4/3/2 in the 21st Century: Formative Assessment of Fluency through Digital Recording

Hello, Three Rivers TESOL! See below for my presentation and related resources.


Maurice (1983) pioneered a 4/3/2 fluency activity for intermediate to advanced learners in which each student speaks on the same topic three times in shrinking time frames: four minutes, three minutes, and finally two minutes. Shrinking the time frame places pressure on students to use time economically by avoiding hesitations and increasing fluency of speech. While Maurice’s original activity had students speaking with partners and involved little teacher or student assessment of performance, the ubiquity of cheap digital recording technology (computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.) enables teachers of the 21st century to reconstruct the activity as a formative self-assessment with teacher feedback.

In my version of the activity, students watch a humorous short film full of concrete, reportable events two times (Eggleston, 2000). Students then record themselves narrating the events of the film for two minutes, after which they listen to the recording to notice their hesitations and self-assess their fluency. Students then record the same narration in one minute thirty seconds, followed by listening and self-assessment. Finally, students record the narration in one minute and again listen and self-assess. Students discuss and reflect upon their experiences, especially on the extent of self-perceived improvement. The teacher collects the final recording in order to review it and provide written feedback targeting hesitations, word linking, or other fluency-related performance targets.

Works cited:

Here are some more videos appropriate for this activity:

Four short videos to help your language students improve their fluency


Efficiency is overrated: the importance of resilience in classroom tech

As excited as I get about the possibilities of new technologies and cloud services, one lesson I’ve never allowed myself to forget is the importance of contingency planning. All the efficiency in the world is worth nothing if you don’t also have resilience.

For example, videorecording is incredibly efficient and effective. In principle, on days during which my students give speeches, I could just set up a videorecorder on a tripod, hit the “Record” button, and walk out for the day. However, if the recorder failed, I would be completely unable to assess my students’ performance! There’s no resilience in that setup. So when I do videorecord important student speeches, I use two video recording devices while simultaneously taking fastidious notes. (I also used to have an audio recorder going at the same time, but even I had to admit that that was overkill!)

Current case in point: an ELI student has to give an important presentation later today, but his USB drive containing his PowerPoint file failed. A teacher sent him to me to see what help I could give him. Upon plugging in the USB drive, I saw that the file allocation table had likely been damaged, because the system was unable to mount the drive despite being able to detect it.

I reformatted the drive and began running Recuva on it. As I type this, the process is 54% complete, with an estimated time left of 10 minutes. Here’s the screenshot I took a bit earlier:

There are no guarantees, but Recuva is pretty darn good at rooting out lost files.
There are no guarantees, but Recuva is pretty darn good at rooting out lost files.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get this student up and running! All of his files will be jumbled up and possibly unnamed, but with a bit of luck, we’ll at least be able to find the PowerPoint file.

So to go back to my original point: using a single USB drive is pretty darn efficient, but it’s not so resilient. If I were in that student’s shoes, I would have copied the presentation onto two USB flash drives; I would have made it available online, preferably accessible via a bit.ly URL; and as a last resort, I would have paper handouts of the slides ready to go as well. Tap-dancing due to technical issues is never pleasant, but if you make sure to plan resiliently, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that if Plan A doesn’t work, you still have Plans B and C to fall back on.

(Incidentally, this topic reminds me of one of the most embarrassing moments of my grad student career: I made a mistake while photocopying my handout for a presentation. The original printed copy was two-sided, but I absent-mindedly set the photocopier to “one-sided to two-sided” mode, effectively deleting half of my handout’s pages! And the first I knew of it was when someone in my audience raised their hand and said there was a problem with the handout. I learned a big lesson that day: always, always double-check your handouts!)


Postscript: The ending to this story wasn’t as happy as I’d hoped it would be. I was able to recover tons of files, but they were all images, videos, and sound files. Recuva did not detect any PowerPoints or other documents. Oh well.

Building and Sustaining Classroom Community Through Technology (“What I learned at TESOL” series)

In this video, Hillary Schepps presents work by Bophany Huit & Denise Maduli-Williams on using technology to foster a classroom community. This presentation was part of a series of short talks given at the University of Pittsburgh English Language Institute. Participants shared interesting material they had encountered at the TESOL 2014 convention.

Hillary’s notes follow:

Talk originally given by Bophany Huit & Denise Maduli-Williams (City College of San Francisco, USA) at the 2014 TESOL Convention on March 27 in Portland, OR.


Before the class starts:


Day 1:

  • Cell phone policy
  • Breaking free of the classic icebreaker with your Smartphone


During the semester:

  • Use Courseweb for discussion board, e.g. “Your life in six words”
  • http://voicethread.com for videos and spoken discussions
  • http://www.blogger.com for weblog; share videos, photos, and text
  • Surveys: immediate feedback and 3-2-1


After the class ends:

  • Keeping in touch with Twitter


Useful websites:


Useful Apps:

  • Google Translate
  • Photocircle
  • Voice Memos
  • iTunes U
  • Skitch

Using Quizlet.com to generate and share vocabulary activities

Hello, NEALLT 2014! I’m an educational technologist and ESL teacher who teaches adult students at the University of Pittsburgh English Language Institute.

I’ve written previously about many of the student-oriented features of Quizlet.com, and I will talk about some of those features during this talk. This entry complements the previous one. It focuses on some of features of Quizlet best suited for collaboration, including how to make a vocabulary study set from an existing vocabulary list stored in a Word document; how to copy and remix your colleagues’ Quizlet study sets for use in your own classes; and how to combine your and your colleagues’ study sets to create vocabulary master lists.

