Saturday, 21 January 2017

Teaching and exams or the exam dilemma

I intend to raise some questions this time, which I am certain many people in the teaching profession have asked themselves and not only those teaching languages. Even though these issues concern instruction in other subjects too, I will confine myself to English as a foreign language.

As far as I am aware, there is research going on constantly into how people acquire language – both the mother tongue and foreign languages. The results of the research may have value as such but they are also meant to assist in developing methods of teaching which will be more efficient and will suit learners with different approaches to learning.

Furthermore, in our days care is being taken so that individuals with learning difficulties, especially dyslexic students, can benefit from customised teaching, and there is even a dyslexie font specially designed for dyslexic readers.

Despite acknowledging the plain fact that people access knowledge in different ways, language exams remain invariably static, out of step with developments in teaching methodology.

Dyslexic candidates are simply given more time to process texts when it would have been far more effective if they were given shorter texts with spaced out lines.

There are certain exams which are limited to multiple-choice questions in order to test reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary. Students who are more creative and less analytical are evidently at a disadvantage. Often working out the right answer by ruling out the incorrect options is a matter of logic but does not necessarily indicate a thorough understanding of the text itself.

 In my experience many a time students who have a good command of both written and spoken English fail to fulfil their potential in either the written or oral examination. Challenges that candidates have to meet include writing two compositions in a limited amount of time or answering questions for the listening part after having heard the conversation only once. In real life people are not required to produce two samples of writing in a row and of course when we haven’t heard well we can always ask again. Besides everything that we teach our students about planning their writing and checking for mistakes on completion of the task simply go out of the window when there is hardly any time to write as you think – let alone prepare a draft.

Many of us teachers find ourselves wasting a lot of valuable time teaching strategies rather than language. Personally I find this frustrating, and I wonder whether exam creators should invest as much effort and money into updating exams as is spent in enhancing methods of teaching so as to reach out to all types of learners.  

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