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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!

How to survive professional death!

I was feeling  death for a few years during my teaching career before I decided to re-survive.My professional ideas were fading away before I had the chance to “water” them and make them green again.Many teachers do truely experience professional death while they are attending their classes,thinking that they are really doing their job.Some of those teachers actually die,while others fight,survive and grow.The chalk and the blackboard are only a small part of a teacher’s job.In fact,no teacher can do his/her mission of educating and teaching if he/she eliminated other important aspects of  his/her profession.

With social networking sites reaching into some of the remotest parts of the globe,no excuses are accepted from teachers who are letting themselves to professionally perish and fade away.Today,so many social networking sites have made it possible for teachers to keep track of the most recent ideas,techniques and innovations in the area of EFL teaching.

Personally,twitter,facebook and wordpress blogs have kept me surviving the professional death of teachers.There are so many other services and sites that help teachers grow and fight the monotony of chalk and boards especially in countries where technology is not yet available within the classroom walls.

On twitter,there are plenty of useful educational hashtags that EFL teachers should follow.Logging into these twitter hashtags will give teachers the opportunity to  keep track of wonderful ideas,chats and resources.

Personally,I usually follow #edchat.It’s a weekly twitter chat where language teachers can post in and comment on other teachers’ ideas.Plenty of resources and articles on teaching are usualy shared with this #edchat hashtag.

Another very resourceful hashtag is #edchatie.Like #edchat,teachers can find very interesting ideas by following this hashtag.If you are interested in using technology in your classes,there is #edtech which is used by some technology enthusiasts.Use this hashtag to get the best of what is shared about using technology in education.There are so many other hashtags.Don’t hesitate to try  them and explore the materials they share.If you are interested in knowing more about these twitter hashtags,go to this page http://www.cybraryman.com/edhashtags.html.

I have to recognize that failing to mention #ELTchat on the part of an EFL teacher is quite a big mistake.I feel sorry for not mentioning this chat (group) which has inspired my teaching in many ways.But,I suppose that making reference to the people below is enough to direct any one ,through their tweets,to this well-established hashtag.(https://twitter.com/ELTchat )

On twitter, also,there are plenty of great and very resourceful educationalists to follow.@StevenHerder, the RoundELT@wetheroundann foreman ‏ @ann_f,International Teacher Development Institute@iTDiprochuck sandy ‏ @chucksandy,Mashable SocialMedia ‏ @mashsocialmedia,Miss Noor ‏ @missnoor28,Jeremy Harmer ‏ @Harmerj,Scott Thornbury ‏ @thornburyscott,Barbara Sakamoto ‏ @barbsaka,Tom Whitby ‏ @tomwhitby and Shelly S Terrell ‏ @ShellTerrell are some of those great people that will keep you alive,and help you grow.The order in which these educationalists are put here is not related to any priority.That’s simply the order in which I have them in my lists.They are all great teachers,trainers and principals.There are hundreds of other interesting people to follow.By simply following some of those in this list,others will be suggested to you by twitter.Some of these people are great educational theorists;some of them are founders of the previously mentioned educational hashtags.Others have very resourecful and insightful blogs and websites.

Before I discovered that twitter is one of the places that will certainly keep an EFL teacher alive and young in his/her teaching career,I had been living with so many great people on Facebook.As in Twitter,there are a lot of great and inspiring educationalists to follow there.On facebook,tens of great articles on methodology,educational psychology and language materials are shared almost every minute if you follow some of those great people.Use facebook to your advantage and search for the profiles of those people whom you think will help you survive the professional death that will inevitably come to any alien and isolated teacher.On facebook,there are hundreds of pages and groups that are interested in sharing ELT materials.Use your search bar to have access to some of those pages and groups.Examples of those interesting pages include: http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil,http://www.facebook.com/iTDi.Pro,http://www.facebook.com/groups/falibo/,http://www.facebook.com/FluencyMC ,http://www.facebook.com/groups/matemorocco/.

These are only a few examples of some of those great pages or groups that you might want to follow on facebook.In those pages/groups ,don’t hesitate to send friendship requests to some of the great people who post there.Some of them will accept your friendship invitation;others will certainly decline it!But,at least this will give you the opportunity to follow some of what these educationalists share.

Do not forget to connect you facebook,google+ and twitter account so that you get full use of what your friends share on all these social sites.

It’s not enough to consume what other people have produced or shraed to survive the professional death.It’s a necessity for every teacher to day to have a space where he shares his/her own thoughts with other professionals.There are tens of services that provide you with the opportunity to create a free blog or site.Personally,I have been using  wordpress.com for a couple of years.Other people are familiar with using blogger.Whatever service you choose to use,sharing your thoughts and reflecting on your professional life will keep you grow and alive.It may seem that creating a blog is a little bit tricky in the first place;yet,there is nothing professional with creating wordpress or blogger blogs.I have started my wordpress blog with no knowledge of HTML or any other sites construction staff.Don’t be hopless ! You may fail at the first ,second and maybe third times.But,be sure that creating a blog like this one where I am sharing my thoughts on education or like this where I share some language materials is as easy as creating a facebook page.

It might take some time for you before you post your first article. But,remember that as soon as you start writing,it will be part of your life to reflect on and share about anything that is happening in your professioanl life.Remember also that by sharing you help other people to think of and react to your thoughts and ideas;hence,helping both yourself and others to grow.

Before you start writing anything,it would be preferable if you read the materials posted in some of the well-known educational sites.Using google search will give you a large number of educational sites and blogs that will certainly inspire your writing.Almost all of those people I (@abouaimran) follow on Twitter and Facebook have personal blogs where they share their own thoughts and reflections.On twitter,you will certainly have access to some of those great sites and blogs.

These are some of the things that have saved my professional life.Social networking sites will keep you alive and help you grow.In third world countries where no official professional training is available for teachers,socialising with  professionals from other parts of the globe will certainly boost your ELT knowledge.International Teacher Develoment Institute (http://itdi.pro/) provides teachers with free ELT webinars.Don’t miss the opportunity,a free webinar is coming! Log in there and register for this free webinar.Simplek12 also have free some webinars for teachers to attend (http://www.simplek12.com/teacher-professional-development) .There are plenty of other places where you professioanl life will grow.

Do not forget to serf this great website for learning how to integrate technology into your teaching experience.Russel Stannard is a well-known educatioanlist who is famous for his teacher training videos on the use of technology in the classroom.Here’s his site http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/.Another mus see blog is that of the technology integration enthusiast Nik Peachey where you will find some of the newest idaes and applications of using technology in the teaching.This is Nik’s blog: http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/

This is enough as a good start for every language teacher to survive and grow.Sharing what you think is part of your job.Seeking continous professional development is part of the job as well.With technology reaching some of the remotest  places on the planet,development and growth has become of no cost.

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