Please make use of the comments section! Presentations can be awfully one-sided and didactic, so keeping a real-time backchannel open for participants enriches the experience for everyone!

1. Creating a Quizlet set from your existing materials

For this demonstration, I will be using this Microsoft Word file. It’s a real document used in my institution, and if you’re a language instructor, you likely have many like it yourself. Feel free to use the file to follow along on your own computer while we create our first Quizlet study set!

1. Create a Quizlet account if you have not done so yet.
2. Click on the create-a-set button in the top navbar.
3. Give your study set a title and description.
4. Under “Enter your terms,” choose import data.

Notice this section:


We need to edit our materials until they match this format: exactly one term and one definition per line separated by a tab. Luckily, if you copy and paste a table from Microsoft Word, a tab is automatically inserted between each cell of a row. Our goal, then, is to pare down a table of vocabulary words until it only has a column of single-line words and a column of single-line definitions.

5. Open your MS Word document. Here is what mine looks like:

cv sheet 1

6. Delete all information except for the words and definitions. For example, in the chart above, we must delete the columns for parts of speech and collocations.

cv sheet 27. Delete or consolidate any extra word forms or definitions so that there are no line breaks within a word or definition. It’s fine if your text wraps naturally at the end of a line or cell; you just can’t have any manual line breaks, like in “Identify / Identification” or in the definitions for “Individual” in the list above. Make sure all extra line breaks and spaces are deleted.

cv sheet 4

8. Highlight your list of words and definitions and copy them. Click back over to your web browser and find the copy-paste box. Paste your words and definitions into the box.


If your data is formatted correctly, you should see appropriate results in the Live Import Preview box:


If not, you need to manually edit the text in the “Copy and Paste your data” box and/or tweak the “Between Term and Definition” and “Between Definition and Term” settings until your data is parsed correctly by the Quizlet importer.

9. Click on the import-button button.

10. Choose the correct languages on the the “Enter your terms” chart at the bottom of the page. It is important to select the correct languages so that Quizlet knows which text-to-speech engine to use to pronounce the words and definitions on your flash cards. In my case, both languages are English.


11. Double-check your words and definitions to make sure that everything imported correctly. Once you’re ready, click the “Save” button. Congratulations! You just created your first Quizlet study set!

2. Managing your Quizlet study sets

It’s easy to see and manage the list of sets you have created or used.

1. Mouse over your account name in the top-right corner of Quizlet’s navigation bar. Click on “Your Sets.” (Tip: Clicking directly on your account name brings you to the same page.)


2. This page is the nerve center of your account. You can access every Quizlet set you have ever created or studied; you can see any classes you are a member of; and you can create or join new classes. Simply use the buttons and links on the “Your Sets” page to accomplish whatever you need to do.

Tip: You can send people the link to your account page. For example, mine is http://quizlet.com/billcprice. If you visit that link, you can see every public study set I have created or studied.

3. Remixing Quizlet sets using Copy and combine

Quizlet has a few simple but very powerful tools for remixing study sets. First, let’s take a look at Copy.

3a. Using Copy to remix a set

There are several reasons you may wish to copy a set. Perhaps you’ve found someone else’s vocabulary set which you wish to tweak and use in your own class; perhaps you want to use separate copies of a given Quizlet study set in different sections of a course so that students only compete with their direct classmates in the study games; or perhaps you want to have one private copy of a study set and one communal copy which other teachers can edit.

1. Navigate to the study set you wish to copy. Mouse over “More Tools” and choose “Copy.”


2. After you click “Copy,” you are brought to the “Create a New Study Set” page. However, the old set is already filled in for you in the “Enter your terms” section! Simply make whatever changes you want (if any), give the set a name, and save it.

3b. Using “Combine” to remix a set

When we used “Copy” in the previous section, it created a new study set based on the content of an old study set. “Combine” works similarly. It creates a new study set which combines all of the items of multiple study sets.

1. Find some study sets you want to combine. For example, here is a list of three study sets I have created for the University of Pittsburgh English Language Institute: one for weeks 2-4, one for weeks 5-7, and one for weeks 8-11 of our Level 6 course. It would be appropriate to combine these three sets together into one master set as a resource for students doing a comprehensive review at the end of the semester.


2. Click on one of the sets. It does not matter which one. Then, mouse over “More Tools” and choose “Combine.”


3. If you are combining sets that you have created, the next step is easy: simply press the “+” button next to the appropriate sets in the “Your Sets” window. Otherwise, you will need to use the “Search Sets” box to find the other set(s) you wish to combine. In this example, we wish to add the “Weeks 5-7” and “Weeks 8-11” sets to the combination.


4. Once you have selected all of the sets you wish to combine, choose “Create a set” and click “Go.”


5. Finish creating your new set by giving it a name, making any necessary tweaks to the words or definitions, and clicking “Save.”

This has been a whirlwind tour of just a couple of the features of Quizlet most useful for collaborating with your fellow teachers. Following these instructions, you can create Quizlet study sets based on your or your colleagues’ Microsoft Word vocabulary lists; you can copy and tweak your colleagues’ Quizlet sets to use in your own classes; and you can combine multiple study sets into master lists.

How have you used Quizlet in your own teaching? Have you ever collaborated with a colleague through Quizlet? Do you have any tips to share? Post your story in the comments below!