Friday, August 31, 2012

Authentic Assessment

Last few years have seen new methods of assessment and evaluation being introduced by Central Board of Secondary Education as per the objective of National Curriculum Framework 2005. This includes the implementation of CCE and now open book system in class X examination (summative II). Over the last two to three years the focus has shifted from teaching learning process to examination and evaluation process. When we try to analyze the reason behind the apparent sudden anxiety of the authorities towards the examination pattern which has been followed by the country in the last fifty -sixty years, we realize that is not something which has come all of a sudden but there have been talks and discussions in seminar and conferences that the country needs better ways of assessment and evaluation of the learning of the children.  The educationists were concerned about the changes to be brought in our education system so that schooling particularly does not remain a stressful exercise for the students. Assessment is very important for better learning and evaluation and is equally important to understand the level of the learning achieved by the students. What I feel is that assessment is very important in the life of every individual so this should be administered in a way that there is no ambiguity which might not give the correct picture about the competence.  What I mean here that the assessment should be valid and reliable. If this is not a valid and reliable instrument, then it is an unnecessary burden on children and teachers both. When I talk of validity, I mean that a test should measure what it is supposed to measure. Reliability means the extent to which the test is free of any measurement error.  Measurement in any field of study should possess an acceptable degree of validity and reliability. For example, if we have to measure the length of an object then you take the help of a meter scale. This meter scale gives valid and reliable result because whoever measures the length and whatever number of times the measurement is taken the result would be almost the same.  Though it is difficult to develop a test which is perfectly valid and reliable but an invalid test is as useless as having no test. To increase the validity and reliability, Central Board of Secondary Education kept on trying the improvement in the question papers of classes X and XII for the last many years. And now the situation has reached were most of the questions are one word answer type or two to three lines answers. What I think that, in this process, we missed on a very important aspect of education.  We focused more on the information received and retained by the child rather the understanding and application of the knowledge. Now the teachers’ manual of CBSE for classes VI – X talks about other ways of assessment also to improve assessment and making it more authentic. The idea behind is that the poor test might assess memory only while the better test would measure memory, understanding and application. The test better than this would assess more important  skills as well which are; to solve open ended problems, working in groups, new ideas, assessing self, using data available and making assumptions. There can be many more skills which can be assessed and developed with the help of better framed and executed assessment.
Psychologist Scott Paris and colleagues explained an authentic assessment in the form of portfolio. They defined the portfolio as selection of learners’ work reflecting about the classroom interaction, classroom work and other evidences of their performance in the class. This will make the children self assessors.  Another innovation in assessment is collaborative testing. Psychologist Phillip Zimbardo turned his attention towards the anxiety and test among the students and he thought of how to reduce it. He tried a new method in his psychology courses where in the students were offered the option of choosing a partner of their choice from among their classmates to write the test together. They were also given the option of taking the test alone. Around forty percent students opted for the partner and the rest were alone. When he tried to understand the reason for opting for partner and otherwise he found that the ones who opted for working alone feared that the partner do less work. The result showed that those who wrote test in pairs scored higher than those who were alone, also they enjoyed the course more, could share the knowledge more and were anxious about the test which were administered later on. Zimbardo rightly says that collaborative stress reduces the fear and that is more valuable in real world situation when we have to work in groups. The third example of an authentic test can be rubrics. This has been a new concept in our evaluation system courtesy introduction of CCE. I remember when we were asked to write an essay in the examination on any topic and if the maximum marks allotted were, say ten, then the examiners used to decide not to award more than particular marks whatever was the quality of the essay written.  This did not help the learner to understand the level of his/her competence based on the marks scored. Even the teachers were not able to explain what would have been the quality of essay so that the students would have been awarded full marks or close to that. Here in this situation rubrics can play a very important role. For a situation of an essay writing, we need to list out the criteria and these can be clarity, range of issues, depth of understanding the topic, the language and you can add more. Then different levels of performance on each criterion should be described in words clearly. For example in case of clarity the levels may be;

1.      Points not made clearly, overall confused matter
2.      A few points made clearly rest mostly are confused.
3.      Many clear points but in a few there is confusion.
4.      Almost all points made clearly, overall clear essay.
A similar thing can be done for the rest of the criteria also. This way the teacher as well as the children would be able to understand their areas of strength and weaknesses and follow up action can be taken so that the future learning is better. Precisely, this is the purpose of assessment that we improve our level of learning and competence. 
In the end, I would like to emphasis upon the fact that assessment and teaching should be an enjoyable exercise for teachers and students both so that all are better prepared to face real life situation. Teaching learning assessment should be interwoven in such a manner that nobody feels that a lot of time is wasted for preparation, administration and recovery from tests. The motivation of teachers and students should not shift from process of learning to performance only which may be the root cause of stress and anxiety among the students.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Developing high order thinking skils

