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Teachers learn from teachers

by Cameron Ahmad October 25, 2011
Teachers learn from teachers

How should teachers assess the way their students learn? How can they ensure that they are providing meaningful feedback?

These are only a few of the questions answered by the panel of experts featured in the Colloquium on Effective Assessment Practices, held at Concordia last Tuesday.

The event, aimed at improving the way teachers communicate with their students, featured a panel of experts in the fields of teaching and learning who addressed the crowded room of teachers, TAs, and students. They presented examples from their research and experiences, including innovative teaching practices and ideas on inceasing student engagement in the classroom.

“Often, exams don’t test knowledge, they merely test a student’s ability to handle stress,” said panelist Dr. Jennifer Clark, academic director of the faculty of arts and sciences at the University of New England. “By making the implicit explicit, teachers can reduce fear by role-playing, and thus build confidence in the student.”

Clark suggested that teachers themselves perform the tasks they ask of their students, in order to show them the correct processes. As a result, students no longer waste time on worrying about how to do the task, and can actually focus on getting their work done.

Panelist Earle Abrahamson, author, educator, and chair of a multinational teaching fellowship, developed a mentorship system between first-year and final year students. This way, “[students] know what to expect from teachers because they have access to the experiences of their mentors,” he said, “and it helps them know how to succeed.”

Dr. Diane Bateman, assessment specialist and researcher at Champlain College Saint-Lambert, has one-on-one meetings with her students before she submits their final grades.

“They need feedback before submitting their work,” she said, “so that they can build knowledge and work towards a grade.” Her suggestion was met by criticism from a JMSB management professor in the audience, who thought this form of formative assessment would shelter students from the competitiveness of the real world.

Much of the ensuing discussion was in support of Dr. Bateman’s idea that, in fact, it is “the responsibility of the teacher to develop the student, not just let them sink or swim.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Lesley-Jane Eales-Reynolds, director of learning and teaching at the University of Westminster in London, told the audience that “what is important is that we can design assessments that have real meaning and value to a student, which motivate them to succeed and to develop higher order thinking skills.”

In an interview, Eales-Reynolds spoke of the challenges teachers face in preparing their students for real-world problems.

“Getting the assessment right is absolutely key to getting students to engage and be enthusiastic about their learning,” she said. “It can also be a way to help students engage more fully with their subject and get excited about it and get passionate.”

“It’s so rewarding when you see a student’s work, and you suddenly witness “the Aha!” moment, when a student finally gets what it is you’re trying to get across to them – when they finally discover for themselves that really exciting moment,” she added. “And assessment is a really important aspect of that learning experience.”

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