Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Talking the Talk- Eliminating the Word “Test” from My Learning Environment

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I’ve been working to reform my classroom learning environment. This is a long-term project, aided by a wonderful colleague in my department (who I won’t name – she doesn’t like the spotlight). We are working hard for students to see that the classroom is a learning and feedback environment. That we are not going to ‘mark’ your learning. That the only thing that is ‘assessed’ is what you have mastered at the end of a unit. I’ve altered my conversation around marks gradually – shifting from numbers to descriptors and adding proficiency descriptors. I’ve changed how I ‘grade’ work we do in our classroom. I’ve even altered how I evaluated using pop check in’s to help students assess if they have mastered an area or not.

In the past few weeks though I noticed a holdover from my ‘past’ teaching practice. The word “Test”. So many kids cite anxiety about a ‘test’. Teachers use it as a ‘hammer’ and a ‘threat’ in their belief that it will get kids to do work. “There’s a test” then becomes the impetus for kids to study and learn. And it is held up as the measure of how well they are learning a subject.  And yet I continued to use the word. It suddenly felt so wrong and so incongruent with my current teaching practice. For a while I settled on the word ‘evaluation’ as in “you’re learning will only be evaluated at the end of the unit”. It was a step up but still to me smacked of the idea of a ‘test’. So I put my attempt to eliminate the word ‘test’ out on Twitter to the #langchat crew. And the lovely Wendy Farabaugh replied that she uses the word ‘assessment’. Wow…assessment …great word.  A simple snapshot in time of their mastery of certain skills. Not a punishing ‘right/wrong’ list of what students can’t do but an assessment of what they can. We ask kids to self-assess and I constantly assess my teaching – and now I’m making sure that my work with them is viewed via that lens too. Update: After reading the post a great reply from #langchat amie Natalia DeLaat. She uses  “assessment” for more summative activities and “learning check” for smaller items – I’m going with that!!!!

So out with the words ‘quiz and test’ and in with the word ‘assessment’. It’s aligned with what I believe and what I am trying to practice. The only issue, beside my self-monitoring to make sure I no longer say the words, is the need to change the ‘wording’ on the cover of previous ‘tests’. And that’s an edit I’m happy to make!

C

2 Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment and admire your obvious dedication to constant reflection, always striving to improve. You lead your students by example and I am sure that they respond to this. In my experience, whilst a name-change is important to assist in the mind-shift towards a new or revised method, if the actual activity feels like a test then it doesn’t really matter what you call it. I frequently hear students ask “Is this for assessment?” “Is this being assessed?” so, for me, the term “assessment” still invokes a similar heightened anxiety. Thank you for raising this important topic for discussion and for being such an inspiration!

  2. Hi Kathryn
    Thanks so much for your comments. It’s true that simply sticking an new label on an old thing really is just an old thing with a new label! I will say though that I have been watching my students for their reaction to the changes that I have been making. The new grade 9’s are still a little bit ‘test! test!’ in their thinking. But my Grade 12’s – who have been with me on this ‘change’ journey – are much more calm about everything. They know what they will be assessed on, they know that they have had lots of feedback and they know that their assessment will tie in with what we have been doing in class..And since the implementation of the pop-check-ins there is much less worry about this on the little everyday things. In fact I look for feedback and self-assessment so regularly that, after doing an activity with a class, when I moved right into the next thing one student said “What, no self-assessment?”. Hopefully my changes in wording will continue to help them not fear an ‘assessment’.

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