Mrinmayee Vaishampayan and Varsha Puranik
Schools welcomed their students with so much joy and excitement as we settled down in the ‘new normal’ world around us. The world is a bit different, but full of possibilities.
Education has taken its own new forms during and after the pandemic. Numerous efforts by teachers to be in touch with every child who learns in our school even during the online period paid off while making the teaching more student-friendly post lockdown.
During lockdown and online school, as high-school teachers, we gave a lot of thought to the question, ‘With no external controls, forces and structures, can a child take ownership of his/her learning?’ Considering the changed patterns of learning in students, we focused more on individualistic inputs and encouraged students to take up responsibility for their learning. Some crucial changes were made in classroom teaching methods, tools used for explanations, and evaluation and assessment techniques used in the school. One such change that was successfully executed is explained in this article.
While we started designing regular academic assessments for the in-person school, we observed that post COVID, many children are not used to examinations anymore. The reasons included simple things such as difficulty sitting in one place for a long time, attention-concentration issues to serious problems like examination phobia and disinterest in studies. It was time for all of us teachers to change the idea of the ‘examination’ and its perception among students. It was the right time to execute what we all have been talking about as students, parents, individuals and also teachers – ‘Assessment for learning, instead of assessment of learning’.
We gave the students another chance at writing answers to the questions they got wrong in the first place. But this second chance was preceded with self-checking, reflection, and discussions with the teachers concerned. The right answers in the second attempt added half of the marks given to the particular question, into their final score, boosting their confidence and motivation. Here is what we did:
- We photocopied all the solved answer sheets and gave them to the respective students on the last day of the mid-term exams.
- The students checked their own photocopied answer sheets, and the teachers, the original.
- The teachers discussed all the answers in the classroom and then discussed the answers with individual students with their self-checked answer sheets.
- There were some heated discussions among the teachers and the students in the classroom as well as individually around the differences in the marks given. The second round of paper solving was conducted after the discussions. Here the students got a chance to re-write the answers to the questions in which they lost marks. Time was given based on the number of questions to be resolved. After this round of solving, 50 per cent marks were given for all the right answers and those were added to the total score.
In the examinations conducted post-COVID, the overall downfall in the scores was a result of a lot of things – lack of writing practice and confidence, hasty calculations, lack of content knowledge and the overall fear of writing examinations actually sitting in the classroom with the clock ticking. We could listen to the disappointed chatter in the corridors right after the exam. “The paper was not that difficult, it was just my impatience, you know.” “I knew how to do that sum but just did not know the right formula!” Or “I read about that process just once so we could just write 5 lines on that.”
The children were caught by surprise when they realized that they had to check their own answer sheets. “Not even friend’s answers for checking this time?” someone giggled.
In the week after the exam, everyone eagerly discussed their opinions and reasons behind giving scores to themselves. Suddenly all the rage against the teachers for cutting marks or being partial vanished from the classrooms. Everyone was calm as they gained insights into their mistakes. Wherever there was some major difference in the marks given by teachers and their own assessment, we sat together and discussed the concepts again.
It was interesting to see that a lot of children had given really less marks to themselves. Even less than what we had given them. Discussion around such questions gave rise to more discussions on self-doubt, lack of confidence and a tendency to be harsh on oneself; typically observed amongst teenagers. Teachers also had to convince some children that they were not consoling them by giving them more marks than what the children had given themselves.
There were discussions among teachers too that they had deducted more marks than the children to highlight the importance of writing all the steps and the logical thinking that reflects in the writing. We could explain the examiner’s perspective taking examples from the children’s own answers. All of them were happy at the end of discussion, maybe because there was more clarity and they could genuinely reflect on their answers and they showed a readiness to practice the concepts that they got wrong.
After discussions, all of them solved the questions again like in an exam with customised time limits. Those who got them correct this time got half the marks that were added to their total score. The range of these additional marks was from 5 to 12. Some students who got the questions wrong again were taken to the conceptual re-teaching class.
In a few cases, we observed some rote learning in the second round of solving. Change of content, keeping the processes of solving the same will help in such cases. Some students were not really eager about the second round. They were lazy about the whole idea, not even motivated enough to get the additional marks. We encouraged them with more hand-holding and one-to-one dialogue.
It was interesting to see the phenomenon of self-estimation and the different expressions by different children while they checked their own answers. If we look at the overall pattern, girls tended to underestimate themselves and boys tended towards overestimation. However, the difference between the checking by the teachers and students was not more than 2-3 points.
Different subject teachers shared their experience of this exercise in the common sharing meet. Some insights were very subject-specific and some generic.
There were a few limitations in this process which we will consider when we do this the next time.
• The one-on-one discussions might become time consuming for some teachers. Taking small group discussions instead can save time.
• In the second round of solving, the time given to every student changed with the number of questions they were going to solve. Teachers need to come up with some time limits which are based on the different number of questions, which will make the process more objective.
• For more descriptive subjects like social-sciences and languages, discussing the difference between the marks given by the students and those given by the teachers will need more concrete structures. Explaining the examiners’ perspectives with more clarity when it comes to giving marks to essays and long-answers will need more logical clarity on the part of the teachers.
But these limitations are workable once this whole effort becomes a part of the regular school structure. As a teacher I see more advantages of this exercise.
• The idea of giving the ‘second chance’ to do better in itself could be very assuring for high-schoolers.
• It helps tremendously in confidence-building by filling in the learning gaps.
• It provides opportunities for the teachers to have more conceptual but personal conversations with every student in the class and know the child and her learning strengths and weaknesses better.
• It puts the perspective of ‘assessment for learning’ in actual practice, providing spaces to contemplate what went wrong and how for the students.
• It would surely help in dealing with the gradual dislike towards the subject that builds over a period of time, when the students get consistent low scores.
With some conscious effort by the teachers, examinations can definitely be turned into opportunities for the students to reflect on learning. The schools working towards more child-centric education could include this as a potential regular practice.
Mrinmayee Vaishampayan is a school psychologist and Varsha Puranik is a mathematics teacher. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.