Kathleen M. Bailey’s article on washback spawned a lively discussion at the ELT Springboard meeting in Bern last Thursday.
The term washback refers to any effects, be they beneficial, harmful or neutral, a test has on the teaching and learning which happens in a language class and outside the classroom. Even though there has not been much research into the issue so far, and therefore hardly any evidence, it is generally acknowledged that teachers and learners adapt their strategies and activities to the demands of a prospective test. This implies that a test should always be in line with the teaching methodology.
From a teacher’s perspective it may be helpful to distinguish between two ideal types of tests: those prescribed by an external authority which decides on content, length, standards for marking, test schedule etc., and internal tests set by the teacher, possibly together with the learners. It emerged from the discussion that teachers and learners have to take external tests as they are. They will inevitably tailor their teaching and learning to them. One could even say it is their job to do so. On top of this, exam preparation courses are organised by schools and publishers offer materials for such courses. So, external tests will usually produce a great deal of washback.
By contrast, internal tests and evaluation may be used by teachers to motivate learners, to show them their progress or to give the course a structure. In this way, assessment becomes an integral part of the teaching (and learning).
One of the ideas that came up during the discussion was that the teacher can record learners at the beginning of a course – when they introduce themselves or say something about a topic they are interested in – and play it back to them later in the course, or she can ask them to write a text, collect the texts and give them back later. While it is not exactly washback, this is a simple means to give learners an opportunity to assess their progress themselves and therefore enhance learner autonomy.
Thanks a ton to Markus for hosting and writing this follow-up!
Do you have any remarks, ideas, questions? Post a comment below.
Here are the resolutions we made at this month’s meeting! Lots of variety in scope, type and ambition of the goals–it will be interesting when we follow up on these in summer and see how we did!
Make your own resolutions in the comments–try and think of at least one thing you can change this year!
Happy New Year to you all! Our next ELT Springboard meeting will be on 24 January in The Fitting Room (in Welle 7, adjacent to the Bern bahnhof). I look forward to seeing you there! The evening’s topic will be New Ideas. Please RSVP in the comments so I know how many people to expect.
Task 1 is for you to bring in one or two new ideas that you would like to introduce to your professional practice in the new year. We’ll discuss the ideas with each other and hopefully we’ll be able to talk about them with someone who’s done something similar or can help us find resources to ease the way. By talking about them with others, we’ll also build accountability and have someone to follow up with later in the year.
Task 2 is to give a short report on some professional development that you have done recently. This can be anything from reading a book or attending a webinar to taking a course or doing a degree. There is a great professional development opportunity in Zurich on 21-22 of January: the ETAS (English Teachers Association of Switzerland) Annual Conference. Plenaries from Sarah Mercer and Jeremy Harmer on Saturday; Herbert Puchta and Carole Robinson on Sunday. Click here to read the programme and click here to learn more about ETAS. I’ll be going both days and I plan to talk about one of the speakers or workshops at the ELT Springboard meetup.
If you’re taking the train on Saturday morning, get in touch and we’ll ride together! Otherwise, see you on the 24th!