How Do I Assess and Evaluate Speaking?

A teacher asked on the Facebook group “How do you assess speaking?”  Responses were basically, “try using one of various apps” (i.e. Google Classrooms, KaBlaBla, etc).  Lots of people want to use tech to do it.

Contrarian here:  save yourself time, and don’t bother…you can accurately, quickly and easily assess speaking with zero tech.

But let’s revisit the basics before we go on:

  • speaking does not improve language acquisition.  The act of talking is not like practicing music or baseball.  The real driver of speech is aural (and written) input.
  • Teachers need a life.  I for one refuse to spend an hour per class listening to students’ prepared recordings of prepared questions.  The kids have better things to do, and so do we.
  • The only speech we should assess if we want to see what the kids have acquired is spontaneous and in-the-moment.  If you want people to learn a language, then by all means let them plan, rehearse, etc…but don’t confuse this with acquisition, where we see what is “wired in” and gut-level, below– and beyond– the conscious mind.  Most of the ed apps I’ve seen are similar:  teacher records their voice asking question or saying prompts; kid listens, decodes and responds and records their answer for teacher to mark.  This kind of “planned” or “reflected-on” communication doesn’t really assess what they have acquired.
  • Feedback doesn’t work.  You can explain, correct, suggest, etc till the cows come home and it won’t make a difference in how well the kids speak.  Only input can really change that.

So how do I assess speaking?

First, every time a kid opens their mouth and uses the target language in class– to answer a question, to add to a story, etc– you are getting perfect feedback about how well they speak.

So with my 2s…Aashir can say– and understand– a word at a time max.  Simrowdy can answer any question and talk at length about anything.  Sadjad extemporaneously comes up with good entire sentences when adding to a story.  Janelle is like Simrowdy.  Daniel will– and does– say anything but has some verb etc issues.  Kevin never talks, but when he does, it’s perfect.  I could go on.

Second, the point– to me– of assessing speaking (as with anything else) in class is to see what the kids do not understand and where they need more input.  This is why we track barometer kids and choral responses.

Third, I don’t play “gotcha.”  I test what I teach.  I use vocab they know, and when using objects, pictures or people, I make sure the kids have the vocab to describe them.

Fourth, I don’t assess speaking for Level One students.  It makes them anxious, and it is time taken away from input.  I assess– i.e. attach a number to– kids once, at the end of Level Two.  I do only what you would do speaking in real life:

  • ask them questions and have them answer
  • have them ask me questions (and I answer).
  • describe something– a photo, an object, another kid in the class

No presentations, storytelling, memorisation, etc.

Here’s my rubric:

For a mark of 3:

  • I can in detail discuss myself, my social and family circle and my activities and interests, and i can describe things.
  • I make minor mistakes that do not affect meaning, and I can speak fluidly.
  • I understand all questions and I come up with my own.
  • I can fix conversational problems or I don’t have any conversational problems.

For a mark of 2

  • I can discuss myself, my social and family circle and my activities and interests, and I can describe things.  There are some gaps in what I can say, and sometimes I provide little detail.
  • I make enough mistakes that meaning occasionallyu breaks down, and I can speak but not quickly nd fluently
  • I understand most questions and I come up with some of my own.
  • I sometimes fix conversational problems.

For a mark of 1:

  • I can  discuss myself, my social and family circle and my activities and interests, and i can describe things, but I can’t do so with much or any relevant detail.
  • My mistakes affect meaning, and I generally don’t use sentences.
  • I don’t understand all questions and I have trouble coming up with my own.
  • I either don’t know when there are conversational problems, or I don’t bother fixing them.

“Conversational problems” means not understanding, and “fixing them” means asking for a repeat, etc (i.e. not just bobble-heading along).

This rubric will generate numbers from four to twelve out of twelve.    I’ll generally show them a pic on the iPad at some point, and have them describe that, or have them describe a kid in class.  it takes about 4 minutes per kid to do this.

If the kid bombs, they can come back in after school and re-do it.

Anyway, there’s my thoughts.


  1. I agree with absolutely everything you say and that’s how I assess my students as well. Unfortunately, many of us (myself included) are bound to certain powers that be that require us to conduct those very formal (read unnatural) question/answer sessions for common assessment purposes. In that case, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea to use tech in order not to waste class time that can much better utilized for providing ever more CI.

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