We have been a time of trending topics , of hot topics. First it was (and still is) COVID-19, recently the return to school has begun to be on everyone’s lips and, in pure order of concern, once they begin to return to school and resume activity, in The mouth of teachers and families begins to appear the black cloud of what has been – is and always will be – one of the fundamental concerns in education: evaluation.
The question that grips teachers, families and students is: what will the evaluation be like now, when not even classes are totally face-to-face and many classrooms are being confined?
An unprecedented situation in modern history that makes the task of the school, to educate, become tremendously complex and a concept (from which a practice is derived), evaluation, in which it seems to matter what is investigated, what work, since in the end it is condemned to be eternally linked to the type of practices related to the ugliest part of it: the qualification.
And now that?
To begin with, if the concern behind the question, how to evaluate? It is raised from the position of trying to know what the students have learned, we are not on the right track in these new circumstances.
We are aware that it is normal for this to be the starting point, it is what we have widely internalized. But if we think about it with an open mind, it no longer makes sense.
We could raise here a whole debate on paradigms and educational perspectives on what learning means , but lately it is more practical and more clarifying to raise the difficulty of measuring learning using the modern machines that we have to see brain activity and that allow us to know which areas of the brain receive more oxygen and blood and, from there, understand which areas are working the most.
But we do not know anything else: we have an idea of what the work of these brain areas is, but we do not know what are the meanings that are being related there, building and, therefore, creating (or not) learning.
Every year in our undergraduate and graduate classes, courses, etc. we do an exam with real questions from 1st of ESO, and rarely someone passes.
It seems obviously daring for teachers to make blunt statements on a daily basis about how much, how and what specific things our students learn or not.
As we are all aware to a certain degree of this uncertainty when it comes to measuring learning, we are inclined towards what is easily measurable: the fidelity of reproduction of what is taught. But this may – or may not – have to do with learning. We will not have any certainty about it.
Accepting this idea creates an almost panic situation for us. But if we breathe and think, it really opens up a world of possibilities for us on how to work the evaluation.
Powerful activities to learn
Because if ultimately what our students consume to learn are the activities that educators do for them, and to this we add that we will always have a very high degree of uncertainty about what they are learning, the enormous horizon that opens before from us comes to tell us that the best way to guarantee that our students learn as much as possible is to propose the best possible activities, the richest. And of that we do have extensive and accumulated knowledge: about what kind of characteristics of the activities are more powerful for learning and which are not.
We know that if there is methodological plurality, it is more likely that there will be quality learning , we know that if the students investigate (this implies searching, reading, understanding, analyzing and contrasting information) it is more likely that quality learning will occur, we know that if there is intrinsic motivation, it is much more likely that there is learning and we know that for this it is essential that students find the value of the use of knowledge (as a use value it does not count to answer a test well) of the theory that they work in class. That is where we have to put all our improvement efforts if we want our teaching to have an impact on learning.
This opens up new questions, new horizons. For starters, the responsibility changes: ultimately (but not all) it is the teachers who create the activities for our students. If these don’t work, it’s our job to transform them. It is no longer the exclusive fault of the students who do not study, who do not make an effort.
But on the other hand, it awakens a need that we already perceived in the Evaluation Scenarios research in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: the opinion of teachers : the importance of having truthful and useful information to optimize these activities. How do our students experience these activities? Do you see them useful? Do they serve you? They have senses? Much more, in a confined or semi-confined education.
And here is the key: since, to make improvements, we need the answers to these questions to be honest, it is essential that a grade is not given, since it is practically impossible for the students (conditioned by that grade) to be sincere and not us say what you think we want to hear.
Keys to evaluation
What is my advice? How to evaluate in this situation of exceptionality? Where to start?
- Let’s forget the obsession to find out what the students have learned: believe it or not, it is a slab that prevents them from moving towards their learning.
- Let’s focus on trying to collect information on what they think of their activities: if they like them, if they see sense, usefulness, value …
- Let us separate the grade for your subject from class work as far as possible. Believe it or not, they also need to stop focusing on the note to focus on something as important as their learning.
- Transparency is essential. Given that grading is a legal obligation, let us clearly offer on the first day of class what they have to do to get a good grade in their subject and with what criteria that task will be assessed.
- Let’s not make grading tasks complex. The less complex the way to get the grade, the better.
Only then can we, students and teachers, focus on what is truly important, learning, and not on the false measure of it. Because that is our job: that the students learn as much as possible.
Author Bio: Manuel Fernandez Navas is Assistant Professor of the Department of Didactics and School Organization at the University of Malaga