Student Performances: The ever-increasing gap between  instruction practices  and  performance assessment!

Imagine a classroom with 35 students, with unique levels of understanding subjects, varied abilities of handling pressure of grading and scores, and the subsequent ability to perform with the above understanding. If there are so many unique sets of qualities in a class, how can the medium of instruction and the following assessment of their performances be standardized to an extent that we are not able to see the evident gaps between the two? As an educator, assessing students’ performances comes with the job, but how do we allow students to thrive with the existing tools of assessment, yet allow them to experience an authentic evaluation? A better question to ask is, “How obsessed have we made students about assessments, grades and scores?” Author  John Holt  points it beautifully well- “I find myself coming to realise that what hampers students’ thinking, what drives them into these narrow and defensive strategies, is a feeling that they MUST  impress grown-ups, at all costs”.

I’m going to explain this further, but alongside share a few techniques in classroom teaching which have helped me understand how to fill the gap between how we teach and how we evaluate!

Remodelling our language in class

This is easily the first step to any conversation in a classroom- whether we’re a teaching fellow in a Govt. school or an experienced teacher at an urban, high-income school. As a student, I remember a few teachers mentioning how a few topics or questions were “important from an exam perspective”. I also remember them mentioning how to “remember to add these points if this is a 10-mark question, or eliminate a few things for a 2-mark question”. But if these conversations were to add a dash of “Imagine you’re on a long road in a moving vehicle, it’s really sunny and you see a puddle of water ahead of you. It hasn’t rained in weeks. Confusing, right? What’s really happening? Now, Student A, can you tell me what this experience is in < 2 words? And Student B, can you summarize this in one sentence? And Student C, what if you were to explain it to me like I’m an 8-year-old?” — The focus has remained the same, the language has been remodelled to make it less graded, or away from constant evaluation.

A holistic evaluation method

Real-world assessment of our actions, performances are uniquely different from classrooms. Our intent of instruction might be to allow students to express their true selves and explore however, the evaluation strategies sometimes become standardized. I’m sure you will agree how whatever we create outside a class is received differently by different people. Thus, the idea that the real assessment  in a classroom must come from the teacher’s remarks, her approval, her  being impressed  might be a grave error in our teaching vs evaluation framework. A teacher in class should allow for students’ work to be evaluated by more than herself, especially including the students themselves, their peers may be in teams or groups, or create an inter-group activity. This can truly allow students to understand how feedback and assessments work in the real world. This is a hands-on, real-world lesson for students to thrive in, and understand the importance of the spectrum of evaluation.

“Is it clear?”- The big question about asking

Questions:  As an educator, the easiest, everyday-assessment tool I used in classrooms was this question- “Is it clear?”  Now, contrary to popular opinion, I think this may have been a self-assurance or a feedback tool for myself, rather than an evaluation of my students’ understanding. With strict lesson plans and timelines to follow as teachers, sometimes we are running short on time, and use this  hack  to skip to the next topics in the lesson. I am guilty of using this way too many times until the day I saw the “yes ma’am” to my “Understood?” echoing in class was probably a combating strategy to avoid the dread that would’ve followed if even one of them said “No!”.

The instruction in class must not be based on a teachers’ need for self-assurance, that whatever they have taught has been received well. Why? Because for students, our test of their understanding, may feel like any other school test, which can make them more confused and nervous. I believe a better way to help students ask questions is to let them ask those questions themselves, and as educators, we must do a great job at answering them. We must get across the idea that students  should  ask as many questions they like, but also, that some questions are better than others. We must reward them for asking brilliant questions, and not only for saying “NO” to our self-assuring questions. It takes considerable planning and effort to be a teacher. But it takes courage, the ability to unlearn and try new things, to be a  great one.

Do you use engaging and interactive ways of assessment in your classrooms? Do let us know I’m Vidushi, a creative educator and consultant from New Delhi, India, and signing off for the while!

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