Evaluating your learners progress is a continuous process. It is a given. If a good pupil’s grades slip, if a weak child’s results suddenly become spectacular, if the whole class does not produce the expected outcome, we should react at once. Our eyes and ears are perpetually attuned to everything our pupils do. Informal methods of evaluation are many and varied. We may take mental or real notes, both about individuals and about groups. We may stop and return, patiently explaining anew a theme which proved to be unexpectedly hard to grasp. We may condense the explanations if the topic goes well, and move on.
Tests and all sorts of formal evaluations are usually scheduled into our weekly and term plans. Once a unit is finished, there is a test of some sort. At the end of the term, there is another, extended test which may include the kinds of exercises aimed at checking all the four traditional skills. In senior classes, the aspects may be divided into several days of tests and examinations. These are all part and parcel of our work. Any teacher knows how hard it is to keep up grading papers, and to listen to pupils discourse on the required topics, one after another after another.
We may come up with our own ways and methods of evaluation, which may differ according to the children’s ages and levels. Same age and same textbook do not together equal same level. One pupil or even one class may be well ahead of, or well behind their peers. At times, we have to adjust and modify a test. The old principle of the Gaussian Curve in test results helps us see when we are in the clear and can go on to a new theme, or when we need to look at the old one again.
Self-assessment is fine as long as your students are aware of the rules. They should not be afraid to tell you about their problems and mistakes. Once you give them the keys to all the exercises, be sure to repeat that no matter how many answers may be wrong, they are not going to be scolded or punished in any way. Then this kind of checking is really effective. A child may be equally overwhelmed both by the very good and the very bad results they get. You see at a glance what needs to be done in each case. I used self assessment regularly with children; there has never been any cheating. Adults do cheat though.
When it comes to peer assessment, I remain skeptical. This is my own personal point of view based on years of experience. I believe it can be done if you are sure you can control all the possible endings. You should be clear about your own aims in doing that, too. If you tell your pupils to swap their exercise books and check each other’s work, what do you hope to achieve? Young children may not be prepared for such an activity, and honestly miss some mistakes, or “overlook” them in order to help out a friend. The older your pupils are, the more they may see it as a way to “punish” someone, or as revenge. And let us remember that teenagers may feel they need to exact revenge on someone for simply being smarter or more handsome than they are, or what they perceive as “odd”. Let me tell you a story.
A homeroom teacher at my school once decided to conduct a psychological test in her senior class, without warning the pupils, and without informing the parents or the school administration. She placed a chair in front of the class, and asked each pupil in turn to come out and sit there facing their peers, who were supposed to say all the kind words they could about their classmate. It was what is called “a problem class”. The experiment turned into a verbal bullying session in no time at all, and the teacher could do nothing to stop it. The one straight-A student was the only person to produce some kind words about every classmate, but she flat out refused to come out herself after she saw what was happening, which I personally think was wiser than what the teacher was trying to do. The net result was, the children were all traumatized. The teacher quietly resigned and even left the city.
This of course is an extreme example. It does show the inherent dangers in peer assessment. Once again, before using this type of evaluation, we need to be sure we know what we are doing.
When dealing with teenagers, we have to formulate the aims and the rules very clearly. It goes well together with self assessment actually, as a way to double-check everything. Two heads are better than one. Pupils may check their own work against the keys provided, and then swap notebooks to be sure they got everything right. It works well if friends do it for each other. If there is a pupil who refuses to show their work to anybody but the teacher, the reasons may vary. I usually follow the old principle formulated by Sherlock Holmes: when a woman was fidgeting and everybody thought she might be the criminal, it turned out she was worried that her nose might be shiny because she forgot to powder it. Meaning, a teenager’s notebook may contain drawings, declarations of love, phone numbers et cetera. One should be especially careful around those children who raise our flags, like geniuses, slow-thinking or isolated ones, in short, any child who seems to be somewhat apart from the class for whatever reasons.
Last but not least, I believe the actual grading is always to be done by the teacher.