August 27, 2016

Memory test questions in English

Dr. Myo Win
Yangon University of Education  

In general, there are four main parts in a teaching learning process. They are instructional objectives, entering behavior, instructional process and performance assessment. First, instructional objectives are laid down. To fulfill the objectives, depending on the entering behaviours, that is, background knowledge of the learners, what to teach and how to teach are
considered. After teaching, performance assessment is conducted to know whether teaching is successful or not. In other words, learners have to sit for tutorials or monthly tests. At a large scale, mid-term tests or examinations are held. Through the results of performance assessment, learning outcomes can be interpreted. Moreover, these results are also useful for deciding whether teaching is successful or not. Therefore, performance assessment is crucial in a teaching learning process.
One of the objectives of teaching English in Myanmar is to develop four language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. To fulfill these objectives, English texts are prescribed and taught to the students at different classes. Monthly tests and examination are held to know students’ proficiency level of English. Grade Ten English question covers reading comprehension, cloze procedure, recall of facts in the text, punctuation, stylistic transformation, paragraph writing, letter writing and essay writing.
No. III. and No. IV are recall questions. In No. III, five sentences from the texts and   five sentences from the poems are included. In each sentence, there are some missing words for the students to complete. One mark is given for correct answer. There are seven poems in the prescribed text. Most of the poems are short. So, if students read seven poems by heart, they are sure to get five marks. Most teachers ask students to read the poem by heart. It seems that they are not wrong because question type encourages the teacher to do so. In fact, one of the objectives of teaching poems is either to get oral fluency or to understand the main theme of the poems. When the recall questions are set on poems, that question cannot reflect the objectives. Paraphrasing is a question that can reflect the objective of teaching poems. The followings are some examples sentences that are used in No.III & IV questions.

The followings are recall questions from No. III.
1.    The four youths belonged to ———-.
2.    The ———– packed the ghee in a leaf.
3.    The four youths failed ——- their tasks.
4.    Jim Bishop bought a house on ———-.
5.    Jenny Bishop  —– her diamond earrings because
they needed money.
6.    Old Jenny Bishop had been —– for years.
7.    Jim Bishop’s father was a ———.
8.    Helen Keller —– with other children.
9.    Helen kicked Annie in the ———.
10.    Helen Keller ——- from Radcliffe College.

Recall  questions from No.IV.
1.    Under whom did the four youths come to study?
2.    Who climbed the tall bael tree and why was it easy for him to climb the tree?
3.    Why didn’t the astrologer come down from the
bael tree?
4.    When did the young boy’s dream come true?
5.    How did great good luck touch Jim Bishop?
6.    When did Jenny Bishop’s dream come true for the first time?
7.    When did Helen become deaf and blind?
8.    What did Helen do to the doll that Annie gave her?
9.    What happened to Helen Keller in January,1882?
10.    Where did Captain Keller go to get help for Helen?
What is the benefit of being able to answer such questions? Is this information useful for solving their real life problems? Can these questions ask for students’ reading skills?
There are two kinds of reading passages in the prescribed texts. They are information giving passages and pleasure giving passages. The objective is to let students get either information or pleasure through reading these passages. From these passages, some facts are asked as recall questions. The questions mentioned above are recall questions. It seems fair to conclude that such questions cannot assess students’ reading skills and it is also doubtful that factual knowledge being asked is useful for their real life situation. In my opinion, asking recall questions from pleasure giving passages seems useless. Such passages are meant only for pleasure.
In fact, matriculation exam is the ideal for other levels or standards. In Standard Four, there are also recall questions. These questions are asked in No.III. The following are some examples taken from different questions from different States and Regions.
1.    Who thought that the diamonds were real?
2.    Where were the two ladies talking?
3.    Who thought that the diamonds were real?
4.    Where were the two ladies talking?
5.    What did the wealthy man give his two sons?
6.    Who told the two brothers about their father’s will?
7.    What were the two words whispered by the old man?
These questions are taken from Lesson 1, The Necklace, and Lesson 4, Two Words of Wisdom. Both lessons are stories.  Therefore, the  value of   these questions is doubtful. In wh- questions, who, what, which, where, when, how often, etc ask only facts. How and Why can be used to encourage students’ thinking skills.  While open-ended questions are encouraged  for the 21st century skills, we should avoid asking memory test questions.
If we genuinely value the infusion of 21st century skills with core academic goals, then assessment should be aligned accordingly. In terms of 21st century skills, the majority of assessments should be more open-ended and performance-based. Question items need to be designed to reveal whether students meet 21st century learning goals such as demonstrating an understanding of big ideas, formulating responses to essential questions, reflecting on and analyzing important issues, solving genuine problems, etc. Assessments should also reveal whether students are able to transfer and adapt their learning to novel situations, since a fundamental goal of 21st century outcomes is to prepare students for a complex and rapidly changing world with unpredictable challenges.


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