It is remarkable how many connecting points you can discover when talking to a fellow educator, most of them underlying, present at all times, surfacing gradually as you share your joy or worry over a cup of coffee.
Theodora Papapanagiotou and I first connected online three years ago and all through this time of sharing between us, both on a personal and a professional level, we always talked about presenting together. We felt we needed to share the love we both had for our learners and our profession and the commonality in our approach to teaching and learning. After several missed opportunities, for many different reasons (especially last summer on my part), the time finally came to put this together and invite our colleagues to discuss alternative and creative ways in exam preparation at the two TESOL Conventions in Greece.
The certificate-hunting culture still holds strong in our country, resulting in ever younger learners being pressured into taking exams, inevitably being forced to memorize vocabulary out of context and drilled into grammar rules completely unconnected to their function. We are still sacrificing fluency and meaningfulness at the altar of certification, of proven “knowledge”, and not only in foreign language learning. In full honesty, I don’t want my learners’ first question to be “what percentage should I get correct to pass the exam”. Unfortunately, it is the first question I hear from most of them. It is a challenge to try and shift their focus to their abilities and needs, to how learning a language can help them progress further in anything they attempt and to that any certificate is a positive result of their personal efforts, not the end goal.
Making the exam preparation process meaningful for them is not difficult really; as with all courses, we start with the learners and build on what they have, what they want and what they hope to achieve. We can do this through projects, through adding creative tasks to the material we are using, through exploring different approaches and giving our learners the space to find their voice. We can get a learning community going, blend our lessons and use appropriate technology effectively and encourage self- and peer- assessment to keep learners motivated.
Moving away from traditional quantitative into qualitative assessment, by building personal and class portfolios, gives both our learners and us a clear view of what we have achieved and what we still need to work on.
We will both be sharing more in future posts and articles. For now, a big thank you to everyone who joined us in our talks in Athens and Thessaloniki, for their input and feedback!
You can view the slides of our presentation here
Links and webtools presented during our talk here