The last few years have seen the growing interests of Indian psychologists and educationists to understand the learning process and the level of the Indian students in schools. About six years back a study conducted by one research organization found that most of the students did not have the age appropriate knowledge and that they were not able to answer questions which were put to them differently.  The schools selected were considered to be the top schools of the country. The children who were selected for this study were also the ones who had got good grades in their school examinations. Then what is the reason that they were not able to respond to the questions put by an external agency in a different way. Was it the fault of examination or the learning process of the children? This is what I have been stating in all my previous write ups, on the topic of reforms in school education, which are too much inclined towards examination. The most important thing which is to be changed in our education system is the methodology of teaching learning process in the classroom and outside.  The teachers must be trained in child psychology and the pattern of the learning process which takes place even before the children come to the formal education system. The teachers must realize that the children already have some concepts about many things without being formally taught or told by somebody. This already existing knowledge makes the difference in the mindset of the children to accept the new concepts introduced by the teachers in the classroom. For example, a child had seen an Apple at home with green colour but when the teacher in the school tells him or her the colour of apple as to be red, the child gets confused. His already existing concept will not allow the concept of red to be understood and accepted very easily till the time the teacher shows him a red colour apple.  In this case also, there cannot be just one correct answer for the question regarding the colour of apple. Similarly, different questions can have more than one answer and the teachers must allow the children to explore and explain the things in their own ways. At times the teachers also do not pay any attention to the difference between information and knowledge. Too much of information without understanding will never be good to a learner hence the teachers need to understand requirement of concept learning and skill development including thinking skills. I would also avoid deliberating upon the importance of brain for different people because this is a different topic in itself. But one thing is for sure that all children have the potential and capacity to learn more and more depending upon the exposure and environment around them.
Should the children be allowed to learn on their own and if no, then how much should be the influence of the teacher or any external source? While interacting with the parents, I have realized that many of them want the teachers to be doing lot many things in the classroom for the children. Not only this, even at home also many of them hire tutors for their children so that they complete their homework and other assignments.  In most of the cases, it the teacher who dictates and the children just copy that.  Do you think any learning will take place this way? Then should we leave the children without any guidance.  Here I would like to cite the example of the study conducted by Ilonca Hardy and others in Germany. They conducted a short eight session course for second grade toddlers on floating and sinking. They were asked questions like why needle sinks in water while a big ship floats. The children gave various answers as comprehended by them. Then they were given different items of different material and allowed to do experiments to make them understand that floating does not solely depend upon the volume.  The study also compared two different methods of learning; one in which the teacher was available but not actively participating in the experiment while in the second case the teacher was taking active part in initiating the discussion and also sometime guiding the children if they were haywire while doing the experiment.   The students in the first group were left free to play around with the materials and do their own experiments the way they liked. This was called Low Instructional Support. The teacher in the group was only to encourage to  discuss and made occasional observations but did not structure the process at all. The children had enthusiastically discussed many things and tried to do experiments,  making the observations as per their learning and previous knowledge.  The second group of the children got well defined support from the teachers.  As the sequence of learning was proper so focused discussion could take place. The researchers called it as High Instructional Support. These students did the experiments and completed their worksheet in a fixed sequence. This course was designed to change their concept regarding floating and sinking by exposing them to almost real life experiments.
The result was that the two groups did equally well on immediate test of conceptual understanding in comparison to the children who did not go through this course. The researchers thought that the children were able to understand the concept equally well hence both methods (Low Instructional Support and High Instructional Support) are equally effective but when the test was conducted after about an year or so when it was found the children of the second group (High Instructional Support) performed much better than the other group of the children (Low Instructional Support). This means that High Instructional Support enables children for efficient learning to solve the new problems. It is the responsibility of the teachers to decide and plan how much involvement and guidance would be required by the learners while handling different conceptual topics. For this, the understanding of previous knowledge of the children and their cultural background will be of great help. In our country, most of the teachers especially in middle school and secondary schools use lecture method which leaves very little scope for the children to be active partners in the teaching learning process. That is the reason why the children do not get enduring and long lasting knowledge and understanding in such classes though they may show immediate sense of learning. But from my point of view, that is just an information which has been received by them, which will not last for long because every teacher is doing the same in different subjects all through the day.  So if we have to develop Higher Order Thinking Skills in our children then guided support concept has to be adopted by the teachers so that the children are able to learn themselves under structured instructions from their teachers.  This requires a lot of efforts on the part of teachers and the parents as well. They have to work in tandem so that the children do not get confused between the learning “forced” on them in the school and at home. For this our teachers training institutes must improve their curriculum and methodology of training the prospective teachers. This will give freedom to our children to exploit their potential to the fullest.

