Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIV, 'Types of Teaching': Exams

Chapter XIV ('Types of Teaching') of 'Learning and Teaching' continues with a discussion of 'examination'. The authors again make reference to the traditional Chinese educational system which prepared students for one thing--an end-of-process examination. For many centuries this examination determined the entrance into the very desirable state bureaucracy. Exams have been used more recently in the east and the west to assess learning and to allot places in universities.

While exams have their place, teachers need to beware of relying too much on them  for significant feedback on student understanding. In particular, teachers need to guard against creating testing situations that require study methods that do not impact long-term learning.

A brief quotation pretty well summarizes the authors' concerns in this section:

Even when they prepare a large amount of material it is often done by a process of "cramming" that enables the student to remember the material for a short time and then quite forget most of it later.

Tests and exams should be nothing more or less than another way for teachers (and students) to get feedback about the learning that is going on in the classroom. Teachers should be careful not to put too much emphasis on exam scores in grading. Certainly tests should make up part of the grade, but there are many more, and often more effective, ways to find out what students really know, understand, or are able to do. But in any case, as the authors warn, we want to avoid situations where students are either required or are able, by the type of test, to cram information that is soon lost. Testing of memory work is a sound practice, but the test needs to be a way of making permanent, of fixing, long term and often-used knowledge in the mind of the student.

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