Reflections on authenticity in teaching and learning

Peer testing trial update

Well, after 5 weeks of our pre-intermediate General English course we have just completed out mid-term tests.  Students have already done 4 peer tests.  At the beginning, with a little encouragement that it is OK for them to do so, students were keen to negotiate and write their own rules for the tests.  They are:

  1. Tests will take 30 minutes.
  2. You can have 3 attempts at answering the question.
  3. It is better for you to use English for all the questions but your first language can be used for some question types (3 – spelling, 5 – pronunciation, 7 – synonyms and 8 – topic vocabulary).  Please use English for all other question types.   
  4. Pronunciation words (Q.5) will be given on slips of paper (available in class on Fridays). Write them clearly.
  5. Mixed up sentences (Q.10) will be given on slips of paper or post-it notes to make the task easier.  Remember to write these clearly too!

Our other observations are:

  • Students requested for extra material from their afternoon classes on the course with another teacher to be included which showed motivation and awareness to cover more in the tests.
  • It can be difficult for students to judge the grammatical accuracy of ‘use this word in a sentence’ Q type.  This is where the teacher really steps in and helps out.  This also means that the students decide when they need the teacher’s help, thus making them, perhaps more independent.
  • The students’ suggestion to allow 3 attempts initially worried me but it turns out that it really encourages to students to think about their errors and practise self-correction.  The other student encourages them but does not ‘coach’ them towards the right answer.
  • During the first peer test students who finished early, chose to re-test each other and one pair of students even got out their workbooks, found exercises that practised the same language points and worked through them together.  Autonomy or what!
  • It was initially difficult for some students to actually write the test even after the first session which included a dry run.  The solution was a template set of questions with language that could be substituted given in blue.  The less independent students then had a scaffold to work with whereas the more proficient and independent students either didn’t need to use it or used it to double-check their tests.  The students who requested more help seemed a bit disheartened by the suggestion that they would be doing it themselves but with the template they got on board and then became very enthusiastic.
  • It is an authentic communicative activity.  Students really listen to each other and the interaction between them is very natural and lots of language outside of the test is practised.  We generated a language crib sheet for useful phrases such as ‘nice try but I’m afraid that’s not correct’, ‘you did really well but you could maybe work on X for next time’.  Students got a lot of functional language practice too.
  • Students requested 2 more Q types:  multiple choice Qs for grammatical forms and prepositions.  This showed that they were aware of areas they need to work on and would like to practise more and they were pro-active in incorporating this into their testing experience.

The results of the peer tests so far show an average score of 31 out of 40 (76%).  In their formal grammar and vocabulary test they have just completed the average score was 32 out of 50 (64%). 

We have decided to have a session next week to have a discussion of their progress so far and to give them (and us) a chance to find out how they feel about the experience so far and to compare the peer tests with the formal mid-course test set by the teacher. 

There has already been some discussion in the class.  I allowed them to talk in Arabic to allow them to express themselves clearly without linguistic constraints and without them feeling judged by the teacher.  I do not speak/understand Arabic besides the basics but the response seemed overwhelmingly positive.  The intonation used seemed to indicate that the majority of the students are enjoying it and feel they’re getting a lot out of this type of test.  One or two seemed to offer alternative opinions and at this point other students chimed in, it seemed, to convince them.  It was an animated debate with even the more reticent students offering their opinions and joining in the discussion.  It seemed everybody had something to say!

We will also be asking students to write about their feelings in the session. This is to offer them a chance to express their opinions in a more personal, private way and also to give us recorded responses to the trial that we can refer to in the future. 

So watch this space, there’s more to come…


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This entry was posted on 10/05/2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged .

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