As you can see from the poster above, the theme is Empowering the Learner: Linking Assessment to Learning (check out the website here) and, as usual, I will be doing a workshop session. Deciding what to focus on was a bit tricky for me this year because, as regular visitors to this blog will know, I’ve had some doubts about the current system of assessment we use recently. Despite all the talk in ELT circles of formative assessment, portfolios, assessment for learning and so on, the fact remains that grammar and vocabulary based exams still dominate most schools and form the basis of end of year grades. Rather than go for some idealistic attempt to turn the system on its head, I thought I’d go for the ‘necessary evil’ approach - exams are a fact we have to deal with so how best to prepare young learners for them without stressing them out or letting the exam dominate proceedings?
In addition to the in-house tests, most of the students at my school from 3rd Grade onwards sit one of the Cambridge YLE Tests (Starters, Movers or Flyers depending on their level). Although I’m not a fan of tests for kids in general, one thing I do like about these particular ones is that they focus on what the students know rather than what they have just learned in the last couple of units or so. There are no questions like ‘put the verbs into the correct tense’ or ‘fill the gaps with on/in/at’. Instead, students need to show their general comprehension of the language in order to answer the question successfully.
So far, so good but what happens when the teachers get together and talk about how to prepare the students for these tests? They talk about whether or not we should use an extra book or, if not, should we prepare worksheets? Or photocopy past papers? Or make vocabulary lists? It’s that old issue again - we strive to fill the gaps instead of just leaving some space….
And leaving space for students to explore, learn new language and develop exam skills is exactly what my session will be about. I am convinced that a dogme-inspired approach (yes, the d-word again!) can be just as effective in getting my students ready for this exam as worksheets and photocopied past papers (and probably more enjoyable!)
In the run up to the conference, I will be doing lessons based on student-generated content such as their own pictures and stories and adapting them for use as exam practice tasks. They will be doing some adapting too as they view the exam from a different angle by preparing their own questions to quiz their classmates with. I will of course be sharing these lesson ideas (none of which I claim to be original but it’s useful to highlight them nonetheless) and reflections on how they went here on the blog. As my students will take the Flyers exam this year, the posts will be called….
Lessons On The Fly
(snare shot please!)
I guess it’s not so much ‘linking assessment to learning’ as ‘linking learning to assessment’. I want the emphasis to be on learning and developing language skills with the exam preparation an added bonus - and not a photocopy in sight!