From Can’t to Can: Changing our Thinking about Exams by La-Salete Moreira

The following post was written as a summary of the session with the same name which took place at IH Portugal's training day, led by David Petrie.

This session was delivered by David Petrie and his purpose was to provide teachers with some tools that can help students overcome anxiety before taking the exam.

We started the session by establishing the difference between good and bad students and how anxiety can be a stressful element before exams. We also explored students’ motivations and what drives them to take language exams: intrinsic or extrinsic motivations? Parents? A future career?

David Petrie introduced “The Johari Window”, a tool of self-discovery and communication to build trust. In order to explain this tool, I took some information from the website www.mindtools.com

“The Johari Window is a communication model that is used to improve understanding between individuals. The word “Johari” is taken from the names of Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, who developed the model in 1955.

There are two key ideas behind the tool:

  • That you can build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself.
  • That, with the help of feedback from others, you can learn about yourself and come to terms with personal issues.

By explaining the idea of the Johari Window, you can help team members to understand the value of self-disclosure, and you can encourage them to give, and accept, constructive feedback.

Done sensitively, this can help people build better, more trusting relationships with one another, solve issues, and work more effectively as a team.”

Here’s an example of the model:

From this, we moved on to assessing students’ performance and how the use of ‘can do’ statements foster students’ engagement in learning a language and, later, sit for the exam. Focusing on what the student ‘can do’ provides a positive feedback and, thus, reduce any possible anxiety or negative feelings towards exams.

To conclude, there is no miracle answer to help students overcome anxiety when it comes to assessing or taking exams. As teachers, we need to be aware that some students might find it difficult to cope with evaluation and try to find the best way to help them overcome their fears and achieve their goals.

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