The class stride in, oblivious to their fate, expectant faces waiting to see what fun activities lie in store today.
“Where’s the learning objective, miss?”
“What’s the mystery word?”
“What are we doing today, miss?”
Already they sense that something is amiss. Their rituals are missing. They start to shift uneasily, eyeing me in their seats.
I smile at them and try to sound convincing as I say, “We’re going to do a fun quiz today!”
It’s too late. They’ve seen the papers!
“It’s a test!” someone shouts.
Fear fills the room. A communal groan rises to a crescendo and then fades away again. They wait, despondent, forlorn.
It doesn’t matter how I try to hide a termly assessment; it doesn’t matter how much I insist that I just want them to try their best, the class is divided. There are those who shrug and accept defeat in their seats. There are others who start filling up with panic, panic that is going to block their train of thought. There are those who sit smugly in their seats, knowing that tests come easily to them and they’re confident they will do well. This last group is definitely in the minority.
It is clear the pressure is starting to get to them when I say, “Turn over your papers and write your name on the top!”
A hand goes up. “Do we write our name on the bottom?”
“No, on the top!”
Another hand. “Can we write our name on it?”
So why do I test my pupils? I know full well what they can all do from their progress in lessons. I watch the way they answer questions all the time, I listen to their oral work in pairs and I read their books to check for comprehension. I analyse how they respond when I ask them all to answer on whiteboards: who is first; who is looking at someone else’s; who is thinking carefully; who hasn’t written anything? As a non-core subject in a primary school, I don’t really need to give them a summative assessment to know what their ability in the subject is. Not only that, but I often find that the test doesn’t always reflect what they are actually capable of. It’s a very unnatural way of showing whether you truly understand a language or not.
Nevertheless, there are a few benefits. Firstly, there are always children who do not like to give anything away in class. They are reluctant to contribute, and when pushed to do so are often hesitant and unsure. Sometimes, a test is a chance for them to shine; to show what they know on paper when they have time to think about it and have no eyes staring at them, seemingly judging them. They perform better on paper. I know, because I was one of those children.
Then there are those who you think have understood but are really only relying on others, or repeating something that they’ve heard before. They can’t manipulate the language themselves and will need further work on the topic. The test highlights this need.
And finally, there is the all-important learning for life reason. The fact that we will all face tests in life at one time or another makes these insignificant tests more valuable. The more practice children are given at an early stage, the better they will perform in those tests that do carry more significance later on. Being put under pressure every now and then and facing the risk of making mistakes, making them and overcoming the outcome, are all important life lessons. For those who are overly confident and don’t do quite as well as they expected, resilience can be learned. For those who are tentative but give it a go, they gain a sense of achievement. For those who give up at the first hurdle but see others persist and do well, they will hopefully learn that the effort might just be worth it the next time.
Whichever category the children who are taking the test fall into, they all have something to learn. And that is why they come to school: not to learn how to conjugate an ER verb, or even to understand how Latin nouns decline, but to learn the skills that will set them up for life.