Last year I attended the National symposium of Japanese language education. At one point, I was chatting to my very clever friend Christine, and we were discussing assessment. I asked her if she felt she had learned anything at the conference and she agreed that she had. I then asked her, how did she know she had learned something as she had taken no form of assessment to indicate the degree of her improvement. She agreed then, that as adults we regularly learn new skills and information without having to succumb to any form of assessment. We can feel our progress internally, we can recognise the increase in our knowledge or skills. I ask you then, is this not also possible for students?
We sometimes use the term assessment almost synonymously for learning, as though one cannot occur without the other. I can already hear people protesting the need for assessment to direct teaching and indicate to students, areas for development and of achievement. Yes, that is true, but I ask you, is that what is really happening as a result of your assessments? Or are you simply assessing to justify the grade you give them on a report? If the students do a task such as an exam, on work already covered in class, then from a students’ perspective you are just judging them against others – like they need any more of that in their lives! If they don’t have a chance to improve their performance or to use the feedback in a subsequent task in an obvious way (such as the Patch system), then chances are they will just ignore that feedback. You have spent hours writing a test, marking it, ranking students and all you have really done is wear yourself out and made the kids feel bad about themselves. (The top 10 probably feel fine I concede.) There really is more to life than exams.
This year I challenge you to think more carefully about the workload you are creating for your students and yourselves. As the saying goes “One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.” (Brian Tracy, Eat that frog!)
We will be discussing more ideas for alternate ways to assess at our Noosa Workshop July 13th, 2019. Or, we have an online self-paced course on formative assessment if that interests you. As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Good luck with 2019!