Why is assessment important?
It can be challenging for parents who do not speak Mandarin to understand their children’s progress in the language. Teachers also need to check in with students frequently, in order to understand what the students “know.” School administrators also require teachers to give grades. We need to do periodic assessments for all of these reasons.
What kind of assessment works with TPRS?
Lotus Chinese Learning classes for upper elementary and older students use TPRS. TPRS is a language teaching method that uses storytelling and reading to help students learn second language. TPRS is different from “teach and practice” language teaching methods because students actually hear and use the language. The TPRS method does not use a traditional textbook, so there are not pre-packaged tests for teachers to use.
In TPRS, students make up stories with the guidance of their teachers. The students later read the stories that they created. Since the students created the stories themselves, they are naturally more interested in them than anything that comes out of a textbook.One type of assessment that works with a TPRS class is story writing. With this type of assessment, students have 2-4 minutes to write down a story. They can re-tell the story that we are working on in class. They can also go in a completely new direction with their story.
What counts as “good”
A good piece of student writing shows that the student can use the words and structures we have learned so far in class. The writing is a snapshot of what is inside the child’s head. If I am doing a good job helping the students acquire Mandarin Chinese, then the students should feel like writing is natural and fun.
Writing in Chinese is a different challenge than writing in the FIGS languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish). Chinese characters are more complex than letters. When handwriting Chinese, students must write each character in the correct order. Students (and sometimes even native speakers!) can often read a character but still be unable to write it from memory.
Caveats for Chinese
There are a few suggestions for how to deal with this issue in assessing progress in Mandarin Chinese. One is to let the students write in pinyin if they cannot remember the characters. I think that this is fine, since 95% of any Chinese writing that the students will do in the future will be using pinyin to type on a computer or phone. Another idea to have the most frequently used characters on display in the classroom so that the kids can refer to them. In any case, the mechanics of Chinese writing should not get in the way of an assessment of what the kids know how to say in Mandarin Chinese.