Assessment is A Destination – Rose Bard
Assessment should work for learners and teachers, not against them. It should be a compass showing the way rather than taking the role or image of a judge. It should point the way, not be a burden to carry. Unfortunately the latter is the most common view among teachers and learners. One too many people feel trapped instead of liberated, thus the perspective that assessment is there to help you grow is quite often not present in many classrooms and minds.
To prove to you this fact, ask your learners what assessment is, and probably they will use a lot of negative words to describe it or how they feel about it. In order to change such a view in students’ way of seeing any type of evaluation they might have to take, the teacher has to shift her own view of learning, how knowledge is constructed and therefore the very nature of assessment.
We should ask ourselves questions like: What is the purpose of assessment? Is it to categorize learners into those who fail and those who pass? Is it to help teachers see what stage of the journey their learners are in so they can prepare better lessons? Is it to punish learners for not being engaged enough during our lessons? Is it to actually help them to succeed by showing them the way?
Do you ever take the time to explain to learners what you are assessing? The criteria you are using to measure learning? Do you actually give feedback on whatever type of evaluation you chose to give? Do you go through the results with each learner?
A lot of learners complain about this. They feel it isn’t fair. They shut themselves out. They disconnect simply because they don’t understand the purpose. They feel they are trapped in the competition and labeling system. Many along the way just give up. Some may decide to make your life miserable. This might be because it’s normal to react badly to stuff as a defense mechanism. Each context is a context, but moreoften than not, that is what I have seen happening in mine. The more anxious learners are, the less involved they get in the learning process, turning the whole thing into a burden to carry. It becomes a matter of just surviving.
I take the affective side of this matter seriously, and it takes time and strategies to change students’ point of view about what assessment really is. Regarding time, don’t rush. No matter what the system wants you to believe, take plenty of time at the beginning to work on shifting those negative thoughts by teaching students how to learn and the purpose of assessing their journey.
Do not just talk about it. Create opportunities for you and your group to feel that assessment is working for you as a positive tool. Also, position yourself as a lifelong learner instead of someone who knows it all – the expert in English. And I’m not saying you don’t have to be. We long to be experts. English is our trade, so we must be at the level of proficiency that our job requires. Period. But none of us knows it all. And that is what our learners should see in front of them. A teacher is just someone some steps ahead of them, leading the way for them to get to the same point where we are or beyond it. We should hope for that. As I side story, I usually tell my learners that they might become better at English than me. They laugh, but I truly believe it. And when my mind is so tired that I slip with a spelling or put the wrong word on the board, I thank them for helping me. Be kind to yourself and to your learners. Be fair. Treat mistakes and lack of knowledge with kindness.
Our school requires formality, and formality requires us to give grades, but I really think that it is not fair to just give them a mark. Learners should be able to know what exactly we are assessing and why. From class one, I start working on error and mistakes with kindness. Analyzing errors and mistakes is a good way to help learners move forward. Spotting mistakes/errors is easy. Create any kind of evaluation and they will pop out like a big neon billboard. But what really makes assessment shift from summative to formative is the actions teachers and learners decide to take afterwards. Is the error part of the process? Is it a persistent one? What strategies can the teacher and the learner use to overcome it?
Although the literature on assessment defines summative and formative differently, and I know that in nature they are, an evaluation can be both. Summative is concerned with giving a conclusive mark indicating what the student knows and is able to do on a given test. Formative on the other hand is concerned with the quality of the learning and how that is achieved.
I often use three types of assessment: diagnostic, summative, and formative. The diagnostic assessments, though simple and informal, help me identify who knows what. The formative assessment involves for me the diagnostic stage, then further evaluation tasks followed by reflection of my own and often discussion with students about what strategies are needed to achieve a certain goal. In feedback sessions with students I ask them how they did something or what they think was the reason they didn’t achieve a particular goal. Then, I use summative assessment because grading is the formal aspect of the system for parents and schools and they need to see it quantified.
Still I also prefer to look at how learners progress in the learning of a language a bit differently. Instead of grammar points and vocabulary, I prefer to look at it from the perspective of continuing development in the ability to communicate, and until they become more confident, critical and autonomous, assessment is not just my job, it’s everyone’s job. Assessment is not the destination. It is the process where learning is critically thought of and a new course of action is taken.
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