More on outcomes based learning

I recently turned German tutor. Not that I was exceptionally good, or a paragon of good behaviour at school, but I guess as a German I qualified, if not by nature, but at least by nurture. I helped a teenager prepare for an important exam, which included reciting a couple of self-written paragraphs to an audience of teachers. I was honoured to be asked, and also that my tutee was apparently well prepared, and showed enthusiasm for learning what I’ve come to realised is a hard language to learn. We never met, but exchanged emails – a form of communication less natural to her generation than mine – and spoke over the phone to work on pronunciation. When helping her prepare, I picked up a couple of comments from her along the lines of ‘oh, I need to show that I can use the correct tenses – I’ll get a B for that’, and ‘I don’t need to do this – this will only get me a C, but I need to do that, as it will give me a B’. That struck me as rather strategic, and while I remember trying to gain as much knowledge from my teachers in school what we were going to be tested at, we never got a glimpse into the marking scheme – and classes that did had to resit their exams. And, instinctively, I would say that was right. While I enjoyed my tutee’s enthusiasm for language learning, I had the feeling that this way of learning for the exam may be limiting her possible attainment – it is after all about mastering the subject, not the exam. And the self-limitation I think is apparent – never did we talk about what would achieve an A, for that matter. Now I don’t care about grades that much anymore, but I do care very much about learning and gaining knowledge as its own reward – and this outcomes based approach potentially limits the real impact made by the learning experience. I’ve often heard that school is governed by learning for tests and exams, and I think I’ve just seen that happening; and I think it may short-change a generation of learners who will be confronted with life-long learning to adapt to ever changing demands of an ever more flexible workplace. While I was impressed by my tutee’s ability to strategize at a young age, as was her language skill – but being taught to having to strategize to secure a B won’t do in the long term. And I think this is where schools should be rethinking their approach – not adding more ‘rigorous’ exams.

July 7th, 2012 by