Courtesy of Zhi Shan’s Blog
If you’re a long-time reader, you may remember that at my previous school I threw out exams. Students moved up or down levels based completely on mutual decisions between the teacher and student. If you’re in a position to do so, I highly recommend giving it a try. Below I’ll share some of the feedback I received from teachers and students.
Feedback from teachers:
- Some teachers felt it would be difficult to determine what level a student was and especially whether or not they were ready to move up. My answer to this was that we had small classes. Teachers should be informally assessing their students at all times. Want to know if your students have a decent understanding of past simple? Ask them what they did yesterday. Simple as that.
- Without an exam, some teachers weren’t sure what the goal posts were and where they should be headed with what they were teaching. My answer was to ask the students where they wanted to go. Additionally, assess their needs and fill in gaps by creating lessons that use what they know, but challenge them to take themselves to the next level.
- Some teachers liked that fact that they were be able to take the lesson in any direction they wanted without having to tailor everything to an exam. This was a key reason for my decision to remove exams. There would be no more teaching to the exam and no more limiting of what was learned simply because they wanted to focus on what students would need to pass.
- One thing teachers really liked was that students focused on improving. Beforehand, many students would do nothing, but then cram for exams in an effort to pass. Sometimes students might pass an exam even though there general language ability was clearly far below what the exam indicated. Students saw that improvement was dependant on them and came down to how much work they put in. Once students realized this, they became much more engaged in lessons and focused much more on self-improvement.
From the students:
- They thought it took a lot of pressure off.
- They liked having a say in whether or not they were ready to move up.
- Some students felt uncomfortable about not knowing whether or not they were making progress. They felt they couldn’t see results. This sometimes had a negative effect on motivation.
When I first talked to the teachers about trying this, I wasn’t sure it would work. After doing it for about 6 months, it was clear that it was working. Students no longer felt the need to take formal exams. Especially helpful was the larger amounts of feedback teachers started giving students in one-on-one discussions. Students and teachers also became much better at consistent informal assessment. I also felt that teachers really became more aware of their students and they needed to really look at how their students were doing to help plan the next lesson or set overall directions for a student or course.
In addition, like I mentioned above, we stopped having students that would slack through courses only to try and pass desperately at the end. They realized they both needed to actually improve and to prove that they had improved to the teacher in order to advance. I think this is one big reason students started to rapidly advance through levels.
Well, that’s a decent summary of some benefits and potential hiccups to eliminating exams. At my current school, I am back to adminstering exams. Most teachers the world over have to adminster exams, so, with that being the case, what’s the best way to look at exams and how should teachers use them? Find out what I think in next week’s post.