,A few years back, after years of living abroad and mainly teaching students who shared a culture and educational background, I found myself living in Tucson, Arizona, teaching for an fantastic program called Family Literacy. At this point I had been teaching for a few years and felt confident in my abilities. I had no idea of the challenges I would face with my new class. Unlike my classes in Turkey, which were made up of 18 to 20 year old Turkish students who had all passed an entrance exam before being admitted, my new class consisted of mothers ranging in age from 17 to 40 from Somalia, Mexico, China, and Bangladesh. Some of my students had never before attended any kind of school while others already had masters degrees. They entered my class at all levels from completely functional in English to only knowing how to say a few words. My job was to teach them English, literacy skills, run parenting workshops and advocate for civic involvement. To say this Job was a challenge would be an understatement, but I loved it because it offered me never-ending opportunities to learn.
One of the challenges of teaching such a diverse group is figuring out how to assess their learning. Clearly the age-old practice of giving everyone the same test was not going to work.
Differences to think about before designing any kind of assessment tool
Wow, that is a lot of things to think about when designing an assessment tool and I have just begun to scratch the surface!!
As you can see, in a diverse class, equal does not mean fair. Most educational systems adhere to the idea that all students should be assessed using the same exact tool believing that this is the only way to be fair. This brings to mind the classic cartoon in which the evaluator tells a group of different animals that they all must climb a tree to pass the test. The monkey is, of course delighted, but the fish looks worried.
This brings me to the next thing to consider when designing an assessment tool, what is the purpose of the assessment?
Reasons to Assess Learners
Different assessments are given for different reasons.
Pros and Cons of Different Kinds of Assessment Tools
When you are designing an assessment tool, it is important to first think about why you need an assessment tool and then design it according to the purpose. Do all of your students need to be assessed the same way? If they do, have you taken into account the different challenges they will face as individuals from different backgrounds. Have you helped them to overcome those unique challenges so they can all achieve success? Helping all of your students attain the skills they will need to pass their assessments will probably mean you will have to differentiate your instruction. It will also mean that some students will need to spend more time mastering some skills than others.
Students should be encouraged to examine the different challenges they face and support each other rather than compete with each other. It is so easy to lean over and look at the neighbor's score and think, wow, they did so much better than I did, there must be something wrong with me! Even though the educational system has been set up to rank students against each other, there is a lot a teacher can do to foster a sense of cooperation and support in the classroom rather than an atmosphere of grade comparison.
What are some of your favorite assessment tools? Do you favor assessing students all the same way or assessing them individually?
This post is a Blog with Friends post. Each month we choose a different theme and we all explore it in our own ways. In honor of fall, this month's theme was apples. Check out all of these wonderful posts!
Hi, I'm Kia.
I help ESL / EFL teachers create fun, effective courses that students love.