to stretch his thinking.
can also individualize expectations to accommodate various abilities
in the classroom. With this individual assessment, you can test
for individual growth rather than a general criteria that may
fit no one. The one-on-one assessment also shifts student thinking.
They now understand that the objective of an assignment is not
merely do it but also to learn something from it.
as Hard as it Sounds
teachers think oral assessment would be overwhelming and too
time consuming. It moves quickly even in my large classes of
38-40 students. One reason is that all the assignments I give
have a rubric or grading criteria. I post that criteria on the
wall so students know what to expect. For example, if students
are doing book work (a 15-point assignment), I simply look at
their work, choose three questions at random, and ask them to
explain the answers to me. I award five points for each correct
my students can't slip by. They are accountable for learning
something. You can't lie, cheat, or steal your way through an
oral assessment. You either know what you've learned or you
defense allows for clarity and individualized instruction. It
reduces cheating. Even the student who copies the answers to
a book assignment will have to study that material so they can
defend it orally and receive credit. Therefore, to earn points,
actual learning is required.
the Curriculum to Boost Test Scores
in today's diverse general classroom can seem an almost impossible
task. In an attempt to effectively juggle learning styles, multiple
intelligences, various languages, disabilities, and abilities,
I designed a teaching strategy I call Layered Curriculum.
unit of instruction is divided into three layers. Student grades
are based on how many layers they complete. The bottom layer,
called the C level, has a variety of assignment choices that
accommodate a range of abilities. This layer allows students
to collect general information on the topic. The B level requires
students to apply, create, or problem solve with the information
gained at the C level. The A level asks students to do a critical
analysis of an issue pertaining to the topic of study.
biggest concern for teachers who are adopting the Layered Curriculum
in their classroom are state-mandated, end-of-the-year exams.
Will students who are taught in this type of classroom do well
on criterion-referenced tests? That's probably the best feature
of this teaching strategy. Nearly all the research coming out
in educational psychology supports student-centered instruction
to increase long-term learning and retention.
students are choosing their own assignments and because they
are immediately held accountable for their learning, they tend
to do better on end-of-year exams. Apparently, when teachers
allow students more involvement in the educational process,
the testing issues take care of themselves.
F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher
and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the
Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has
authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability
classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full
references and additional teaching and parental tips are available
at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:
Kathie (at) brains.org
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