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From fright to fun!

Sabahat Khan Tatari

EdChat™ Nomad
Jun 14, 2020
Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan
Days, months, decades gone, generations have seen and are still experiencing the most non productive, redundant and erroneous methods of academic assessments. In this era where sharing of research findings and discoveries is no longer matter of hours but minutes, presence of noticeable section of teacher community getting soothing pleasure in making assessment as a ‘tool of anxiety or fright’ for pupils is indeed an unacceptable and worrisome practice.

The fossilised practice exists primarily because a number of institutions have been perpetually implementing curricula that make their teachers focus on the limited input and lower order competencies. A large section of academicians are either willingly ignorant of or complacent towards the techniques of innovative, learner friendly assessments.

Such practices are in obvious contrast to daily observations. We as parents, teachers or in any other adult role, experience children’s alert thinking process on regular basis. These young minds observe, comprehend, analyse and share their evaluative comments complemented with new ideas based on (taught/untaught) conceptual understanding. Consequently they are being noticed and appreciated by even those adults who themselves may not have gotten the chance of being properly educated. These include parents, who could be placed lowest on the literacy scale, even they enthusiastically share that their kindergarten kids put up most knowledgeable questions. Also proudly narrate incidents when they got pleasantly surprised or embarrassingly shocked because of kids’ pertinent and prompt comments or bold questioning. These young minds do not only amaze us with their curiosity and intelligent inquisitiveness also by their diverse mode of expressions. Without being exposed to any formal training or proper education some can design and create wonderful visuals or performing art works, while others may surprise us by their poetic expressions.

What all these prove?..

Undoubtedly such examples are convincing attestations, making us realize the presence of well developed grasping capacity of young exploring minds.

Despite such multiple concrete examples the rigid mindsets only accept stereotype examinations and find it difficult to digest an academic environment promoting text books free curriculum or paper-pencil free assessments. Proponents of traditional assessment methods criticize such initiatives as academic gimmicks. Strongly fossilised ideas negate the concept of teaching/learning as fun and therefore for them it is unbelievable to comprehend assessment process through playful tasks. Non traditional assessments tasks such as; panel discussions, impromptu, role plays, mathematical concepts through music or art, science games, conducting surveys and making questionnaires could not be used as assessment tools to the prevalent understanding. Nevertheless all aforementioned tasks could be effectively used to assess students provided teachers have been trained to develop appropriate criteria and rubrics. The process becomes more effective when learners are being trained to contribute in criteria and rubrics development.

On the other hand many academicians are found to be rigidly unconvinced for approving such strategies and procedures.

Possible reasons of this denial could be:
  • mindsets
  • lack of exposure and professional development opportunities
  • desire to remain in comfort zone
  • disbelief on innovative strategies
It is paradoxical when as a parent or teacher we get easily convinced that our children/students are young, curious minds gifted with rich intelligence making them inquire, explore, report, narrate, sketch, dance and much more … Based on the same as reflective adults we need to ponder that:
  • Why do we opt for systems that curb all these intelligences, limiting thinking minds to reproduce the regurgitated input again and again?
  • Why not effectively utilise children’s observations and curiosity by making these skills as assessments for learning processes?
  • Why not make students enjoy assessment as they enjoy play?
  • Why not design assessments to assess the conceptual understanding rather than sheer memory?

Why not effectively use the developed higher order competencies; analysis, synthesis, evaluation which usually remain under used as compared to overly assessed lower order competencies; memory and comprehension

Curricula based on theme based, transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary parameters provide frameworks for the inclusion of diagnostic, formative and summative assessments. All three forms of assessment provide data for the applied teaching/learning strategies. For each individual student, such data need to be carried forward as s/he progresses from primary to high school level as it can provide beneficial understanding of pupils’ strengths and areas of improvement to the concerned teachers.

Diagnostic assessment needs to be designed as a pre teaching assessment with objectives to give knowledge about students’ prior knowledge for the concept/s to be taught, formative should aim to provide information on the continuous learning process helping teachers to improve or alter teaching/learning strategies and summative assessment for getting information on how well learners have understood the taught concepts and to what extent they can apply the same in a variety of real life scenarios.

A logical, well thought planning and designing of these assessments tools can yield productive outcomes. At the same time, these could be effectively used for making all stake holders; parents, teachers and learners contribute to the conceptual learning process. Assessments designed to assess learners’ learning and teachers’ teaching processes are usually;
  • anxiety free
  • fun filled
  • focusing more on learning outcomes rather than quantitative grades
  • qualitatively analysed helping learners and parents understand the significance of commentary made focusing on strengths and areas of improvement
  • reflections by learners, teachers and parents on the ongoing performance

In contrast traditional assessments have always been anxiety packed as the ultimate focus of all stake holders are ‘GRADES’. It’s a usual scenario that as soon as the exam schedule announced parents, teachers, students get stressed out and this stress kept on increasing with each passing day. It continues till the day result get declared. During the process students encounter innumerable nightmarish episodes and that is primarily because of unavoidable pressure of getting ‘As and just As’. Parents’ and teachers’ expectations make learners experience a number of health and psychological problems to the extent that a few find themselves at the verge suicidal attempts.

Following Table 1 gives a snap shot of the differences between two types of assessments, graded and non –graded.
If our teachers can make learners familiar with the vocabulary used in second column of Table 1, as part of the regular classroom discourse it may help them to be developed as lifelong learners rather than those who rely on short cuts only. This can be conveniently done but with the consent and cooperation of all stake holders.

The actual challenge for school management is to inculcate the culture of effective collaboration among teachers, parents and students. Parents should not be alien to their children classrooms, they need to be regularly invited becoming part of the learning process of their children. Parent community can effectively contribute to the teaching-learning process fulfilling twofold objective; their knowledge enhancement about child’s learning and child’s confidence to perform in his/her parents presence. Parents can contribute in different roles such as team teachers, observers or resource persons. Their spontaneous feedback could certainly be taken as genuine assessment data of the applied teaching practices.

The innovative assessment strategies and inquiry based teaching methods make learners thinkers and explorers. Proper stimuli and scenarios activate the thinking process of inquisitive minds leading to logical questioning. Consequently learners put more questions than teachers which should be the prime objective of each teacher…to make learners question and challenge the input.

Activities and learning engagements that in true sense make learners involve and interact with each other, teacher and the provided contexts help students explore, analyse and evaluate. Such contexts can also be productively used for making learners reflect on their performance. For appropriate implementation of anxiety free assessment environment the self and peer assessment strategies have proven to be considerably effective.

Learners need to be trained and encouraged to write and share their reflective notes as this helps to develop the skills of self assessment.
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We belong to an era of instant occurrences, momentous discoveries, so how can our learners remain entangled in a quagmire of repetition and reproduction obstructing conceptual, thinking processes. We need to expose our pupils with opportunities to challenge our statements, through research and evaluation. For that they need open spaces to explore, analyse and express rather than being shackled in chains and cuffs of ranks, grades or meaningless scores.


Biographical statement
Assistant Professor Tatari has been a teacher trainer and consultant for past fifteen years. She has been associated with institutions including Aga Khan University and Beacon house National University. Currently she is serving Angels International College, International Baccalaureate World School as Director Academics and Professional Development. Her areas of interest are; ICT in education, innovative assessment and inquiry/problem based learning.