Reflections on authenticity in teaching and learning
Marta Rosińska’s talk on Tuesday (IATEFL 20th March 2012) entitled ‘Tests with a human face’ argued for peer-testing as part of classroom procedure. Yes, institutions like tests, exams, review, mid-term and final. We’ve all taken enough of them to know that they can be scary. They can instil fear, anxiety and sometimes frustration – how can a 3 hour exam encapsulate or demonstrate all of my knowledge?…besides, I’m much better at continuous assessment!
How can we move from students perceiving tests as very stressful and coming down from ‘on high’ (i.e. the teacher, with a capital T) to a more motivating, human experience without losing a sense of importance and learning?
Well, Marta suggests we get them more involved in the process. We’ll keep the big, scary exams if the institutions make us but let’s at least do something about review tests, and even make the marks part of continuous assessment.
There are many advantages I can see to this approach. Students becoming part of the process fosters ownership, motivation, empowerment and responsibility. According to Rosińska, this approach is high-challenge but low-stakes. Tests are not prepared and administered by the teacher so do not have such a high-stakes risk of losing face. It is also a less passive accumulation of skills (Hayaman, 1995:1). Through testing in this way, the students become more aware of a) what testing involves thus preparing them better for the formal exams and, b) gaps in their learning. They are also practising higher-order skills of creating (for more about Bloom’s taxonomy revised, see Krathwohl, 2002) and of course, whilst preparing the tests, they are revising the items themselves.
Shifting the focus and interaction from teacher>student to student<>student makes the process more relaxed. Removing a stress that does not need to be there and allowing students to become a part of the testing<>learning process is surely a step in the right direction. Tests that are not abstract, something-that-happens-at-the-end-of-each-unit things but are student-produced must be more real to the students and therefore more motivating.
Some teachers in Marta’s audience protested that some students might cheat or not take it seriously. This is for the teacher and their group to decide. If we are to transfer responsibility to students, we must do it in good faith. I say give it a go, they might surprise us. I have done peer-testing before with FCE and IELTS groups in particular and have always been impressed by what they have produced and how they have responded to the idea and the tests themselves with such enthusiasm (yes, enthusiasm for tests!). The students often take it very seriously, become quite competitive (extra motivation) and actually seem harder on each other than I would be!
We are just about to start a new pre-intermediate course here and I am going to do my review tests in this way and see what happens. Watch this space for progress updates and comments from students!
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