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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!

The death of an EFL teacher

So many people are born everyday;many die biologically and still many others survive in death.I am witnessing the death of an EFL teacher right now,and I am ,consequently,  watching the death of the EFL teaching in many places.I am not going to speak about places where education is the last thing the authorities might think of.The biggest problem is when EFL teachers die in a country where education and training is getting a “lion’s share” in the budget,and it is considered the second or third priotiry sector in our country.

I am feeling the smell of death approaching me,and this is my tenth year of teaching English in Morocco.I feel envy while following my friends from the western countries on facebook or twitter,or when I hear them in online webinars speaking of continuos professional development and the degree they have achieved in the integration of technology in their language teaching.I get puzzled when I remember that my country spends so much money on technology integration,while in reality there is nothing of that.I can only see and feel every factor that might kill an EFL teacher,and hereabout I am disclosing some of those killing ghosts that are haunting me.

I ,and so many other EFL teachers I know,always try to integrate technology into my teaching ,and I mostly try to use technology while doing projects.Yet,all the skills and techniques that I am trying to use have been developed from my own interaction with friends and colleagues online.I have got most of my teaching  online from what teachers such as @Tomwhitby , @shellterell and @russellstanard share on social networking sites.I am indebted to these great educators and so many others for allowing the new techniques and ideas of ELT to reach into me here.Without this,one would survive in death as I haven’t seen any professional training about teaching EFL in my area for over four years.This really kills those of us who follow and know what other people are talking about on the web.

Can EFL really die somewhere in the world?yes,absolutely.It will die in places where teachers still rely on outdated methods and techniques in their own teaching.It’s in fact dying in places where students are better than teachers in their ICT knowledge and where teachers are even more literate than their supervisors or head teachers.

I am not saying that students shouldn’t be better than teachers.However,an ICT illiterate teacher is more likely to resist change,and he/she will tend to switch off a child who is keeping track of the newest things in technology.Likewise,an ICT illiterate head-teacher is more likely to hinder any new ideas that come from an ICT fan teacher.I have seen many cases where head-teachers put hinder using technology in teaching for mere predictions and outdated claims.Hence,this type of head-teachers are in the greatest need  for professional development,or they would better quit the job if we are really preparing our kids for the future.

An illiterate head-teacher is unlikely to praise and recognize any creativity on the part of teachers.This is the most killing thing in our profession.I know that most of my colleague teachers expect one word of admiration from their supervisors or head-teacher for bringing about something new,these teachers would refrain from letting their minds explore any other time if they see that people around them don’t even understand what they are doing.So many people would really wonder and keep asking questions whenever they see me taking a laptop to my classroom.They always think that I am playing music there.

How about the standrads?When you open the educational circulars and you read the official documents,one would imagine himself/herself in Fineland!The official documents emphasise linking our ELT teaching to technology.Among the 5Cs in our standrads is the “Connections” and “Communities” standrads aiming at enabling the students to connect their English language to other disciplines including technology,and the “Communities” standards aims at using English outside school to reach into other communities using technology.That’s absolutely perfect!Yet,in reality ,do students have access to technology in schools?Do they have internet connection?Can they use English outside school with their parents or friends?Definitely no!So there is a huge gap between what’s in the books and what’s in the real world.This is absolutely an other killing factor for those who love to embrace technology and to use a standrads-based approach.If we really believe that standards provide a framework for applying the syllabus and for knowing where our kids are going,we have to provide the necessary conditions and materials for applying a standrads-based syllabus.We have to decide between preparing our children for the future or saoking them in a school which they find irrelevant for their own lives, which is a reason for them to quit school or at least to misbehave in a monotonous and meaningless lesson.

So much I have to say next about other things that  kill both an EFL teacher and student in relation to syllabus,testing and exams.That’s in part two of “what kills an EFL teacher”.

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