Assessments for Novice learners

I had a great conversation today with a colleague about assessments for Novice learners and thought I would share where I am on my journey with this topic. In this post, I plan to cover considerations for setting-up your grade book, criteria to select an assessment, my favorite interpretive assessments for Novice learners, my favorite speaking and writing assessments for Novice learners, and finally if you are still with me, we will take a  look at timed writes as a way of measuring language growth.

1. Considerations for setting-up the grade book

  • I have been using ACTFL communication modes for years to set-up my grade book. If everything I do in the classroom is supposed to foster my student’s proficiency, then my grade book should reflect that.
  • Setting-up my grade book so that it reflects students’ academic performance, not behavior (homework compliance, participation, etc.) is important to my teaching philosophy. While I have not been able to fully adopt Standard Based Grading in any school I have worked at, I have become fairly adept at making it work within a traditional grading framework.
  • Note, in my current school, our World Language department requires a 10% semester exam grade.



2. Criteria for selecting my assessments 

At this stage of my journey, I want my assessments to:

  • be proficiency-oriented (i.e. we are using authentic language “skills” on the assessment such as reading a passage, listening to a story, or having a conversation)
  • provide helpful data about the student’s proficiency
  • provide an opportunity for students to continue learning while being assessed
  • be as painless as possible for the students and for me (with the exception of the semester exam which is a mandated 2 hour assessment in my current school)


3. My favorite interpretive assessments for Novice learners

  • Listen and Draw or Read and Draw
    • We create a One Word Image in class (orally). The next day, I bring the written description of the OWI, I read it out loud and students draw it. Or I give them the written description and they draw it.
    • We create a story in class (orally). The next day, I bring the story in the form of a comic strip (template by Mike Peto)
    • I tell a story in class using Story Listening supplementation. Then, we read the story together and I let them illustrate the story.
    • I adapted this rubric shared by Claire Walter

You can use Read and Draw for more and more complex (Novice) texts, as illustrated below:


Illustrating a One Word Image

PS: Notice the mistakes in this novice student’s speech bubbles? Let it go. I never asked for speech bubbles and she chose to take a risk and write. Yeah for her! She is conveying meaning with words in August already!


Illustrating a class-created story


Illustrating a story told in class using Story Listening supplementation
  • Story retell
    • Students listen to a story and write a retell in English
    • Because writing a retell can take some time and I don’t like to spend that much time in English, I use this assessment when I am absent! I ask the sub to play an Alice Ayel story and my students write a retell in English. They are still listening to language in context while I am gone!
    • I use a simple rubric:Alice rubric
  • Main ideas from a short speech
    • Students listen to a short speech (30-40 sec) and identify main ideas
    • I select recordings from native speakers on
    • I provide some kind of graphic organizer for my Novice learners:Novice listening
    • I use a simple rubric:Rubricauthenticlistening

4. My favorite interpersonal speaking and presentational writing assessments for Novice learners

I don’t have any! I spend most of my time providing my Novice students with as much input as possible. Do we talk in my class? Of course! Conversations occur naturally and spontaneously throughout the year through Personalized Questions & Answers, and all the Weekend / Calendar / Picture / Movie Talks. I am interested in developing a broad foundation, not making them experts at listing all the clothing one could possibly wear in a year. They will develop more expertise once they reach the Intermediate level.

So far this year, I have not formally assessed my Level 1 students in speaking and I have assessed my level 2 once (at semester exam). I do take time to formally assess production skills at semester exam, mainly because I want to show my students that one does not have to “practice speaking” to develop speaking skills. I want them to see how much they have grown. And I want data to show parents and admins if needed. Here is what I did for my Level 2 for the midterm exam:

  • an Integrated Performance Assessment LITE VERSION
    • Students listened to Lilly (60 sec) talk about her week and identified the main ideas
    • Students read the transcript and answered some “meaning from context” and “comprehension” questions
    • I gave them Lilly’s weekly schedule
    • Students used her schedule to compare and contrast their week with Lilly’s week

If you are interested in seeing the assessment please email me at cecileflaine at gmail.

