The theme for this week’s reflection is assessed.
I choose this theme because my assignment from Week 2 was returned and also because I sat my final exam for this course (1 unit of learning down 7 to go :)). While I did well in the assignment, the exam was a bit of a nightmare.
So what happened?
Well firstly I didn’t finish. During my undergraduate degree I’d grown accustomed to writing 3-4 longer essays over the space of three hours rather than 6 smaller ones in the same amount of time. Consequently I spent way too much time on first answer and felt rushed to get the other 5 answers finished.
I also hadn’t made proper accommodations for my non-sequential writing style. Normally this isn’t a problem, but sitting an exam pretty much forces you to write sequentially as you are under the pressure of time and writing on paper.
My current writing style relies on being able to go back to ideas at a later time and being able to move text around to accommodate new ideas, which is easy to do when using a word processor, but not so simple when you are writing on a booklet.
Also the supervisor wouldn’t let me have extra booklets until I had already used up my first booklet (he seemed rather incredulous that I would need the extra paper). Because my writing is big and I double space my work, I ended up needing four extra booklets. I also realized there is another thing I hate about exams: being forced to stop mid-thought and wait for someone to bring more paper because my writing doesn’t fit the ‘norm.’
The lack of extra paper put me into a spin. The question sheet wasn’t big enough to accommodate mind maps. Consequently I was without one of the strategies I use to manage my learning disability.
And ouch, ouch, ouch my writing hand was in excruciating pain for hours after the event. I do feel sorry for whoever has the job of grading my exam because the drunken chicken my handwriting had once been compared to was definitely on the booze by the end of the test.
So what are some lessons I learned from the week?
Old learning habits die hard
If I were to dig out my old school reports right now, there would be ample mention made of my penchant for letting careless errors turn excellent work into merely good work. I know I need to spend more time polishing up my finished product, yet I still didn’t do it. But I had another stark reminder that the ideas to put me into the excellent category were all there, but a lack of concentrated effort at the end of the writing process ended up costing me marks.
Manage my time better
Time management was probably my biggest problem in the exam. While I understood, that there were six questions to do and had allotted myself a certain amount of time to do each question. It took me far too long to get the ideas of the first essay onto paper. In retrospect I should have read through the entire paper to identify easier questions to answer first to get my confidence up rather than starting with the first question just because it was first question (Any surprise that I am a low-need achiever?).
Find ways to manage inconveniences
I could have used the back of the readings we were permitted to bring into the exam, rather than trying to fit my mind maps into the margins of the question sheet. But I still don’t understand why I couldn’t just have an extra booklet at the start of the exam.
Practice writing ideas in sequence
I hadn’t sat a written exam in nearly 10 years. As a consequence, I am completely out of practice at writing essays in any kind of logical sequence (in fact I just wrote a sentence in the third paragraph before jumping down here to write this learning point and am now about to jump down two paragraphs because I have an idea I want to expand on). However I will need master this style of writing in order to improve my performance in exams.
But perhaps the most useful outcome of sitting the exam is that is has forced me to reflect on how I would assess student learning in the classroom. So often we become reliant on doing things a certain way because that is the way things have always been done.
Formal exams and tests are popular methods of assessment because they are seen as reliable, ie. we would expect similar results on re-sit across a similar cohort of students. They are also perceived as being fair because markers aren’t swayed by extraneous considerations, such as teacher favouritism.
However there is also a question of validity, ie does the test to measure what it seeks to measure. If the purpose of the exam was to see how fast and neatly I can write, then I probably failed. However if the purpose was to gauge my understanding of educational theory, then I am not sure how valid that assessment was because the medium used gives a fuzzy picture of my knowledge.
Which brings up two implications for using an evidence-based approach to teaching. Firstly how many students in our school system are seen to be under-achieving because the assessment used does not accurately gauge their learning? While there are other students like me that struggle with writing, some children struggle with reading instructions. Moreover an EAL learner may have a brilliant maths capabilities but struggle to conceptualize a word problem.
Secondly what effect will this have on future teaching? If I were to use the results of my exam to inform future teaching in the classroom, then my teaching would likely not be particularly effective. I would probably be pitching my lessons at a level too low for the learner to find useful.
How do we accurately gauge student’s learning? Should all students be assessed the same way?