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Most of us teaching languages in the US are lucky to work in environments that are technologically suitable for assigning oral homework. In 2016, it is hard to find a foreign language instructor who does not teach in a smart classroom with Wi-Fi access. Many schools distribute mobile devices to their students at the K-12 level and we are seeing more and more students bringing their smart phones to class (raise your hand if you have had to include policies in your syllabi on smart phone use during class time). Yet, many foreign language instructors are still hesitant to assign oral homework on a regular basis because it can’t be autograded (like most activities assigned from online workbooks are) and they understandably fear an increase in their grading load. Grading oral homework does not have to consume all of your already limited time for planning and giving feedback. Here’s how you can make it easy on yourself.
1. Use a rubric. Even better, use a rubric that describes what each level of performance means. That is, if you are grading pronunciation on a 0 to 5 scale, create a document for your students specifying what performance at each level looks (or sounds) like.
2. Grade on two or, at the most, three criteria. The simpler the rubric, the easier to use it (and to understand by students).
3. Choose appropriate goals for oral homework. This is related to the previous point, since prioritizing our learning goals for oral homework will reduce the number of criteria we include in our rubric. Sometimes grading oral homework becomes cumbersome because we want to give feedback on everything: fluency, pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, content, and so on. However, there is nothing wrong with choosing only fluency and pronunciation as the primary learning goals of oral homework. We still have written homework to work on other learning goals.
4. Grade with your learning goals in mind. Although building fluency and developing pronunciation are the natural learning goals for oral homework, if developing grammatical accuracy is the main point of your assignment, then focus only on that when grading and don’t worry about giving feedback on fluency, pronunciation, or word choice.
5. Pass/Fail grading scales are enough for certain types of activities. Self-assessment tasks, for example, usually don’t require complex rubrics. A self-assessment activity on oral homework is one in which learners listen to their own recordings and think about their performance. Consider creating two or three questions that guide learners’ reflection: What is easy for you when speaking in the target language? What is the hardest thing for you when doing oral homework? Is it difficult for you to understand some of the things you say in your recording? How do you think you can work on these areas? A simple pass/fail score (that is, answered all questions/didn’t answer all questions) is enough when reflection is the goal of the assignment.
What all of our suggestions come down to is one simple piece of advice: have one or two specific learning goals for your oral homework and design your scoring rubric accordingly. Taking the time to think about your goals and what you expect learners’ performance to sound like before you create the assignment will save you quite some time later when you are grading it.