Friday, August 3, 2012

On open book examination

It is to start on a happy note that one of the premier educational bodies, Central Board of Secondary Education is planning to bring another revolutionary change in the education system of the country. The news regarding implementation of open book system in class X and class XII board examination seems to be very exciting to all of us. This system is followed in some of the western countries and also individual school boards and universities in some countries. This gives an access to the books when the students are writing their examination.   But what CBSE proposes to do is to let students know the topics and the pattern of the question papers well in advance so that they can thoroughly learn the topics.   The difference in the question paper is proposed to be in terms of the quality of the questions. CBSE thinks and many of us agree, that today’s question papers and the examination system promote rote learning and not the real creative learning by the children. This seems to be a welcome step but again when given a serious thought we find as if we are focusing too much on examination than the process of teaching and learning.  I have written earlier also that evaluation/examination is important but most important is the learning taking place in and outside the class.  So what many of us feel is that more emphasis should be given on innovative curriculum and teaching-learning process. For this the important tool in the hands of CBSE is proper training of teachers and the minimum facilities available in the schools which enhance and motivate the learning of children.  The words higher order thinking skills (HOTS) etc, impress everyone but everyone must understand the real meaning of these words.  Creative thinking is the key to the success of the individual at school level and also later on in life. But how much attention is paid to develop this skill right from the beginning of schooling of the children.  The recent report that many of the engineering graduates are not able to write even a proper application of any kind; gives the real picture of our education system.  This is not true only for engineering graduates but applies across the board.  That is the reason I always think that such an innovative educational board should have a wing which works on innovative teaching learning process and curriculum development as well.  This should be done based on the local requirement of our nation and not necessarily to be borrowed from other countries. Every time a change is implemented in our education system it is usually felt as this has also been taken or borrowed from the education system of other countries.  If this kind of impression is created in the minds of people, that the system which is responsible for the creative and high order thinking in the children of the country, lacks the creativity itself then no change will impact the minds of the people.  In this Central Board of Secondary Education alone cannot do much because the teachers who are appointed to implement these changes are taught and trained in universities. The syllabus at graduation and post graduation level including the training programmes like B.Ed. and M.Ed. should be revamped in such a manner that the prospective teachers are well aware and trained about the real teaching learning process which will enable children to actually learn and not to rote learn.  Unfortunately, this side has been given the least attention by the responsible people. The college and university education system must undergo a change at the earliest. It has been observed that the candidates who apply for the post of a teacher in a school, may have first class first in their graduation and post graduation but are not able to explain very simple concepts of their subject in which they have got the masters degree. I remember one person who has done doctorate in Physics and has a specialization in electronics at master’s level in Physics, could not tell the full form of IC (Integrated Circuit). Not only this, when he was asked to find the resistors from among the number of items lying in a box which contained the capacitors, transistors and other electronic gadgets, he could not identify the same. This shows the kind of learning which had been done by him while he was in the school and university. This is not an isolated case, but there are a number of probable teachers who would be in the same condition.  That is why I assert this, time and again that the syllabus and teaching learning in and outside the classroom should be such that the students have a practical experience in the real sense and not only the theoretical knowledge of the concept.  This needs proper infrastructure in the school in terms of space and laboratories etc., the syllabus should be such that it provides enough scope to the students and the teachers to go beyond the boundaries of the textbook. But the problem is that in most of the cases the teachers struggle to complete the syllabus and in this process the concept of ‘creative thinking’ and ‘learning by doing’ is lost somewhere.
The other problem is that we have misinterpreted the word ‘failure’ and it is conveyed in a similar manner to our students.  Failing is not always bad because it is the stepping stone to success and this makes us to perform in a different way. I remember, when some children would come to me to get one or the other problem solved by me, then my first reaction would be to ask them, where and how did they try to solve that problem. My advice at the same time to them used to be to try to solve it themselves three four times and then only come to me for the solution. I never solved the problem myself but made the children to get the solution themselves. This gave a lot of confidence to the children that they were able to solve that difficult problem on their own and not necessarily the teacher. This way they were able to think creatively and this learning was almost forever. 
I would like to reiterate here that I had written in the previous article.  It was regarding the learning of simple scientific concepts by the children with the help of toys made by them from the waste material which can be made available to them at home and the school as well.  The costly toys may not be of much use because if these are broken the parents may not like it, but the cheap toys made by the children themselves will help them in many ways. Even if these are broken they can be made once again without spending much money.
So, in the end, I would like to suggest that innovation in examination and evaluation system is important but the transaction of curriculum is equally important if not more important. So, universities and school educational boards must work in tandem for the betterment of the overall learning of the students so that many of them can prove to be role models for the students when they become the teachers in schools or universities because the children are influenced the most by their teachers.