Today I gave my Basic English class their exams. The exam date isn’t until next week, but I gave them the exam so that they could practice. We went over the listening and written sections of the exam so they would all know what they needed to know. This policy follows my theory that English classes should be about language development, and that students who take the time to build their skills should be rewarded.
First, this means that learners have to attend class. Even this seems petty to me, but because most of my students don’t have any exposure to English outside of class, this is their only opportunity to come in contact with the language, unless of course they visited my office, watched NHK English programs, attended another langauge school, or used English with their family or friends, which no one does. If they do attend class and have some exposure, then they also should have the opportunity to see how far they are getting in their studies. It’s their class. They are paying for it. They should be able to measure their progress. For that purpose we have periodic assessments. I grade those, because it is my job to evaluate the students’ progress, but they can take the periodic assessments as many times as they like. (In fact, in one class I teach they have to take them until they get at least a 90%. That is in a class where I enforce learning. They have to master the material before they can move on.)
Finally, the students have a final exam. Again, since this evaluation process has to be developmental, rather than punitive, I gave them the test today. They can learn how to use English to solve the questions, and then on test day, they can show how much they know.
My feeling is that nearly all language assessments could be made public before the fact with the affect that learners’ skill would improve. I am dissatisfied with some aspects of this scheme, though. One is that the learners are not making the tests themselves. I have done that in the past, but the products were a reflection of all the other timed, tricky, punitive tests that they had been subjected to until that point. It would take a whole year of work just to get them out of that mind set. Even after one semester of this class, the students were suprised and asked and reconfirmed several times that this was actually the test that they were going to see on test day. They just couldn’t believe it.
The other feature of this testing scheme is that the tests are not communcative. The only real communication that happens on the test is where they write their name and the date. Everything else is an immitation of what communication might be like. I would like to change these two aspects of my teaching.