At my previous school – dare I say it’s name? (Kajonkietsuksa – one of the top three schools on Phuket in terms of popularity and success) – I became somewhat of an expert at creating exams. For the mid-term and final exams we had a definite timeline for writing these, going through a rigorous approval process. I almost always had my exams approved on the first or second submission; they wanted several different sections in several different formats (short answers, multiple choice, matching, etc.) which gave the students a real fighting chance at doing well.
My current school doesn’t bother with mid-term exams (at least for the English classes) and the final exams fall in September and February. Last year, I created a term one exam based on those I’d written at Kajonkietsuksa but simplified as it was the first year they’d had a foreign-language teacher at Piboonsawasdee. There were an average of ten to fifteen questions on the different grades’ exams and I had to handwrite each student’s long Thai name, student number, and nickname on each paper as the kids themselves couldn’t do this themselves! Marking over five hundred exams were a real bitch and the majority of kids just didn’t try at all – if they wrote anything at all it was complete gibberish.
In addition to the exam score, I need to compute points based on behavior, attendance, participation, etc. With more than thirty kids in each class – some approaching fifty – it was difficult trying to match the exam with the individual (I gave up long ago trying to keep the names straight; some classes have four or five kids all nicknamed “May”). The result was that I had a huge pile of papers nobody seemed to care about and I eventually threw away. The scores were dismal.
At the end of the second term this past February I thought I was doing well by designing oral exams (at the recommendation of several other ECC teachers). I set activities within each classroom and then pulled individual students into the hallway one at a time. I spent a few minutes with each, asking questions and testing their responses as well as pointing at pictures to elicit English-language equivalents. At the time I gave them their exam score I also rated their behavior, etc. It was a win-win situation – better overall scores, the kids gained confidence in speaking, and I was able to accurately compute all of the necessary tabulations. I also didn’t have a mass of trash to haul away.
I’ve been spending this weekend writing new exams for the end of this year’s term one. I was approached by my Thai supervisor at Piboon late last week and asked to HANDWRITE tests within these parameters: NO PICTURES, NO MATCHING, 30 multiple-choice questions for each of the five grade levels that I teach. Now, at the beginning of this school year they told me that Thai teachers would teach the students English grammar (none of them did this however, as most cannot even speak the language – they just wrote long passages out of books that the students had to copy off of the blackboard into their notebooks without any understanding of what they were looking at). I was to just deal with the vocabulary which I take off of the ECC curriculum. The school’s administration wanted me to help the kids produce their own picture dictionaries.
Of course, I did touch on pieces of grammar here and there particularly with the upper levels (the “1” sections of P4, P5, and P6). And there was quite of bit of back-and-forth conversation within the lessons using the vocabulary. But as far as the kids being able to read THIRTY questions on an exam and trying to pick the correct response from FOUR choices each is bridging on the impossible. If the kids were overwhelmed by 10-15 questions on their term one exams last year, they will openly revolt upon seeing these! I don’t necessarily want to make things too easy for the students – they need to work hard to receive a good grade – but I don’t want them to give up either. They’ll be more apt to want to learn if it is fun and light, that the end result seems obtainable rather than completely out of reach.
I’m also a bit overwhelmed myself. Five exams with thirty questions each (when I haven’t really been teaching things non-visually) with a limited deadline – they want these turned in on Tuesday. Guess what I’ve been doing with my holiday weekend? And this isn’t the most distressing part – it’s the fact that they want me to HANDWRITE these. I can barely read my own handwriting these days as I type everything. But they want a Thai teacher to transcribe the exams into the proper format with the official headers, etc. I suspect this is one reason why they’ve asked for a lack of pictures (have they ever heard of cutting and taping and then photocopying for a master?). But I can imagine the plethora of typos that will crop up in the typed version. I doubt they will ask me to proofread them. At least they will handle the photocopying this year…
But I’ll do this task. And I will smile at the Thai staff with whom I deal with – as always. I can’t say I’m looking forward to marking the exams. Or trying to match the names with the columns on my scoring spreadsheets. The paperwork was much greater at my old school but it was all so much easier and better organized,
Wish me luck. More importantly, say a few prayers for my students. They will need all the help they can get!!