Review: Activities for Alternative Assessment – Leo Selivan

Delta Publishing produced two of my favourite resource books for teachers – Activities for Task-Based Learning and Activities for Mediation. No joke, these books are the most popular in the academy – I even have to tell teachers NOT to take them home! So, I was over the moon when I was able to get my hands on a copy of Leo Selivan’s Activities for Alternative Assessment, another resource book of sorts in the Delta Publishing series. In this review, I’m going to briefly talk about what the book provides, my thoughts on some of the activities inside, and some notes on what I liked and didn’t like.

Three-sentence summary

Leo Selivan’s Activities for Alternative Assessment is a resource book that aims to provide teachers with the ideas and tools they need to carry out (and improve!) effective assessment practices in their classrooms. The book starts with a concise, yet eye-opening overview of assessment, touching on the differences between formative/summative assessment, assessment for/of learning (and others), and then moves into a whopping 46 ideas for alternative assessment, covering all sorts of areas including micro-strategies and tools, portfolios, and informal assessment. As with the other Delta books reviewed so far, this is a resource book that language teaching organisations should have on their bookshelves, and should be encouraging teachers to read – Activities for Alternative Assessment is a book full of useful, easy-to-understand, and empowering ideas.

What I liked

  • Initiates the uninitiated in a friendly manner: Assessment can be a scary word for many teachers, not only because the field of assessment is huge, but because there are many terms that cause confusion. In the introduction chapter of the book, Selivan manages to cover many of the need-to-knows quite concisely, raising the reader’s awareness of formative/summative assessment, Assessment for/of Learning, Dynamic Assessment, Assessment as Learning, and Learning Oriented Assessment. Within this chapter, we also learn about the importance of constructivism, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and ZPD, and Freire’s Critical Pedagogy within assessment. You certainly won’t be an assessment expert after reading the chapter, but you will have a much clearer understanding of some of the most important concepts.
  • Doesn’t focus only on summative assessment / Assessment of Learning: As a teacher experimenting with different ways to assess learners, I think that my go-to formative assessment activity in the past used to be self-assessment or ‘on-the-fly’ assessments, and if I’m honest these weren’t really done consistently. Most of the time the consistent assessment that took place was that of summative assessment. Selivan’s book provides ideas and activities for assessment on both formative and summative assessments, and covers all the ‘alternatives’ you can see in the picture below (Selivan, 2021, p.10). For those teachers thinking about experimenting with different ways to assess learners, there are plenty of ideas here.
  • Many of the activities are simple, already-known activities: Many of the activities Selivan presents in the book are things you probably already are familiar with (e.g., asking learners what they learnt in the class), but he presents them with an assessment focus in mind. For example, the idea of exit tickets – learners respond to a question on a post-it at the end of the lesson, and the teacher then uses these as a “way of collecting evidence of learning” (Selivan, 2021, p.27). Selivan puts a twist on this with his tool ‘Vocabulary exit slips’, as seen in the picture below (Selivan, 2021, p.29).
  • There are loads of really innovative ideas! As well as there being twists on activities we are familiar with, Selivan has come up with some really innovating classroom ideas for alternative assessment. One of my favourites is Proof Listening, which in essence is a self-assessment task in which learners have a conversation that is recorded, and then following this they transcribe what they said and assess their speech. They then make changes to their transcriptions and then ‘submit’ the next transcription to the teacher. I completed this activity with two C1 teen groups, and it was really insightful, not only for me as their teacher, but also for learners. Learners became aware of how their speech was not exactly as they ‘wanted’ it to be, and one learner who has significant issues with pronunciation was able to ‘see what everyone means’ when she listened back to herself.
  • You need to work: I’m not a big fan of resource books that simply provide everything for you. This book provides A LOT of resources, but you still need to do a little bit of work in setting the activities up, and making the right choices about how to carry out the activity. What makes this book great, regarding this point, is that there are plenty of clear instructions to support you, as well as notes on possible ‘follow ups’.
  • Wide range of levels: The activities within the book are not simply for one level, or even ‘higher’ levels. There is something for almost everyone, so to speak. And the first chapter, Micro-strategies and Tools, gives some really useful tips that are applicable to every class you might encounter. Having said all this, the book does not really cater for VYLs and some YLs, which is something I’ll touch on in the next section.

