Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Examining exams

Righto,so i think exams are dumb.To explain why I came to this view I will look at(examine haha) some of the assumptions and premises which are taken for granted.Here's the commonly held rationale behind them: You need to test what people know. Now,don't teachers spend time with students?Ask any teacher around mid year,mid semester-do you know what your students know?I have asked; most know what they know.They have spent time with them.Once apon a time that's just what teachers did.They were entrusted and trained to do just that-see how students are going and work with them to assist them and mentor them .Now we have a 'low trust' model operating-its not enough for you to know your students and them you.
The second rationale is you need to have a pressure cooker system to make people learn better.Why do we create a stressful exam environment,with clocks ticking and success linked to them? If we want to test for how well we do under stress,why dont we say that?Why link it to the subject? It could be a subject in its own right-How to Solve Problems Under Strict Deadlines. Somehow we got to the insanity we have in the school system (and beyond) where we mistake learning for solving problems against time.There is no evidence that anxiety improves learning-on the contrary there is plenty of evidence to show that anxiety makes learning, thinking and doing harder.And for many if not for all,exams are anxiety producing.
The third rationale behind exams is that you should try and catch students out by 'surprises"- another cruel ploy by a system that fails to understand why and how people learn.Catching them out may reassure insecure teachers of the fact that they know something that students don't,but it doesn't have anything to do with learning.More erroneous beliefs are that learning is associated with discomfort,punishment,force or coercion.
I don't support assessment of any kind anymore.It drives down morale and self esteem,most people know their strengths and weaknesses very well.Teachers use it to what I call 'negatively teach'-the weird belief that pointing out failures and mistakes is the role of the teacher,and that they will do better if they are told.Mostly I've seen this when its used exclusively as a teaching strategy.The light goes out from the students' eyes and pretty soon they give up (inside). An analogy: Its like felling a tree in the forest to make it grow better.
An anecdote from a friend whose son recently delved into his favourite Classics subject.He loved it; its his passion. He produced an amazing document for a project but was told he only 'achieved' and did not gain 'excellence' (the New Zealand School system classifies work in terms of not achieved,achieved,merit or excellence) because his project was too long.That sort of petty meddling makes me really angry,especially because the odds are so high that this fellow will now feel deflated and lose interest in a subject he formerly loved.
One reason to support assessment is that an employer or a third party who wants to know something about a student can look at formal bits of paper and get an idea of their strengths etc.
My son has been mesmerised into thinking that he might not know anything about a subject-depending on how well he does in his exams-despite the fact that he his at the top of this particular class! Wak!! What the hell?Dont get your hopes up,it might be all dashed on the rocks! The end result is the mantra "don't trust what you know,you might be wrong"

No comments:

Post a Comment