George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Advantages of Verbal Assessments

High school teachers can use verbal assessments to ensure that students really know the content and are building oral communication skills.

February 28, 2024
skynesher / iStock

The rapid rise of generative AI has presented a challenge for me in evaluating student work. It’s increasingly difficult to determine the degree to which students are relying on tools like ChatGPT in their writing. Using GPTZero, a colleague recently found that a paper that a student turned in was generated by ChatGPT. While far from perfect, tools like GPTZero can help track the use of AI-generated content.

This prompted me to reflect on the use of assessments in my classroom, leading me to consider the merits of verbal assessments I had already been using and to compile a list of the advantages I’ve observed in my classroom.

Ensure personalized and immediate feedback

Traditional assessment methods, like a written paper, often involve a time gap between the completion of the assignment and the feedback loop. That time gap is not ideal. Even if I grade papers as fast as possible, there’s still a time lag between when a student finishes their work and I provide feedback. Verbal assessments offer teachers a chance to give immediate and personalized feedback. In a brief dialogue, teachers can pinpoint specific areas of strength and areas that need improvement. The feedback loop is instant, which not only aids students in understanding the material more thoroughly, but also is easier on teachers. 

For my psychology class midterm, students participate in a verbal assessment in which they synthesize a number of sources into an argument. I’m able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their application and give feedback on the spot. My students appreciate the immediacy of the feedback, and I find it more enjoyable than grading papers. Some teachers might hesitate due to perceived time commitment, but my verbal assessments usually take only five minutes per student—hardly adding extra time compared with grading a paper. 

I conduct my midterm verbal assessments outside of my regular class hours during my planning period or lunch, or before or after school. Although I choose to meet with students outside of class time, I’ve found that it doesn’t cost me any more time than if I were to take their papers home to grade.

I integrate other verbal assessments into class time by having students work collaboratively. For instance, while students in my class are engaged in group work, I meet with one student at a time for a quick assessment. We step out into the hallway where I can keep one ear on the class and the other on the individual student. This method works well with my high school upper-class students; however, my younger students require a little more attention from me when I’m working one-on-one or with a small group of students.

Clarify challenging concepts

No matter the content, secondary education involves complex subject matter that can pose challenges for students. Verbal assessments provide a great opportunity for students to seek immediate clarification on concepts they find difficult to grasp. This opportunity for real-time, face-to-face interaction allows teachers to address student questions with immediacy, making sure that students build a foundation of understanding before moving forward. One of the things I love about assessing my students verbally is the ability to both ask for clarification and provide clarification in real time—something that is not possible with traditional assessment methods like multiple-choice tests or writing assignments. 

Recently, I gave a hybrid assessment to my students. They wrote responses to several questions and later discussed only one question, selected by me, during a brief meeting. Reading through a student’s paper beforehand, I found an answer that confused me. I sought clarification during our meeting, and the student helped me understand their answer. Without the verbal component of this assessment, I wouldn’t have understood their point. 

This is also a great way to ensure that differentiation happens at every level in the classroom. For example, many of my ELL students excel at verbal assessments. They’re able to share their ideas more completely when they aren’t confined to what they write on a paper. Further, verbal assessments allow ELL students to practice academic language with teachers, something that is of high importance for building language confidence.

Build communication skills

When students prepare for and participate in verbal assessments, they nurture their communication skills. In an era when effective communication and social skills are cornerstones, verbal assessments can play an important role in honing students’ ability to express ideas clearly. Engaging in academic dialogue requires students to organize their thoughts coherently and present them articulately. Both of these are skills that can be developed. I won’t argue that teaching writing isn’t important, because I think it’s a fundamental skill that students need to learn. On the other hand, I also don’t believe we do as good a job fostering our students’ communication skills in an effective or intentional way. 

There is, after all, the argument that generative AI will be able to help students and professionals express themselves in a more eloquent written way. However, the same can’t be said for assistance in thinking and speaking right now. If students want to be better at speaking articulately, they need to practice doing it. Verbal assessments can also help students build confidence in expression, which is a skill that extends well beyond the classroom. This gained confidence not only develops academic skills but also prepares students for real-world scenarios like job interviews, presentations, and even public speaking.

Verbal assessments offer many advantages that reach far beyond their role as a safeguard against AI-generated essays. Consequently, they can be a great tool for educators to include in their assessment toolbox, enriching the learning experience and ensuring that students are well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead of them.

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  • Assessment
  • Formative Assessment
  • 9-12 High School

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