It is unbelievable, our Spring Term is soon to be over. My students and I are now sprinting towards the finish line blazing through last few days of school. For me, it is mostly just preparing the final grades of my students after giving their final exam last week. I understand for many of my students, it was indeed a torturous week. Although I know some students of mine are never intimidated by challenging situations such as test-taking, still the majority of them never seem to escape the heart fluttering sensations when put in test taking hot seat. I have been there, and I know exactly how it feels.
Cognizant of anxiety’s adverse effect on students’ performance, I make sure to try and lessen it before it becomes debilitating. According to some studies, extreme anxiety can raise the affective filter and form a mental block, and no test takers ever want to experience that! So, one strategy I often utilize is lowering the affective filter, and (caution-shifting to way back machine) this reminded me of my former dentist during one of my nerve-wracking root canal procedures. Like many patients, the disturbing process of drilling teeth doesn’t appeal to me at all. Upon one memorable visit, my apathetic dentist came in to the room all business with his casual greeting to his patients, “Hello. How are you doing?” Somebody who would answer that question with “fantastic!” must be lying. For me, it was hard to pretend everything was fine when all I could think of was the upcoming ordeal, so I replied with all honesty, “Very nervous, doctor.” Obviously, I was soliciting some sympathy from him combined with assurance that I would survive the torment – but NO. Without hesitation, my doctor, who was busy putting on his gloves, bluntly retorted, “Well, at least I am not…” While other people may consider my doctor’s response uncaring, his perfect cadence in delivering the line made me laugh out loud. I thought that it was funny. Just imagine if we were both nervous; I’m sure that would be disastrous. That little bit of detraction was all I needed.
Language instruction, of course, is different from practicing dentistry. To be an effective instructor, I believe language learners should be able to learn in an environment that can give them the freedom to voice their views, ask questions, and make mistakes without fear of humiliation. That being said, during testing I make it a point to remind my students even before I read the test instructions that, pass or fail, their score doesn’t define who they are. As an instructor, it is important for me to create an “emotional eco-system” in my class where my students feel that they matter to me and that their work and efforts have value. So here are some activities, or a little bit of distraction, that I usually do before giving high stakes testing.
- Strategically schedule the test – usually a week before grade submission in order to give me and my students some wiggle room in case re-testing is needed;
- Providing my students with test coverage;
- Offering a practice test to familiarize them with the upcoming test style and my expectations;
- Affording clear rubrics for grading;
- Returning test papers after correcting them;
- Discussing the correct answers and giving opportunities for my students to “notice” or recognize their mistakes so they can learn from them; and,
- Offering words of appreciation and encouragement.
I must say, if there’s one thing that I have learned this semester after teaching for many years, it is to strictly adhere to my standard grading policy which is to be fair, firm, consistent, and, last but not the least, kind.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward