RECENTLY, I carried out a writing performance assessment for my Year Four Four class. It was as to determine the pupils’ strengths and weaknessesin composition.
The assignment was for them to write an e-mail to a foreign friend about a festival celebrated in Malaysia.
Only a small number of my pupils were able to carry out the task independently.
Most of them could not. They had after all, been so used to guided compositions since their kindergarten years.
Under the circumstances, most of them resorted to asking me for additional inputs.
“Should I leave two spaces here to start a new paragraph?”, “Can I write about Chinese New Year?”, “Can I write about my grandma’s birthday instead which falls on Christmas day?”, and “Is it okay to write about my uncle’s wedding celebration?”.
I could only think of two possible factors – either my written instructions weren’t clear enough or the pupils were not accustomed to collaborative work.
They were not trained to think on their own. They were usually given pictures and guided words to elicit intentional sentences from the teacher who prepared the test.
The pupils were never given the opportunity to write out real descriptions and their own experiences in such cultural celebrations.
This, I must say is due to the fact that the type of performance assessment is not included in their regular examination format.
Therefore, there is no real need for pupils to use their creativity and personal judgement in writing compositions of any sort at all.
Another factor is the level of competitiveness among Malaysian pupils in desiring excellent scores for their assessments.
Parents are also at fault for measuring success and overall achievement through the grades obtained in exams.
Also, the philosophy of writing only what the teacher says, or answering according to the questions or relying on the notes given, is very much practised in our society.
Growing up in such an unheal-thy environment, negatively shapes these children into forming an incorrect opinion that their own ideas and understanding are all inferior to the ones usually given by the teachers.
This makes children afraid to step out of the box, fearing that they will forever lose out to their peers in terms of overall marks and class streaming.
It also causes deep insecurities about their own compositions and an excessive dependence on their teacher’s ideas.
For me, the assessment wasn’t a success as the pupils were unable to work independently and were expecting me to spoonfeed them.
They were unsure and feared that if they did not answer correctly, they would be given a lower grade.
At the end of the assessment, I received many blank sheets from my Year 4 pupils.
I noticed that the biggest weakness was their indecisiveness and anxiety in planning their writing.
The composition topic was not a difficult one. In fact, the pupils had in previous lessons discussed the numerous cultural celebrations in Malaysia.
After much deliberation, I’ve realised from this performance assessment that our education system and the pedagogy used by the majority of English teachers in the country, does not encourage independent thinking to cope with writing and handling collaborative work. Ng Wee Gwek The STAR Home News Education Sunday, 07 August 2016