Please note, we did not spend time practicing these “skills” in class. It was interesting to see my students doing pretty well on this assessment without any major practice, simply because they had acquired enough language to be able to listen, read, and relate to someone’s life.

Coming out of this semester assessment, I conferenced with my students one on one and had a conversation about how they are doing with their “language skills”. They also self assessed their work ethic (not for a grade!) which sparked a productive conversation about behavior.

Mid Year Assessment

When I write about assessments for Intermediates, you will see more full fledged IPAs making my favorite assessment list.

5. Last but not least…Timed writes!

This year I implemented regular monthly timed writes for all my students. Timed writes are the best way to measure how quickly students access words in their heads to create a narrative. I don’t grade them but they are a wonderful formative assessment. As teachers, the only way we have to influence the number of words students have available in their heads and the ease with which they retrieve these words is  by providing a lot of comprehensible and compelling input.

You can read more about timed writes here.

Please note, when you look at a timed write, you are not looking at accuracy, you are counting how many comprehensible words students can produce in context. I like to call it “speaking on paper”. Novice will write words the way they sound so “parc” will be  “park”, “soudain” will be “sudden”, etc.

Let’s take a student who is not an outlier (neither a high nor a low achiever), let’s call her Tamara, and let’s take a look at her growth so far:


8/23 Tamara writes about a girl who has a dog. She is 8 years old. The dog is a male and he is big. They both like the park.

(32 words in 5 minutes = 6.4 wpm)



2/4 Tamara writes about a little dog. His name is Burger. Burger is pink and purple. He has three sisters and two brothers. His brothers and sisters do not like him because he is pink and purple. He is sad. One day he walks in the forest. Suddenly he sees a sister. He says “I don’t want

(61 words in 5 minutes = 12.2 wpm)

  • She has doubled her production from August to February!
  • She is writing an interesting story! I want to read more.
  • She has a sense of organization with clear transitions
  • She has both narration and dialog

I love watching my students grow and showing them their growth in order to boost their confidence!

How do you assess your Novice learners?





  1. Cécile, this post is THE BEST!!! Thank you for one of the most thorough explanations (rationale) and detailed descriptions (examples) I have read on this topic. This is the most rigorous part of our job: evaluating our students’ proficiency. We are accountable to so many entities! Your post will help us teachers to clarify and justify what we strive to achieve in our classrooms. Your post reminded of what Mike (Peto) wrote earlier this month about his decision as a department chair not to evaluate interpersonal communication with first year students (Teacher’s Discovery blog) . I hope this helps make yet again such an essential point about a more natural approach (oui, c’est bien ce que j’ai dit! 😉 to language learning. Merci pour cet article plus qu’essentiel. Je le copie et le partage de ce pas!
    Elisabeth Roten

    • Merci Elisabeth. I am glad to hear you found it useful. Thanks for quoting Mike Peto, a wise educator I respect a great deal. I fully agree with not grading Interpersonal speaking (and presentationl writing) during their first year and just let their langue blossom. A bientot!

  2. Hi Cecile, thanks so much for these ideas! I’m curious, how do you grade timed writes? Or do you use them as strictly formative assessments to give you information?

    • Bonjour! I do not grade Timed Writes because I respect every student’s right to progress at her own pace. But I love them as formative assessments and the kids get so excited to see their progress. I shared with them in December and I will share again at the end of the year.

  3. Chère Cécile, thank you again for sharing such wonderful resources. My school prefers teachers to use straight points and not weighted categories. The only exception is the final semester exam, as in your school. I am not required to predetermine how many points there will be in a semester (thank goodness). Do you see any pitfalls to using categories such as you give in your example above (interpretive listening etc) with a straight points grade book? Merci mille fois! Brenda

    • Brenda, great question. The big pitfall for me of not having weighted categories is that you are basically saying that Speaking and Writing counts as much as Listening or Reading. In a comprehension-based classroom, listening & reading are mission critical. But I guess you could go around it and do more Listening & Reading assessments than Speaking & Writing? Does that answer your question?

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