Sunday 12 June 2011

State exams - where have we teachers failed our students?

Students in Latvia are taking the school leaving exams in June and I have been marking the student speaking exam recorded on CDs (which is the procedure for the centralized state exams here). I have a stack of CDs with recorded answers of anonymous students from different parts of Latvia whose speaking skill I have to evaluate.

Task 1 is Interview - the student has to answer the questions on a certain topic read by the teacher.
Task 2 is Role Play - the student has to interact with the interviewer following the script on the exam paper.
Task 3 is Monologue - the student has to give a summary of an extract from an article and his own opinion about the theme.

It might be a coincidence that the students whose exams I have been marking come from the "weak" schools where the majority of learners have poor knowledge and learning skills in general. However, considering the hundreds of answers I have heard, the conclusion is depressing.

Student answers to the questions conspicuously bring out our failure to give them understanding and knowledge of the issues that are part of our daily life and the society we live in. The questions where many students lack the scarcest knowledge all center round technologies, social networks, online activities.

We teach what we know ourselves. We cannot teach what we do not know.

Can teachers discuss social networking with their students if they have not made the acquaintance of the virtual world and learned about the trends in online environment? Our students are there, they just do not know everything has a name and everything has a purpose.
Technologies can be explained, taught and used. If you tell your students that what they do online every day for hours is social networking, they will no doubt understand it and probably remember because they learn easily what they like.

There is a great website Social Networking dealing with the topics a teacher should know about social networks, addiction to online sites, cyber-bullying etc. It gives a down-to-earth explanation about what is social networking. Teachers can turn the text into a reading or discussion task and they won't need more than a couple of lessons before their students have learned the basics of the subject.
More sites have been given in the handout.

I have made a table with a few exam questions and typical student answers which fall short of understanding of the topic. There are some suggestions for the teachers about how to give their students some knowledge about social networking and online activities. 

Download the document here.

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