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Live checking! My experiment with formative assessment

Sonal Bakshi

Teachers often rely on tests and exams to understand how well their students are learning the subject. However, the traditional approaches of assessment end with giving marks or grades to the students. What if teachers could do more than just give marks to students? In this article, an educator tries a different approach to assessing answer sheets and shares her experiences from it.

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Photo by Van Tay Media on Unsplash

We teachers begin every new semester with renewed enthusiasm. We revisit the course content keeping in mind the new faces, their class interactions, etc., and deliver the updated content with great interest, assuming that the learners will absorb everything with equal zeal. Then come the tests and exams.

Delighted, satisfied, confused, and disheartened, tend to be my reactions in increasing order while checking my students’ answer sheets! There is a famous quote that teaching is not equivalent to learning”. A teacher can be very good at the subject, as well as delivering the content in the classroom. However, on the recipient side, students show a range of grasping abilities. A good classroom session from a teacher’s viewpoint does not necessarily mean that everyone is on the same page of learning. Many educators may experience this, but often only much later, while checking the answer books after the exam, when all that is left to do is evaluate in isolation, and release grades. This is the summative mode of assessment commonly used. 

At Nirma University, we are introduced to the formative’ mode of assessment in which students learn from continuous evaluation and feedback received throughout the semester, and not only in the end. 

Differences between formative and summative assessment approaches

On the lines of formative assessment, I decided to hold an open book exam (of one hour duration and 50 marks) for a small group of 26 students of Human Genetics, an elective course. Open book exams do not force the students to memorise the content, allowing them to analyse the content to answer the question. Easy in a way, but difficult when the examinee is unfamiliar with synthesising information in a time-bound manner. 

Since the content was available to them in the open-book exam, the evaluation was done on relevance, some original preamble, etc., and not on their memory. Furthermore, I decided to evaluate students in their presence to avoid forgetting fine points of feedback personalised for them.

Live paper checking’ – the term flashed in my mind under the effect of live dhokla, live dosa’, etc. This was surely a spicy, tasty experience! I called the students one by one. I explained what was missing or why an answer was not meeting expectations and then asked them to give marks for their write-up. They turned out to be more stringent than me in giving marks; no one was generous to themself!

The myth that access to information is knowledge’ was effectively broken, as students confessed to thinking that an open book exam would be easy, but because they had not studied earlier, it wasn’t easy at all! Many said they would prefer the conventional no-book exam as they were not very familiar with the book, and more so because at the postgraduate level, no single book has structured content, like school textbooks.

It was indeed satisfying to be able to convey, point out, and suggest everything that was needed for the handwriting, grammar, technical points, and overall tips to each student. Students also found this formative kind of assessment full of learning. 

It is normal for an educator to feel that checking answer sheets is just another big task waiting to be finished after teaching. Instead, I experienced that the exercise of checking in the presence of the stakeholders, i.e. learners themselves, made it something to look forward to. Maybe this was because of the satisfaction of doing some meaningful work, the benefit of which was also recognised by the students instantly. Coming back to the quote teaching is not equivalent to learning”, hopefully, the approach of personalised evaluations made learning more linear to teaching. 

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