Extempore, Backwards Design, and Exit Outcomes for Students

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If you’re an educator these days, you’ve likely come across backwards design. As the name indicates, it’s a method of curricular design in which the instructor starts by establishing desired results for a particular chapter, unit, course, or sequence.  Then he or she works backwards to identify evidence of learning and put into place various instructional practices (i.e. activities, assignments, projects, etc.) to achieve those desired results.

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In our world language classes, like many other disciplines, exit outcomes of a particular unit or chapter are often assessed via traditional exams that assess a student’s ability to use vocabulary and grammar appropriately and perform tasks like reading and writing in the target language (though teachers implementing project-based learning often employ alternative assessments). Assessing speaking authentically, however, can be difficult in a traditional classroom for a variety of reasons (large class sizes, technology limitations, lost classroom instruction time). Extempore, however, is a simple, convenient way to avoid the constraints of scheduling 1:1 interviews while still assessing your students’ speaking abilities authentically as they reach the end of a particular unit.

However, as language instructors, it’s also important to think about exit outcomes as students reach the end of a sequence of courses as a way to demonstrate global proficiency and teaching effectiveness. For instance, I taught for many years at a university that required students, before satisfying their language requirement, to take a modified Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) to verify level-appropriate speaking proficiency. Though the end result was extremely beneficial, carrying out this interview required countless hours of face-to-face meetings between instructors and teachers and countless more hours of assessment. These sorts of demands are enough to make a language department, especially a small one with fewer resources, throw its hands up and say “Forget about it!”

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Extempore, though, is the perfect way to easily assess exit outcomes. Firstly, it removes the need to set up a series of 1:1 interviews and instead allows students to complete the interview on their own time. Given the ubiquity of mobile devices and the way that modern students engage with them, online evaluation is often welcomed by students, especially when it reduces their speaking anxiety.

Secondly, Extempore is extremely versatile thus providing instructors with seemingly countless ways to assess student abilities:

  • Image-based tasks can be created to assess description in the target language.
  • Create a story retelling task to assess narration.
  • Create a role play activity to evaluate a student’s ability to carry out a real-life tasks in the target language.
  • Create a simple series of open-ended interview-style questions on a variety of subjects (work, school, free time, family) to assess a student’s ability to elaborate, use circumlocution, and form questions.
  • Standard pronunciation can be evaluated via a simple sentence repeat task.

Not only is Extempore versatile in its ability to host various assessment types, but it allows the language department the option of uniformity of assessment (i.e. the same assessments for all students) or flexibility for each course or instructor.

Whichever way that it’s used–whether for something as cumulative as a department-wide exit exam or for a simple chapter-final interview–Extempore is a game changer for the backwards designing teacher or department.