Defense of the Oral Defense
Dr. 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
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 oral explanation.
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 don't.
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
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.