Yes to assess but how?

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.

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by @josettelb for Eltpics.com

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?

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by @acliltoclimb for Eltpics.com

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Hada Litim

@HadaLitim EFL teaching | Teacher Training | CELTA Tutor | Affective language learning | Mentoring | Tefl Equity Advocate | European nomad in the Middle East | Gourmet
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4 Responses to Yes to assess but how?

  1. careymicaela says:

    Hi Hada!! You brought up some great points on formal assessment here. Everyone is different- some people’s nerves get the best of them when they’re being tested while others thrive on such challenges. However, we generally used the same standardized way of testing or evaluation on everyone in the interest of validity and reliability. It’s a sticky issue. I think you’re right when you said that we should be, ‘retaining as much of their validity as possible by ensuring the evaluation is a relatively accurate reflection of the assessed’s performance.’ This is sometimes hard to do because of limitations and guidelines but when possible I think it’s a good place to work towards. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and making me think. 😉
    Micaela

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hada Litim says:

      Hi Micaela! Thanks for stopping by; it’s good to read your view on this. I wonder how we go forward with this – it’s barely being talked about. In my experience the only differentiation that’s (sometimes) being practised is with students who have learning differences (or ‘special needs’ – arggh I really don’t like the phrase!).

      As I’ve become more confident with my teaching practice, ironing out situations which may bring on stress one by one, I’ve realised that this is one I’m really struggling with. It doesn’t matter how prepped my students are, when it comes to testing time, it always gets a bit sticky with a couple of them. Interestingly, they may not be the lower ability ones but instead, sometimes it could be one of the strongest students. So I haven’t researched this, but it seems to me as though those who react negatively, displaying real stress and anxiety at the approach of the test, are the ones who would need to be assessed differently.

      I understand that there may be cases when the nature of the course means we couldn’t, but most of my classes are adults taking General English, so the grades aren’t generally as important. I’m not sure where to start with this, and as you say ‘it’s a sticky issue,’ but also one that offers little in terms of options.

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      • careymicaela says:

        I’m glad you brought up the fact that we take into consideration learning differences but not test anxiety. I had never really thought about it but now that you mention it, I wonder why we don’t!?
        In my teaching situation with my young learners, none of our tests are external. I decide what and when to test them on as well as how. In some ways I enjoy not having any external pressure or opinion on the way I evaluate but there are times when I feel quite alone and would rather have some input on how I’ve set things up. But that’s a whole other blog post!
        Anyway, my point is that I carry out the testing the way I see fit and one thing I try to do is to use a more holistic evaluation of the students at test time. This meaning that while I’m doing a speaking test with a student, I’m looking at how they’re responding at the moment of the test but I also try to think of how they do in class when I set their mark. This way the mark they earn isn’t solely based on their performance on test day but also includes their effort in class. With reading and writing I try to do the same, taking away points where I think they should have done better based on how they do in class. It’s probably a very subjective and not really valid system of marking but the most important thing for me is that students see the progress they’re making and feel good about it. Maybe you could do something similar with your students- if you’re not already. Just some ideas I thought I’d share.

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  2. Hada Litim says:

    Thanks for sharing your ideas Micaela. I really appreciate it. Like you, I’m actually quite free as to how I approach testing. Where I work, there’s a standard procedure we’re advised to follow with a database of assessments but I often create my own for the receptive skills.
    With the productive skills, I tend to vary but last year I started assessing Writing through portfolios of processed written samples. Each piece usually contains three drafts and I assess based on the progress between the first and the last draft. That way, I feel I give a fairer chance to everyone, regardless of the ‘baggage’ they come with. Saying that, I always give my students the choice to decide whether they’d rather have a standard test or be assessed on their progress. I’ve seen real learning take place since doing that. During the last day 1-2-1 counselling (our courses last 6 weeks), I go through their portfolio with them and ask them a few questions on some of the recurring mistakes they’ve managed to address. It’s made a huge difference.

    Liked by 2 people

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