Blog Archives

Reforming assessment.

There has been a wide debate on the social networking leaks that accompanied our baccalaureate exams  this year,maybe more than what has ever happened in our end of high school (baccalaureate) exams.

The ministry of education issued a statement admitting that there were leaks through social networking sites.We heard also similar stories of people getting answers through sms messages from their mobiles.Many people also discussed stories of cases where violence was used by those who wanted to cheat in order to intemidate teachers.

So many people discussed the issue of leaking and cheating as immoral,unethical and all of those words that might be used to describe such an inhumane, anti-social practice.I am not going to look at the issue from that perspective again because we all agree that leaking exam question by one way or another and cheating must be punished.I will be looking at lessons that must be learned from what has recently happened.

The first thing that is obvious is that our examination system does no longer meet the requirements and conditions of the modern age, in which our students are living.This examination system must be reformed in such a way that leaking questions or cheating becomes almost impossible or meaningless.While alocating 50% of the baccalaureate grade to the last 2 or 3 hours exam is totally unfair,this percentage has to be modified so that the continous assessment that is taken on a regular basis gets more prominence and importance.In this way,we rid those who rely too much on the final 50% opportunity of  that one minute chance of cheating and getting a grade that will certainly be better than that of a student who was labouring during the whole baccalaureate years(the two years).

It’s high time for the ministry of education to give more credit to those assessments that are done throughout the school year,and also to rely more on the gardes that students get from their continous work and efforts,and not from a one week ( sometimes a one night) effort.

The leaks of the exams using technology has also another lesson to teach us.Our assessment has to move from posing direct (closed) questions that have only one possible answer to assessments that rely on an ongoing process of learning,research and inquiry.It’s high time that Moroccan schools start assessing students using widely open methods of assessments that foster creativity,responsibility and compitition, including long-term portfolios and projects that are continously monitored by the teacher,who is the only one that is able to decide whether that final (or process) product of the student is really his/her own achievement or not.

I really think that assessing students has to rely more on systems where they can integrate more than one skill.Project-based assessment is one possibile way through which students can integrate all the skills and competencies they have learned all through the thier four years of learning EFL.A one choice question gives ample space for “gambling”,and that’s absolutely clear in the true/false statement,where students get the correct choice,and they fail to justify it.

The status quo of the EFL exams now tests the students only in one skill (It’s not even a skill; find a name for that).It’s unfair to test a student on wether he/she’s able to use the passive or to express regret using questions like “re-write the sentence as indicated..”.I am not justifying the leaks or cheating.Yet,my view is that this sort of testing/assessment is totally unfair as the student might be able to use the passive in his/her speaking/writing,and still he/she fails to see the trasformation rule.Giving students multiple chances of showing what they can do with English minimizes to a great extent the attempts of cheating.

I really think that the type of questions (of the sort of “re-write the sentences as indicated/where is…?Put the verbs between brackets in the correct form…) that are used now gives the students more chances of cheating,and it strips the teacher of the opportunity of deciding if a product is really from the student or from a facebook site.

Alocating 50% of the baccalaureate grade to the national (three hours) exam is also unfair from another perspective.Paper and pen exams fail to adress multiple interests,multipe learning styles and multiple intelligences.There might be some students who are really good at speaking English,and yet they find it to hard to sit in a chair and answer grammar/comprehension questions for two or three hours.

I think that our assessment has also to move a step forward from meeting the interests of a few students to catering for a whole range of students’ differences.Leaking exams using technology and social networking sites shows that some of our students are fans of the mobile,the camera,the video and so many other things.

Assessment through multiple skill projects gives our students the opportunity to express themselves the fullest,to be creative and productive.Of course,we have the possibility of assessing our students using portfolios and projects.But,remember that’s only a small part of the already small 25% alocated to continous assessment.It’s high time, then, that we put more trust in in-class continous grades and assessments.I think it’s the long term continous assessment that deserves to get even more than 50% of the baccalaureate grade!

