Exams

Well, the last few weeks have been a bit of a blur to be honest.

Online exams always sounded like they would be challenging and so it proved, although perhaps in a different way than I’d expected.

The academy decided (quite rightly in my opinion) not to go ahead with formal practice exams for the young learners, so we teachers were asked to come up with our own assessments using the materials already available to us. After an initial flap, we asked for and were provided with some clarification as to what was actually being asked of us and I discovered that it wasn’t so bad. We basically had to choose materials to use for the assessments for each level, write ‘can do’ statements relating to the skills covered by each assessment piece and then decide how we would get the learners to submit their answers to us.

And indeed, getting learners to submit their answers turned out to be the most challenging part. Perhaps I should have been clearer with them that they were being assessed, but having been told that we should avoid stressing them by using differentiated assessment tasks, I thought perhaps it was best not to stress them out by telling them it was an exam. But maybe I was wrong.

For some of the tasks I’d decided that the best thing to do was to ask the learners to send their answers to me via chat. Now, that might sound challenging for a 7 year-old but believe me, they know how to use the chat box when they want to. They also know that if they refuse to use it, there’s nothing I can do about it.

For other tasks, I’d decided it would be better to put them into breakout rooms and go and speak to them individually or in pairs. Some of the learners were very obliging and chatted away with me quite happily. Others claimed not to be able to see the big ‘join breakout room’ button that appeared in the middle of the screen and refused to press it. And yet others joined the breakout room and then said very little. I did what I could. I marked them on the skills they had demonstrated. I left blanks where I was unable to make an assessment. It was the best I could do.

All in all, the young learner assessments were challenging and took quite a lot of time, but at least we marked them pretty much in the moment. The teen exams were another matter altogether.

It started off OK. The first exams were listening and reading – both multiple choice, both quick and easy to mark (assuming the answer papers reached me, which is another long and rather dull story). Speaking was done in class and I managed to mark almost all of them in the moment this time, which felt like a victory. But then there was the writing exam.

I remember in December I spent about 18 hour marking writing exams. I’d told myself I wouldn’t do the same again, that I would be faster. I’d only spend 4 minutes per question, I told myself. 4 minutes x 2 questions x 60 students = 8 hours.

So, did I manage it? Er, no. Actually, I ended up printing off all the writing answers, as marking them on screen felt like hard work (and didn’t allow me to use my coloured pen technique!). Just printing them must have taken a couple of hours. And then I probably averaged 8 minutes per question – although I definitely got faster towards the end, with my cheerleader keeping me on track and bringing me cups of tea. So, all in all, I probably ended up taking about 18 hours again.

But it’s over now. I don’t have to mark any more writing exams until December. I can’t say I’m upset about that!

We have a week left to work – we finish on Friday 26th but 24th and 25th are days off. 

I’ve really enjoyed teaching my students this year and am looking forward to continuing to work with them next year, but I have to say I feel ready for a break. It’s been a long hard slog through since Christmas.

I don’t yet know whether I’ll be able to get any work over the summer. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of teaching work going this year, for obvious reasons, and of course, there are lots of temporarily unemployed teachers looking to pick up a few hours. If I can, I will. But I’ve plenty of other things to keep me busy – not least pulling together the collection of short stories I’ve been threatening to produce for the last few years.

And then in September we’ll – probably – be back in the academy. That’ll bring its own challenges (socially distanced group activities, anyone?) but I’m sure we’ll adapt, just as we did to the online teaching environment.

And in the meantime, I get to enjoy two months of Valencian sunshine. I can’t wait.

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