I’ve always had great empathy for those students of mine who get so nervous it paralyses them. When I explain to them that I’m exactly the same, I can see the incredulous look on their faces. Yet, it’s true. Well, at least it used to be. As confident as I used to come across to both my colleagues and students, when it came to exams and, the closest thing to them in our professional field, observations, emotions often got the better of me. I’m not sure what helped change this, except I suspect it was education, and most probably age! Training to become an observer and experiencing different types of observations have also helped me gain a better insight into the purpose and benefits of this practice.
However, today I have really mixed feelings about both exams and observations. As both a teacher and a student, a trainer and an employee, I find myself on both sides of the fence. I sometimes wish we did away with them altogether but I also see the benefits they can bring.
To me the point can no longer be about whether we should have them or not. I think it’s about retaining as much of their validity as possible by ensuring the evaluation is a relatively accurate reflection of the assessed’s performance. And when dealing with people whose affective filter rockets during evaluations, it’s an almost impossible expectation.
So how do we perform formal assessments on students and teachers, knowing the level of stress some of them may experience? How do we, while being fully aware that the evaluation may be a warped reflection of their performance or proficiency?
Should we assess people differently based on the way they react to testing and evaluations? Much has been written about coping with exams nerves and anxiety but little seems to be available in terms of differentiating assessments based on people’s ability to cope with their stress. As this paper suggests, if approximately one in two students suffers from a degree of anxiety in conversation classes (based on the study at their university), then what about those taking exams? What about teachers being formally observed?
I wish there was a way our students and teachers could choose how they’d like to be assessed. This would probably result in much more positive learning experiences and better professional development. No doubt it’d have an impact on their motivation and teachers would no longer have to experience the resentment expressed by their students who see it as a punishment rather than a means to move on with their learning.
Assessment reforms should consider differentiation. Then all that talk about personalising, learning styles and needs analysis would make a lot more sense. At least to me it would.