Another failure of the paper and pen exams as they are administered now is that they fail to test all what our students can do with lanaguage.I am absolutely sure,depending on my in-service experience that transforming a statement from direct to reported speech on the board or in the work-book doesn’t necessarily mean that the student CAN really do that while he/she’s speaking or writing an article.So the point is:Exams have to be taken in different ways.Testing our students’s language as it is now cannot tell us anything about the real competencies that our students have really achieved throughout their four years of learning English.

I suppose that students have to be tested orally,in writing (different forms of writing again,not write an article about “the causes and effects of brain drain” full stop) and through projects as well.We have to get multiple sources of information about what our students have achieved,and those multiple sources must get the same garde perectages.I am not sure whether there is any piece of evidence which shows that reading comprehension is more important than writing or vice versa.By alocating more grades to grammar/vocabulary and less to writing (or the opposite) you fail to be fair in your testing,as you are giving more opportunities of success to those who are “grammar” fans (maybe authoritative/mathematical) learners and you take more chances from those who love imagination(writing poems,essays…).

By using only a paper and pen exam,our exams are also unfair,and that gives more excuses to those who “love” to cheat.There are so many of our students who are good at speaking,maybe “auditory/communicative” learners.A pen and paper exam doesn’t really cater for their biological difference.

Using technology in leaking exams and in cheating tells us one last thing.Our educational system,which still relies to much on chalk,textbooks,papers and blackboards,is lagging far behind our students’ daily lives.Cheating and leaking exams using technology ,maybe, gives them the pleasure and the satisfaction which our classes fail to give them.It’s high time then for all of us to start thinking of making this technology “ridiculous” for them( in a postive way of course).Our schools must be equiped with the sort of technology that most of our students are experiencing ( in a negative way) these days so that they learn that facebook,i-phones,i-pads and what’s coming next are made for learning and not for cheating.

To conclude,I have read on many places on the web (forums,facebook pages…) comments of people asking the ministry of education to equip schools with equipements that are able to cut off the internet and mobile networks on schools during exams.Well,that might be a good idea,but remember that as you are thinking of that,other people might have already got applications,software or maybe machines that will make your idea so funny for them!

The death of an EFL teacher- part2

In my part one of the things that really kill an EFL teacher,I talked about certain issues that are related to technology integration and the ICT illiteracy among some head-teachers.I then concluded that to prepare our schools and students for the future,we have to allow more money to stream into professional development both for teachers and school principals as well;otherwise,we will be bypassed by the new generation of internet children who are already better than their head-teachers in this domain.

In this part,I will be dealing with the so many other things that hinder the teaching of English as a foreign language in our schools,and maybe in so many other parts of the world.In the coming paragraphs I will be dealing with things that strip the language teacher and learners of their freedom to take control of their classroom processes.

Most of the modern teaching theories and approaches such as the competency-based language teaching,the standards approach and the dogme ELT stress teaching towards a competency or excellency level.These theories adhere mostly to the view that teaching should be driven by learning and not the opposite.In other words,the proponents of these approaches see that our teaching has to focus on what the student has attained in his/her learning process.Teaching can only move into another skill or competency level if the previous goal(s) of the previous level is/are attained.

Many of the official documents and directives that are adopted in our school system urges using the competency-based approach to achieve the standrads that are outlined by the educational authorities.There is no problem with setting certain standrads that might lead our schools to common and clear goals.

The biggest puzzle lies in the contradiction between setting standards and goals that every student “must” achieve before the end of a certain level,and fixing the number of curriculum units that have to be covered,maybe before that student attains those goals.It’s a big irony to adhere to a competency-based approach that aims to “produce” competent learners,and,at the same time, forcing those learners and their powerless teachers to finish an overloaded syllabus.

