This time in our #ELTHeroes series we’re talking to Geetha Durairajan. Geetha has been working as a Professor at the School of English Language Education, EFL University for more than 25 years. She is well known for her book titled ‘Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource’. Her research interests include pedagogic evaluation and teaching English in grassroots multilingual contexts.
1.Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
Well, what do I say? From a where and how long perspective, all my teaching has been at CIEFL/EFLU, starting as a lecturer in 1988, moving to a readership in 2004 and a professorship in 2010, all in the same department, (testing and evaluation). So, I have more than 25 years of experience in teaching a range of courses in ELT. I teach courses at the post graduate and research level. However, I would rather describe my career as an experiential learning curve. From a teacher who was strict and scared, who only wanted to finish teaching what she had planned to do, I have become someone who has understood that lesson plans have to be made, only to be dropped whenever needed. I have also come to realise that although we may teach the same thing to the whole class, what each student (or teacher in my case) takes away will be very different.
My big ‘moment’ was becoming the editor of a new series of teacher education books for SAARC country teachers titled All About Language Teaching, with Cambridge University Press. I have written the first book in the series. It is called: Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource.
2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Assessing learning’?
This would be:
- Listen to your students. Listen to not just what they are saying, but metaphorically speaking, to their mental processes, to their struggles in trying to communicate. So how can one listen to students’ thoughts and processes? More often than not, we assess our students when they speak to us in class. Whenever we do this, instead of just listening to what they are saying, if we pay a little attention to their body language, their facial expressions etc. we will know a lot about who is struggling to make meaning, and who finds it very easy.
- We do need to read a wee bit and educate ourselves about assessing learning.
- Evaluate and assess your students from their perspectives. Ask yourself: Where are they now? How can we help them reach where they need to go?
- Evaluate and assess with responsibility, like a caregiver or parent, and not as a tester and examiner with power.
3. What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways teachers can provide feedback on assessment to their learners?
I think feedback has to be given using a range of ways.
- Most importantly, feedback begins with a smile when your students have attempted something difficult. We often fail to encourage our students and value the attempts made.
- If assessment refers to evaluating students’ responses (whether tests, or assignments) then feedback could be oral or written. But we have to make the time to provide systematic and constructive feedback. We may not have the time to write individual feedback comments on all responses when we have large classes, but we can always take down notes on common problems for our reference and do a feedback class after any test or examination.
- During teaching and even after homework, if we take down notes and share feedback in class the next day, this informed discussion will go a long way, for it will be focused and pinpointed.
4. What three top tips do you have for teachers that can help them implement continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) of learners successfully in their classrooms?
The three top tips would be:
- trust yourself and your judgement of your students.
- observe them and make notes, whenever you can, of what the learners are good at and what they need more help with.
- keep the checklists to help you focus on the aspects you need to assess,. Also try and go beyond the checklists. Every day, close your eyes for two minutes, think of your students and ask yourself: Who learnt best today? Who needed most help? Make a note of your answers based on your intuitive feeling. Use these notes to inform your future teaching.
5. If you had a choice to transform one existing practice of assessing learners in Indian school system, what would it be and why?
I would remove the ‘timed one shot writing’ of closed book examinations that make them nothing more than a memory based reproduction or rather vomiting of pre-processed knowledge. I would make ALL examinations open book so that the shift is from mere reproduction to problem solving. We can then begin testing and assessing higher order skills.
6. What are some of the challenges that teachers might face while assessing learners in a mixed-ability classroom? How can they overcome these challenges?
The same criteria for assessment may not be applicable to all. We might find that the same task itself may not be applicable to all. If this is a teacher-made test, I would advise having a variety of questions with a mix of easy and difficult, but with suggestions to students about who should attempt what. If it’s a public examination we do not have such a choice. Similarly, when evaluating, if I know my students, I comfortably evaluate using different criteria for different students. I will not accept basic errors in accuracy from a student who is quite good, but if some student is struggling to write, I might ignore these errors and value the attempt made.