How to creatively access students knowledge?

There is more to evaluating a child’s knowledge and understanding than just holding year-end exams.

COVID-19 continues to affect education in many countries for the second consecutive year. In India, one of the worst affected countries, various state governments have suspended year-end exams for school students, in the wake of the sudden surge of cases.

As the second wave hits the country, the situation poses a grave challenge to educators: how to assess students’ learning outcomes effectively? Many teachers and parents do not seem to think that it is possible to test students’ learning through year-long creative formative assessments, even if the year-end summative exams are suspended, for some reason.

As educational institutions moved to remote learning last year, many teachers treated it as an opportunity to experiment with new ways of teaching. This should have also been the time to think of changing ways of assessing knowledge and learning. Have attempts been made to do so creatively and meaningfully?

Conventional vs innovative

In the current education system, the focus is more on tests and exams than on learning outcomes.

Teachers, students and parents seem to be obsessed with exams, as they all think that the final (summative) exams are essential to assess student learning.

Had the education system given more importance to year-long formative assessments than to year-end summative exams, this attitude may have been different.

What are better ways of assessing student learning? Assessing knowledge in a particular subject is different from assessing their understanding. MCQs, for example, test knowledge but not understanding. All along, conventional tests and exams have tested students’ knowledge and memory. Thus, many teachers and students are not ready for creative type of exams, such as open-book exams that test students’ conceptual understanding and application. Teachers have not been trained to set creative questions nor have students been exposed to such tests.

Round-the-year assessments

There are better ways of assessing student learning than the conventional year-end summative exams. Formative Assessment (FA), which refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to measure student comprehension and progress during a lesson or course, is an effective way to measure understanding of a particular topic/concept and academic performance.

FAs help students get feedback from their teachers during the instruction process and learn better and enable them to think about their own learning and develop self-assessment strategies. FAs, which include quizzes, creative assignments, projects, discussions, presentations and journals, can be done in a formal or informal manner. It is important to make teachers, students and parents realise the importance of incorporating formative assessments into classroom assessment practice.

Assessing analytical skills

The primary role of educators is to help students develop their curiosity and analytical thinking skills. As neuroscientist Aracelli Carmago said, “The more curious we are about a subject, the more it engages our cognitive functions such as attention and memory.” Analytical skills enable students to think logically, raise relevant questions, make rational decisions, and solve problems. By engaging them in activities and giving them assignments/tasks that promote thinking skills, teachers can measure student learning better.

Promoting discussion

Informal classroom discussions on specific topics can help students process information, rather than simply receive it. Classroom discussions not only increase their interests and engagement, but also develop thinking and speaking skills.

Encouraging journal writing

Students should be encouraged to reflect on their learning and maintain a journal. Teachers can give feedback on journal entries and encourage them to move from one level to the next. This helps students become reflective learners and be aware of their progress.

Finally, we need a system that makes teachers believe that assessment of students’ knowledge, skills and competencies is an ongoing process and encourages them to become more creative in assessing student learning.

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