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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!

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Are you a 21st century teacher?

I have been wondering about the thousands of complaints I get from my colleagues while I use technology in my classes or wheen I schedule an extra-curricular activity.Many of the complaints I get are about the “you excite the students too much,and they refuse to focus on the lesson”.I would agree that my colleagues’ complaints might be true to a great extent.I accept that the students get hyper-active and too enthusiastic to see what’s coming next even in my classes while using the computer.

I would ,however, redirect my colleagues’ questions and complaints to the following: Why do our students get too excited and active during or immediately after a tech-led lesson? Why do they lose focus in other classes, while they become totally engaged when they interact with technology? These are the questions we should ask ourselves instead of blaming technology for  causing unrest in our classes.

David Ausubel has long spoken about the zone of proximal devblopment within which our students learn,grow and get engaged. I tend to say that the “unrest” that takes place in our classes after a technology led lesson is due to the emotional and psychological unrest that has happened within the students’ inner selves.Being in a lesson that adheres to computers and web tools matches exactly the zone of the student ‘s growth;leaving that class into a chalk- led lesson retracts the student to stages well below his/her emotional,psychological and intellectual well-being.This is a reason already enough to shake the students’ state of the mind and to cause turbulance in our classes.

Our chalk’n lessons ,also,are a lot below Piaget’s stage of formal operations.I would go  further and say that today’s adolescent merits a stage special for his/her own age;they are not only able to operate “formally”, but they can also do operations a lot beyond what some teachers can do.I would’n expect a student that is totally familiar with web2 tools,video editting software,powerpoint slides and a lot more than that to focus on the stories of theMiddle Ages undertaken with “yellow” books and blackboards.If you want today”s student to get involved and engaged in your lessons,don’t blame computers or extra-curricular activities.Blame yourself,blame the chalk and find  a way out! That’s one of  the new teacher’s roles.Embrace technology;embrace your kids.

You would seem too old for those kids looking at you and never relating your lessons,your ideas,to their world.Their world is not  the one where you lived while at their age nor is it the one wheere you are now if you are techno-phobic.Most kids love fiction but not in the way they were told by their grand mothers around fire. Don’t forget that all of them have satellite dishes,and they watch most of their loved stories coming on air.So to make them engaged, do it in the same way.Teach them fiction,teach them critical thinking and analysis not the way you learnt it 10  years ago, but the way they live it today.

All the same,most of us think that extra-curricular activites are “extra”.It’s unfortunate that they are named so! Have you ever asked yourself why do students leave your class and join the “extra-curricular” activities room? Have you ever wondered why do they prefer the guitar,acting and singing to our regular lessons?

I suppose that these are the questions we should ask.We have to make our lessons more or less similar to the extra-curricular activites.Look at the things that you can bring in from those activities into your classes.There are so many things that attracts students to extra-curricular activities that you might use in your classes to make them loved by those you teach.Make your lessons a lot of fun;fun is not the opposite of serious work.Laughter shouldn’t be absent in your classes;if it does, then something serious is happening.Let students use technology,let them see a computer even for a while.

Students love to touch today’s gadgets.So why should you be scared of the mobile phone? Think of how you can use it to the best of your learners.There are plenty ways in which the mobile can be exploited in the classroom.The simplest is to use mobile dictionaries.Think about using the mobile video camera in projects.Give your kids the opportunity to see that the mobile is not bad in itself;what makes the difference is how you use it.Allow your students to see that the camera of their mobile can be used in taking pictures outside school and talk aboutthem in class.Give the students the opportunity to explore the audio recorder of their phones.It can be used to interview their peers and,and to record the teacher’s instructions….

Can you accept the label of “learner”?That’s what 21 st century teachers hould be. In the light of the huge techno-gap that exists between us and those whom we consider learners, an exchange of roles is nowadays cruciel.We have to listen to them and learn from them.There are plenty of things they can teach us every day,especially in relation to technology tricks.So why do you keep saying that you know every thing,and resist to assume the fact that they might teach us so many things?

So let’s make our life similar to theirs;technology rich.Let’s be global citizens the way they are! The job of the 21 st century teacher will not be that easy at all levels. We will face more misbehaviour if our teaching doesn’t match the students’ expectations. We will bee looked at down if we keep struggling with chalk;while those we teach are many steps ahead! They will abuse us with facebook and mobiles as soon as they know that they scare us.

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