June 09, 2005

PAN-SIG conference, Tokyo, May 2005

A few weeks ago I attended this conference in Tokyo.

Looking at the website today, I noticed amongst the unvetted abstracts a couple of interesting items, neither of which I attended.

Here's one, on testing:
Mark Chapman will address the uses and misuses of the TOEIC exam by looking at, among other things, the decisions (university placement, promotion or salary increases etc.) which are made on the basis of a TOEIC score. Jeff Hubbell will discuss how formative assessment, unlike norm-referenced tests such as TOEIC which can encourage students to be motivated only by scores, focuses on describing what learners are capable of doing (writing short memos or e-mails in English, for example). It will be argued that this type of assessment can lead to more continuous and deeper learning.

In some of our freshmen classes (as I mentioned previously) we have created 10 communicative tasks for students to do, and we have the performance of these tasks as the goal of the class; that is the "final exam" (except it's not at the end of the semester; we've decided to have students work at their own pace and when they feel ready to do a task they come to the front in pairs and perform it).

We are asking students to show us what they can do with the language, which is something new, I think, given their previous educational experience of being tested to death such that the testing itself becomes the goal - it's learning for testing, and rarely the other way around.

Of course, the writer of the abstract above assumes that "deeper learning" is A GOOD THING and a desirable objective. I don't disagree, but, as Aaron points out here, educational insitutions are not created necessarily with this objective in view, perhaps particularly in Japan. So I think if this is our goal, we (teachers) need to spend a bit more time and energy making this explicit to our learners, talking about it with them, and by our actions (and evaluation methods) making it real. It was partly with this in mind that I have tried to start a dialogue with some students using the Internet.

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