I was one of the lucky ones. At the age of 11 I passed the 11+ and went onto grammar school. 90% of my classmates in primary school did not pass and went to secondary modern. At this age I had already learned how to memorise what was necessary for me to pass and to regurgitate it during the exams. I was confident in my ability to do this and this probably gave me the confidence to take new risks and tackle subjects that were not so easy. I believed that if I tried, I would succeed. Other family members were not so fortunate. Their experience of tests and exams were negative. For various reasons which included poor health and undiagnosed learning difficulties, they did not see themselves as so capable. Poor results in tests did not spur them on - they lost confidence and gave up trying and settled for a different goal.
As a teacher I have struggled with this experience - how to give an assessment that motivates all students, not one that rewards some and punishes others. How to foster cooperation and collaboration among my students, rather than competition. How to give all students the message that they will succeed if they keep on trying. I think in order to do that teachers and students have to look on assessment in a different way.
What we need to do is to have students learn how to learn so that when they are assessed they use the experience to understand how to do better the next time. When I was an MYP teacher this was covered in Approaches to Learning, which is one of the areas of interaction. AtL encourages students to ask
- How do I learn best?
- How do I know?
- How do I communicate my understanding?
If a student knows that the purpose of assessment is to get better over time, the assessment itself can be very motivating - it gives the student the information he or she needs in order to do better next time, and seeing this progression over time students become more motivated, more persistent and more confident in their abilities. This is one reason why I have always loved building portfolios with students - so that they can see and reflect on their own improvement. I have seen these portfolios used very successfully by students at their student-led conferences - they are proud to show their work to their parents and take on more responsibility for their learning. The MYP states:
Recognizing and helping students develop the range of their capacities, positive attitudes and effective habits of mind is the shared responsibility of teachers, and is at the core of all curriculum development and delivery.
Photo Credit: Kevin in real life by Kevin Chang