What I didn’t like

If I’m honest, there is not a lot that I don’t like. The main thing that comes to mind is the book itself. I have other Delta books, and the spine of the books, after a while, start to split and the pages begin to fall out. I’ve been using this book for about two months now, trying to use at least two activities a week, and the book is holding up, but I can start to see some little lines on the spine. Perhaps an improvement with the series as a whole could be to have ‘ring spines’?

Another point is that the book doesn’t provide many activities that are appropriate to VYLs and YLs, as mentioned. This being said, the book doesn’t aim to do this – in fact, Selivan says the book is for A1+/11 years+ learners. So, the book provides what it says it provides, but there was something inside of me saying that I would have loved to have seen a few VYL and younger YL alternative assessment activities. In saying this, it’s pretty easy to see how some of the activities in the book could be adapted to the younger classes, and I don’t see it as a deal breaker.

Who should use this book?

  • All teachers who teach learners who are 11+: Being able to carry out assessment with your learners that doesn’t necessarily involve high-stakes exams/tests AND provides useful developmental feedback is, in my mind, empowering. With this in mind, I think all teachers with learners over 11 years of age, no matter where they teach, will find this book useful.
  • Academic managers: For those of us planning courses and providing ideas to teachers, I think this is a really useful activities book to have on hand as by encouraging teachers to experiment with alternative assessment (and not simply using the course book formative assessment pages, or worse only waiting till the end of the term assessment) we can hopefully help them get more appropriate feedback from their learners, so that they can make the necessary changes to the programme to meet their learners’ needs.

An example lesson – Paused transcription

Paused transcription is an activity from the Assessing Receptive skills chapter, and in effect the teacher presents a short listening text to learners, and then at regular intervals (20 secs or so), the text is paused and then the learners need to write down the last four words that they heard. Once the text is finish, they then check what they wrote and can listen again to clarify any points. Selivan writes that this activity can be followed up focusing on learners’ pronunciation of the written phrases, identifying differences between their versions and that of the text. I, however, took a different root, and had learners take their ‘four word ‘ segments and then have them reconstruct the text. I did this with an A2 class with a this short video clip – what we see in the picture is the reconstructed text before the major feedback stage, in which we looked at the transcript and compared this to what they wrote and heard.

At the end of the lesson, I asked for some feedback on how they felt that they went. Learners mentioned that they found this difficult, but they were happy because they were able to identify much of the language from the text. It was quite interesting to hear this as when I first played the text, learners faces showed that they thought it was going to be impossible.

In terms of following up on this, I’m going to do this task again with the same learners, but with a different text (hopefully similar difficulty) in Term 2. This will hopefully provide me with a lot of diagnostic information, as this first listening did (e.g., collocations and certain features of connected speech), and will also show learners that they are progressing (hopefully!).

Final notes

The word assessment often comes with stigma and many connotations, but they need not be negative, nor related to the pass/fail dichotomy that is often present in language testing. This book provides teachers with useful activities that focus on Assessment for Learning (predominantly), and activities that aim to support the learning process. I have thoroughly enjoyed trying out the activities, and whilst I don’t think all of them are appropriate for ‘my’ learners, I do feel that the book has plenty of ideas that will be applicable in almost all contexts, and for that reason alone, I’d suggest getting yourself a copy. But, I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who has used this book. What about you? I’d love to know your thoughts as well, so please leave a comment or get in touch 🙂

Book details

Title: Activities for Alternative Assessment – Monitoring learning accomplishments in the ELT classroom

Author: Leo Selivan

Pages: 168

ISBN: 9783125017368

Get it from Delta.

References

Selivan, L. (2021). Activities for Alternative Assessment – Monitoring learning accomplishments in the ELT classroom. Stuttgart: Delta Publishing

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