61.  How do you grade students that can’t speak English?

I can answer this question from personal experience as well as from a professional perspective.

Personal experience: In 1961 when I arrived at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, I could hardly speak any English. I had to take the required freshman courses in Math, Science, English, and in my field of study --Botany and Plant Physiology, among other subjects. Fortunately, I had a very strong background on each of these subjects in my own primary language, L1. For example, in Calculus, I could understand what the teacher was explaining provided he wrote on the board every step of the mathematical calculations he was attempting to solve. Similarly in Botany and Plant Physiology: so long as the teacher was SHOWING through pictures, slides or real objects what he was explaining, along with the written vocabulary, I could understand what was going on in my classes although I could not understand what the teachers were actually saying.

For testing all professors used a laboratory model where each student stood at a lab station for a minute or so, read a question and selected or wrote a brief answer given the visual representation provided through pictures, manipulatives, realia, real objects, etc. Then, students moved on and rotated to the next lab station and the next question. This type of ACTIVE test situation was ideal for me, a student who could NOT speak or express myself through written English. And I received very good grades in those types of tests.

Professional perspective: There are many ways to ascertain students’ mastery of content area knowledge. Pencil and paper tests, or written tests that require open-ended answers to questions are NOT the only kinds of tests that teachers should use.

Testing can, and should, be built into instruction. In essence, every time a teacher asks a question, every time the teacher "checks for understanding" through questions or through an action or actions that the student(s) perform(s) --and VERBALLY explain, if possible--, the teacher is testing, albeit informally.

Many instructional activities that require active participation and active language use, can –and should—serve as tests. For example, recently I did two lesson demonstrations, one with 8th grade American History students, and another with 10th grade Biology students. The lesson demonstrations lasted two days, that is, I worked with the students on two consecutive days, one class period each day.

For the second-day class periods, I prepared instructional activities that allowed me to "test" the students while reviewing the key ideas introduced the previous day: I prepared 10-12 statements for each class which I read once to the 21-23 students I had in each class, respectively. If any one of the statements I read was correct, one student had to repeat or paraphrase the statement. If any of the statements I read was incorrect, the selected student had to repeat or paraphrase it making the appropriate corrections. The entire class, then, orally responded YES or NO after each statement made by the student, indicating whether the statement was correct or incorrect, that is, whether the student had provided a correct statement or had failed to make the appropriate corrections. For "testing" purposes ONLY, I could have prepared as many statements as students in the class, so each student had an opportunity to respond. In addition, the entire class could have responded YES/NO in writing, instead of orally.

Another instructional activity I prepared consisted of flash cards: Key terms of the organelles in a cell were written in blue on some flash cards, and the characteristics or functions of each organelle were written in red on separate flash cards. Students reviewed orally the names of the organelles and their characteristics or function by reading aloud the information on the flash cards. For testing purposes ONLY, then I could have randomly distributed the flash cards among all the students in the class, and asked the students to find SILENTLY other students who held the key term or the characteristics or functions of the organelles they were holding. Students’ grades would depend on whether they clustered themselves correctly holding a term and corresponding characteristics or function.

For the American History lesson I brought to the class many pictures depicting the vocabulary words corresponding to the general regions that serve to classify Native Americans prior to 1492. The vocabulary was posted in the classroom by region: Far North, Northwest Coast, Southwest, etc. One instructional activity I prepared for the students to complete as homework based on their readings of the corresponding material in their textbooks was to design a grid to organize all the vocabulary words by categories and by regions. Thus, some of the vocabulary words referred to the "fauna" or the "floral" or the "diet," "means of transportation," "technology/tools," "occupations," etc., of the different groups of Native Americans. As I named some of the vocabulary words, students would find the corresponding category and region to write the word in the appropriate square in the grid. The activity was completed as homework after students read the corresponding sections in their textbooks. For testing purposes ONLY, I could have shown several pictures of each region, numbering the clusters of pictures by region. For example, the cluster of pictures relating to the Far North would be #1. The cluster of pictures depicting the Northwest Coast would be #2, etc. Then, I could have read or shown vocabulary words that applied to each of these regions. Students would have written the number of the region to which the word I read or displayed applied.

Also for testing purposes ONLY, I could have randomly distributed the vocabulary flash cards with all the terms studied in the lesson for Native Americans. Each student would number the vocabulary word assigned to h(im/er) according to the region depicted in the numbered clusters of pictures. Or, each student could have ORALLY stated something about each region incorporating the vocabulary words assigned to h(im/er).

There are MANY ways of testing students that do NOT involve "paper and pencil" tests. For students who are learning the English language, testing involving VISUAL stimuli and ACTIVE responses that do not require extensive verbal or written statements, provide very appropriate means of ascertaining mastery of the content area concepts and key terminology. In reality, ALL students learning subject matter concepts and terminology are "learning the English language" for a specific content area or subject matter. Thus, testing involving VISUAL stimuli and ACTIVE responses that do not require extensive verbal or written statements provide very appropriate means of ascertaining mastery of the content area concepts and key terminology by ALL students.

As ALL students develop and master more English and more content area English, teachers should then include in their tests more open-ended questions ON MATERIAL PREVIOUSLY STUDIED AND WELL LEARNED that may require longer and more extensive oral and/or written responses. Thus, each test should include a section that provides VISUAL stimuli and ACTIVE responses on the newly learned material, and oral/ written stimuli and open ended-questions requiring extensive written responses on well-learned, previously studied material.


For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

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3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net