[De]mythologising school exams

| November 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Daniela Pitt

SAHETI School in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, has taken a brave step to run an innovative pilot assessment programme at Grade 10 level as a replacement for mid-year examinations.

There has been substantial work done globally on different forms and strategies for assessment. Researchers concur that learning is more complex and varied than what we had understood in the past. As such, formal examinations offer one means of assessment that allows us to benchmark performance, but there are countless new and varied forms of assessment that are as challenging, if not more so.

SAHETI introduces SAM

Working with global research – in particular, project-based learning in primary schools in Australia and Europe – SAHETI School structured a three-week Subject Assessment Module, which we neologised with the acronym SAM, inspired by Dr Seuss’s anthropomorphic cat with no ears. The aim of our SAM project was to inspire pupils to consider topics beyond the curriculum, while tapping into core competencies of 21st century learning such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking and research.

To afford each pupil sufficient time for research and study, as well as daily contact time with the teacher who facilitated each subject, we took the giant leap of allowing pupils to select only three SAM subjects out of their seven or eight Grade 10 subjects. From our research, we understood that keeping groups to between six and 14 students per group is optimal to permit close collaboration and monitoring.

New possibilities every day

Our creative and dedicated teaching staff certainly stretched the Grade 10 students’ thinking and enticed them with varied and exciting options such as creating a short film in Afrikaans; understanding shadow theatre (Modern Greek); the art of short story writing (English) and a forensic-style crime scene investigation (CSI) (physical sciences), to list but a few.

For three weeks, Grade 10s’ SAM days comprised attending feedback sessions, research, collaboration and Socratic seminars. Daily monitoring via rubrics and comments allowed teachers to monitor each pupil’s learning and contribution. Group dynamics and teamwork became essential in ensuring success in the SAM subjects. The more enthusiastic adolescents thrived on the quasi-university ambience and responsibility, while the reticent learners were drawn into the process. In the last week, each SAM subject culminated in a form of varied assessment that comprised PowerPoint presentations, among other forms of assessment.

Useful feedback

We offered parents a detailed report of daily progress. The end of the term arrived with Grade 10s and teachers feeling a sense of accomplishment, although exhausted by the committed and intense approach.

While comments for the programme were, on the whole, mostly favourable, with enjoyment and researched learning featuring high on the list, it also met with challenges. Administration was extensive, and while our team of dedicated teachers ensured the success of the programme, the fine balance in time management was taxing. In addition, there is apprehension for some teachers, parents and pupils that Grade 10s did not write mid-year examinations, and that perhaps this will disadvantage them in the year-end assessments.

An important pilot project

Of the feedback received from pupils after their SAM experience, one comment echoes in my head: “Thanks to this, I was drawn to consider a new career.” Such an outcome surely makes any pilot programme worthwhile. Will we continue with it? Our committee will certainly consider the advantages and disadvantages. To place and observe pupils in new and different learning environments creates an extraordinary experience. Was it not Pablo Picasso who aptly stated: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”?

Category: Summer 2016

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