A perfect lesson?

A colleague told me she received the above compliment from one of her students this morning. Great, I thought. A satisfied customer. Until she told me what the lesson actually was.

A session on exam practice to prepare the students for one of these.

What is the point of planning a fun, interesting and communicative lesson when all some students really want to do is pass an exam???

Answers on a postcard please.

12 thoughts on “A perfect lesson?

  1. Not to stick up for exams or anything, but, along with having foreign friends, exams seem to be one of the big motivators for teenagers to improve. Sure, they learn to pass the exam, but they pick up a whole bunch of other stuff along the way. Just a thought…

  2. I can understand that viewpoint and agree – the motivation and what is learnt on the way to taking an exam is all very good. What worries me is when the primary motivator is basically a piece of paper. Thank you for the thought 🙂

  3. For thousands of learners that piece of paper is all they have as motivation. Students who don’t live in an English-speaking country; those who need a ‘certificate’ showing their English level to get a decent job; advanced learners who’ve travelled to English-speaking countries, who like English and want to learn more but need a push.
    All the best

  4. Hi Eoin, thanks for the comment.

    I have probably been a bit narrow-minded in my thinking about exams here. I realise they can be big motivators, especially in the situations you mention. I’m also probably projecting my own anti-exams feelings on to the situation I described in the post. Not a very good way to go about things, I know. I’m trying to clarify exactly what my opinion is and I think it goes like this – I’m surprised that an exam practice session would be a student’s ‘perfect lesson’. I also guess there are people out there who do actually like taking exams.

    This is one thing I’m coming to like about blogging – that you get to see something (whether actual fact or opinion) through as many different perspectives as there are people reading it (and who comment).

    Thanks for making me realise that there’s more to exams than just the piece of paper (there are the people) and I’ll try not to be too narrow-minded about exams (or anything else) in the future!

  5. Hello Mike,

    I thought I left a post here when you first posted but it doesn’t seem it is here. I came back to see if I had a follow-up answer. Good thing! Here’s what I remember:

    Did the instructor do something that really help the students like teach them a mnemonic device or use a cool tool like Quizlet to help make studying easier for them? The students have to take these difficult tests. If an instructor makes the process more enjoyable and interactive, then that instructor deserves kudos. However, I see your point about having to teach to the test in the first place. I think this is definitely one of the plagues of the education systems around the world.

  6. My issue with the focus on exams is that they take up a huge amount of time, that isn’t used developing learner’s ability – just preparing them for the mechanics of the particular test that they are taking.

    Having said that, this is what students seem to want – where examinations function as a way of passing through the system, there is a clear motivation to do well.

    The key thing is to ensure that courses allow for development of students genuine personal needs, outside the scope of examinations, while still covering what is necessary for the exams.

    What bothers me more about the exam system in UK ESOL is the potential for fraud – some students are getting the qualifications, without developing the skills needed for said qualification. This is the ultimate problem caused by exam-fixations – there is nothing else! That is in no one’s interest (at least in the long term)!

  7. Hi Shelly and Phil,

    More and more I think I was a little hasty in completely writing off exams and exam practice sessions. I still question the value of exams, though can see their potential value as motivation. However, Phil you have voiced my concerns exactly – namely the time-consuming nature of preparing for exams (I have more interesting fish to fry) and the possibility that students can get through an exams without really having learnt what they need to or developing those particular skills.

    To respond to Shelly, I have to say I don’t know the exact form that this particular exam practice took. Of course it’s possible to do exam practice in an interesting, engaging, dare I say fun, way. I can’t say I really enjoy doing it as a teacher, but some sessions I have done have gone really well. I should try to be more objective… Maybe there’s another post in the pipeline for me – my (considered) pros and cons of exams?

  8. It’s the mix. We learn for life and pick up the necessary certificates, jobs, pats on the back, on the way. But if your students can’t close the deal when they land the job, or make nice if they meet the right partner, they’re going to fail in life. A lot worse than failing a test. No?

  9. Seems to me the saddest thing is that a student would ever consider a test prep lesson “perfect.” In my book, test prep is totally antithetical to what we (are supposed to) do as educators, which is mold minds for thought, creativity, and more. The kids don’t even realize it. I often tell myself if my students had any clue what they were missing out on as students, they would never show up in class.

  10. Hi Anne and Matt,

    Thanks very much for your concise and considered comments. Being a student is something I hope to blog about in a bit more detail (my views on the subject at least). I’m hoping to get down a few ideas on what it is that students seem to want out of learning, and I guess there could be as many answers to that question as there are students!

    I hope everyone here will comment and share their ideas/thoughts when I continue down this road.

    All the best


  11. Again i might be a bit off subject here but… i was working with a class today who are preparing for the IELTS exam, we have about 12 weeks together to look at things and yes they all want to do practice papers but i try and mix it up with fun, interesting things that nevertheless work their listening, reading, writing and speaking skills that will be tested.
    I had prepared an ‘error listening’ – a lyric sheet to jack johnson’s ‘do you remember” with a LOT of errors and basically i asked them to correct it.
    We/they worked really well, and as we had 15 minutes left before the break i said , hey let’s sing it.
    I know you like to music in the class (from your about bit) so i need some advice.
    I noticed someone wasn’t singing, so light heartedly , i think, i stopped, encouraged , started again.
    They did for a bit and then stopped, and it was someone who hides in speaking work and had already earlier in the class been the ONE who didn’t do something i had asked.
    so i stopped, and pushed.
    They dug their heels in.
    I pushed.
    I could have let it go, but i didn’t.
    It ended badly.
    any advice?

    • Chris, that sounds to me like a great way of getting exam practice into a lesson in a fun way. Like Shelly said above, if you can do the preparation for the exam in a fun, interactive way, so much the better.

      As for advice about students not wanting to sing, I’m not sure I have any answers. I certainly know some students can be reluctant to sing, and I don’t know if I’d have the confidence to try that in class yet.

      Anyone else got any ideas??

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