Week Thirteen: Assessment

What was this week’s module about?

This time we’ve focused on assessment. It’s a huge topic, and the choices that each stakeholder makes about the role and importance of it leads to wide-reaching consequences for ELT. I suspect we’re in an early movement of a long, sprawling symphony, and it would be interesting to come back to reflect on this journal in a decade to see what has changed. As it is, we have some of the leading voices in ELT referring to assessment as a ‘necessary evil.’ Depending on who you talk to, ELT is full of necessary evils: exams, coursebooks, observations, conferences, teachers meetings, parents meetings.

Which movement are we in, I wonder?

For the record, I disagree, at least to a point. To focus squarely on assessment, and speaking as someone whose career has developed around Cambridge assessment (at least to this point), it certainly doesn’t need to be a negative experience, provided stakeholders make appropriate choices.

What have you studied this week, anyway?

Much of the attention has been on learning (or better said: engaging with) key assessment terminology, and applying this to exam questions. The questions were very well chosen, to be fair. One focused on academic exams such as Cambridge Upper Main Suite, and the other on placement tests for summer programmes. The key thing has been applying the exam prep to your situation and context.

What we haven’t studied is much discussion about washback, which to me is the heart of the issue when discussing if assessment really is a necessary evil. Something I’ll explore more in my own time (possibly when I move on to the MA I’m eyeing), but probably the first time I’ve come to the end of a module on this course feeling a tad disappointed.

And what did you do? Just reading and exam practice?

Not at all. This week has been structured around a group forum task (although our group chose to contribute independently rather than doing a group session as we have done in the past). Each group had one section of the exam question, discussing why academic exams might not prepare students for academic study, before critically evaluating an exam we know well. These group tasks are a really organic way of working, although you definitely need to be willing to engage and participate.  

And the assignment?

I chose to answer on placement tests, which was where this week’s reflective element came in. I based it on various placement tests I’ve developed for summer programmes in the past, but also the rather old but thoroughly reliable placement test I’ve used in an academy setting. It will undoubtedly be useful in the future for designing and implementing assessments.

What was your main takeaway from this week?

That sometimes, probably necessarily so, there’s going to be a disconnect between the theory you study on the course and the practical realities of being in the classroom. Nothing about this week has made us better teachers, or aware of how to mitage issues of negative washback and perhaps keep communication at the heart of the lesson. Perhaps a strength of this whole process (both the Dip itself, and these journal pieces) is being able to recognise when there is a disconnect between theory and practice.

Were there any lows?

I think I’ve mentioned before about the panic that takes over the group WhatsApp in the final 24 hours before the assignment is due. Turns out it’s quite useful; a few weeks back a last minute question from someone in the group helped me add a final detail to turn a good assignment into a great one. Same might have been true today, had I not submitted a day early. Lesson learned: finish early to relieve the stress, but submit on the day.

What about highlights?

A message from a participant on another Dip course messaged me to say thanks for an earlier journal post which they found helpful. It absolutely made my day to know that this stuff is useful to others. Between that and some friendly nudging from the folk at the TEFL Development Hub, I’m really encouraged to keep going with these posts and have decided to keep a journal of my progress in the projects and assessment period as well. When all’s done and dusted, this journal will stay as a tool and guide for others taking this wonderful journey (or even just thinking about it).

What’s next?

We’ve moved on to reading and writing.

Nice and small then.

Ha. Indeed. Between that, the projects, and final prep for TESOL Spain in a couple of weeks, I’ll be a mere husk by the next reading week!