Teaching in China: A Guide for the Uninitiated

How do I evaluate my students?

This is another classic TEFL question. At pretty much any Chinese school, a simple “satisfactory / unsatisfactory” system isn’t going to cut it. They want numbers. Given that your task is to oversee the practice of a skill, how should it be evaluated? There are a number of factors to evaluate and ways to evaluate which will be examined below.

Attendance. Clearly, attendance is vital. The point of your class is to practice speaking. If students don’t attend, there’s no way to verify that any practice has taken place. That’s a given. Nevertheless, attendance is not an achievement in itself. Some of my former students have driven this point home by coming to every class but doing their best never to open their mouths. Rather than reward students for attending, I penalize students for excessive absences.

Participation. This is the heart and soul of the class. Students have to be willing to talk in class when given the opportunity. They need to do the activities you give them. They need to talk, the more enthusiasm the better. Grading participation is a little tricky, but it should definitely factor in.

Vocabulary Tests/Quizzes. These are a good way to force students to learn the vocabulary you give them. The problem is that knowing the meaning of a word and being able to use the word are two different things. In addition, if the test is written, it’s even further removed from the task at hand: speaking English. Also, tests and quizzes can take up a good chunk of class time that could otherwise be devoted to more practice speaking.

Graded Performances. Students can be given projects such as speeches, skits, or presentations. These certainly force students to practice speaking outside of class, but often take the focus off of actual communication. If done in class, these can often be extremely boring for the rest of the students, all of whom are almost necessarily passive for the duration of the performances.

One-on-One Interviews. These are excellent for evaluating students’ progress. The problem is that they make students extremely nervous (which affects their speaking ability), and they take up a lot of time. Alternatively, you could create a variation involving more than one student at a time.

All of these methods have their own drawbacks, but many of these can be worked around. Tailor your method of evaluation to your class material. It may seem unnecessary for me to mention, but don’t forget that what you test should be directly related to the semester’s class content! Your students will begin the semester at different spoken English skill levels. You don’t want to penalize the hard-working but lower-level students for their lack of talent.

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