Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, June 17, 2005

Backwash

by AJ

A loose explanation of the term backwash is: "teaching to the test". In other words, the teacher and students focus on the test rather than on learning the language.

This is very very common. Its a challenge for me. I know what works. I know that comprehensible input is the key. I know that reading aloud (interactive reading), free reading, storytelling, and the movie technique work.

But.

My department makes the tests. I know my students would do well on a general English test. But will they do well on the midterm and final? These exams not only test English, they test linguistics.

The freshman English exams, for example, will contain questions about comma splices, writing topic sentences, subordinating words, and the like. Luckily this is only a small section of the exam. Most of the questions will relate to reading or vocabulary... my students should do quite well on those sections.

To address the linguistics/grammar section.... I am assigning some grammar exercises as homework. At the beginning of a few classes, I review the homework and give a fast explanation. Then I move on to Comprehension based techniques (reading articles, TPR storytelling, free reading, discussion).

In other words, I choose to resist the temptation to "teach to the test". I am devoting only a miniscule amount of time to the grammar/linguistics section.

As a research study... I hope to compare my students scores on the exams to the scores of other students who are in more traditional classes. My hope is that my students scores will be, on average, the same or higher.

We will see.

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