As there is always a hidden syllabus behind the texts and the lines every student faces,there are also hidden policies and ideologies that do what they don’t say.The teaching of EFL in our country is producing  no more than short-term parrots  — short-term they are because what they can regurgitate lasts no more than a few days.This is the automatic result of forcing the teacher and the student to deal with certain isolated and mechanical linguistic items by the end of a specified period of time.We are by consequence of these time guidelines coerced to turn our classroom into an Olympics stadium where every learner is struggling with his/her prefered sport to reach a gold medal;and yet,in our stadium almost  none of them gets to that end because the distance they have to run is much longer than the time set for it.

Other factors that make us teaching in a vacuum ,and which are related to the aforementioned ones are the focus on exams and testing.We have instilled in our kids an “exam and grade”only culture.They  no longer consider their existence in school as a preparation for the present and the future as well.The exams-focused syllabus has made them exam-oriented machines.This has made them and their parents as well unaware of the other valuable things that are among the school’s mission including the instillation of values, critical thinking,independent and life-long learning and every thing else that builds a strong and resourceful citizen.Testing at the end of every unit,at the end of every linguistic chunk,at the end of every term and at the end of every year has created  generations  who  learn-if there is any learning- only for the test.

Our students now no longer recognize that language is part of their life.They fail to see that communication and dialog is at the heart of human existence solely because they are tested on discrete parts of language.I suppose that language teaching has to be taken as part of the student’s life in all its processes :from teaching to testing to practicing.To achieve this, teaching language has to be done in a “conversational” manner where learners choose what they will talk about and study.This learner-initiated conversation should be the corner stone of any teaching/lesson as it shows clearly the level the students have attained in their own learning.Today,we teach following what others have supposed our kids know,which is a kind of false prophesy.I suppose that the availability of technology should make us,teachers and learners,free from commercial text-books that pre-suppose what our learners know and what they should know in a fallaciuos way.The dogme ELT is so far the only approach that touches such a point.Freeing teachers of heavy materials deosn’t make their responsibility easier.Yet,it’s only then that we assume complete burden of the student we make!

Social networking sites and web2.0 tools should be available for every student and evey teacher within the walls of the language classroom,not somewhere else in school.Only in this  way can the teacher at the spot decide about where his/her students are and where he/she should take them.I suppose that the primary purpose of teaching is exactly this;it’s to know where our kids are and how they are there and where we should lead them later.In schools,however,that’s not the case.It’s clearly obvious now that teaching is driving testing and not vice versa.We are even supposed to do a certain number of tests/quizes before the end of a certain time,and this makes it clear that the primary purpose of assessment in various schools is no more than to assign a grade to a student.

All this has produced no more than dead teachers and dying students.All this has produced no more than train-like teachers and students;they know only one direction.It’s going through the exam.Our EFL has to stop producing machines.We have to take the humans as they are made first.We have to make them creative and able to think.Our students should be  critical thinkers enabled with the highest order skills that are necessary for a globally competing citizen.

Unfortunately,our schools so far have produced no more than people who accept every thing they are given.Focus on exams,constraining us to a certain time and a number of units that have to be covered during the year leaves no place for creativity in schools.There has to be times where everyone,students and teachers, think and ask questions.There must be circumstances in which I wouldn’t be obliged to stop my student from discussing a personal problem in class while this is why language is created in the first place.Our students must feel that the language class is different from other classes.If the mission of EFL teaching is to teach “the passive”,”conditionals”…and the rules,that’s no longer language.It’s some other subject.Speaking;voicing our inner selves,conversing,and talking with each other is the prime mission of any language,and EFL teaching has to make that clear within the schools. Our students have different talents,skills and dreams.They have the right to be provided with the “time” and materials that allow them to be themselves.We don’t have to teach English 24 hours a day seven days a week to produce fluent learners.Less than that will be needed if that learner is taken as a human being not as a machine.And for a learner to be taken as a human ,language should be seen as a means for conversing ,and not as a set of grammatical rules that must be mastered and tested.

%d bloggers like this: