‘No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Assessment plays an important role in the Touchstone Blended Learner’s experience.  As with any other course of study it is used to establish students’ level of knowledge and ability before and after study, to review material and to teach.

Take this activity for example.  The learner is asked to listen to a conversation to answer the questions.  To help her, the audio script and a glossary are available, the students can check her answers and try again.  To many teachers, this might seem like we are providing ways for the students to cheat.  However, we are not really interested in how they get the exercise done but that they attempt it and what they get out of it.

The exercise is a type of assessment but it is not a test.  It is designed to give someone a chance to try and figure something out (the question), receive feedback on their performance (‘Check’) and try again (‘Start Again’), this time attempting to reconcile their prior understanding with the answers they are given.  In this way students are given the opportunity to learn.  This is called formative* assessment, whereby the assessment is used as a tool for learning and is part of a process.  End of term tests or a placement test are summative* assessments.  They are events at a given time in the academic year at which the student must prove their knowledge to the teacher.  This is a part of the same process but does not contribute to it in the same way.

In the Touchstone Blended Online programme, there is plenty of summative assessment in the form of Reviews, Overviews and Tests as well as the extra practice provided in the workbook.  These can be hidden and then made visible for a specified period to minimize information sharing between students, if that is a concern.  Tests can only be attempted once.

Formative assessment is a bit more subtle, especially with many students’ assumptions about the way they learn and how they are evaluated.  Many students think they should get the best marks possible on each activity and move on, which can often lead to superficial engagement with the material.  It is our job as teachers to train them to take best advantage of the resources available.  In the example above, students have 3 legitimate options to use the exercise:

  1. Listen, do exercise, check script, close script, listen again, revise answers, click Check, listen again, revise answers, check and submit
  2. Listen and read script at the same time.  Do exercise.  Listen and read again.  Check answers. Revise answers. Check and submit
  3. Read question, look up vocabulary in glossary, imagine conversation, listen, do exercise, check script or check answers, revise answers, check and submit.

All of the above demonstrate good learning strategies of self evaluation and self correction and will develop listening skills to some degree.  Number 2 has a focus on pronunciation, not unlike the voice recording exercises in the About You activities.  All of them rely on using the other tools at their disposal in order to successfully complete the task.  Try giving your students these 3 options and ask them to try the exercises in this way.  Afterwards, discuss which option they preferred and why.  See how well they remember the information the following week and discuss which is the most effective for learning.  This way you are not only training them to be more independent but also to use the resources more responsibly and not view them as simple ‘cheats’.  Some students will still not engage of course but it is important to train the ones who will try and give them the tools to start teaching themselves.

Try out these three options and comment on the results here.  What worked best for your students?  What do you think is the difference in learning between the 3 options?

See posts on motivation for more ideas.


*Formative – helping someone grow or learn

*Summative – summarizing someone’s current position


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