Part of having a great first class with a student is knowing where to start. Being able to teach students effectively and build rapport along the way lies in your ability to quickly discover what they already know and what they need to learn through your facilitation. When working with a school or institute, it’s likely that the staff will set new students up with a level evaluation and provide you with their results before your first class so that you can prepare accordingly. When working as a freelance teacher though, determining a student’s level typically falls on you.
Enter the Level Assessment Tool by The TEFL Lab!
We developed the level assessment tool as an easy way for teachers to test their students’ proficiency, learn about their students, and reveal a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and what they should learn in their first lesson. This tool is included in our Freelance membership and walks the teacher through each question in the evaluation with teacher notes and examples of possible responses to the questions.
How to use it:
This level assessment tool is intended to be a spoken approach to evaluating language proficiency, which means that there is no writing on the student’s part. Teachers are encouraged to open up the assessment and read through each of the questions and teacher notes well before administering the evaluation with their student. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the purpose of each question and the target language the student is expected to use in their responses. Remember that when administering a spoken evaluation, there is no greater tool a teacher can implement than silence. Asking each question clearly and then waiting for your student to fill the silence with their answer and then expand on their ideas will allow you to get a very good idea of their abilities. If or when your student’s responses lack an appropriate amount of language for you to evaluate, use simple follow-up prompts like “tell me more about that”, “how often does that happen?”, “what do you like about that activity?”, etc. These prompts will encourage your student to expand on their initial response even more, supplying you with additional language to evaluate.
What about error correction?
A level assessment is an opportunity for your student to show you what they know, not to learn new target language or have their errors corrected by the teacher. If (and when) you notice mistakes, make note of them and highlight ones that are recurring errors. The errors your student makes during the assessment will guide you to a starting point for your first class together. If students recognize that they’ve made an error during the evaluation and they attempt self correction, allow them to do so and give a smile and an encouraging nod to help them continue expressing their ideas.
A note about communication strategies:
Communication strategies are the creative ways students use to express themselves when they aren’t familiar or don’t feel confident with a particular verb tense or grammar point. These strategies they use can sometimes trick teachers and evaluators into placing the student at a higher level than they really are. For example, if you ask a student to tell you about something they haven’t done recently, they may avoid answering with the present perfect and instead say “well I usually go to the movies every week but I didn’t go last week”. While that response certainly answers the question, it shows that the student avoided using the present perfect tense for some reason. It’s important to not jump to conclusions when doing a level assessment so that we can give students another chance to use a particular verb tense or grammar point but it’s something to make note of for sure. Be aware of communication strategies – you may miss them if you are new to teaching or evaluating someone’s language proficiency, but you’ll get the hang of it.
How to take notes during the level assessment:
Level assessments happen quickly and taking notes of your student’s errors, strengths, and weaknesses is the best way to get a clear picture of where your student should start in a curriculum. We’ve got a printable PDF notes organizer you can use to record your student’s abilities during the assessment. Because grammar tends to be a stronger indicator of level than vocabulary, make note of the verb tenses and grammar points used (whether correctly or incorrectly) during the assessment. Mark the verb tenses your student uses either correctly, incorrectly, or with moderate success. This will let you know which tenses will need complete instruction and which ones need only a bit more practice. Make note of word order, sentence structure, verb conjugations, use of prepositions, modal verbs, etc. Remember that a level assessment is an opportunity for your student to really show their abilities so don’t neglect the section reserved for jotting down your student’s strengths and standout moments either!
When to stop the assessment:
The level assessment should stop when your student can no longer answer the questions because they are beyond the student’s level of proficiency OR when you have plenty of information from questions already to confidently assign a level and/or starting point for your next class. Don’t stop the test as soon as your student begins to struggle with a question – allow them time to try their best and then move on to the next question to give them a fresh opportunity. Keep in mind though that the questions increase in difficulty as the evaluation progresses so don’t drag your student who struggled to answer questions 3 and 4 all the way to the end. Once you feel confident that you’ve found a stopping point, thank your student, and let them know that they did well (no matter how they performed because let’s be honest, any type of test is nerve wracking). Pinpoint a strength (great variety of vocabulary, excellent confidence, clear pronunciation, etc.) and share it with them before concluding the meeting.
Once you’ve concluded the assessment, it’s time to review your notes and compare your student’s abilities to the curriculum. Suggestions about where to begin are embedded in the assessment but remember, because learning is not linear, your students may have gaps in their language ability. This means that while your student may have done really well expressing themselves using the future tense, their use of the past simple (which comes before the future tense in many curricula) needs practice. Looking at our course plans located in the tools section of our content menu, identify what your student was able to do well, not at all, and where they’d benefit from some practice. We’d suggest starting somewhere on the course plans where your student would benefit from some practice. Next, select the lesson you want and get ready for your first class with your new student!