How Does Washback Affect Your EFL Classroom
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Though it is also known as backwash, washback has nothing to do with spitting in someone’s drink or cleaning your swimming pool!
Washback is the effect that a test or exam has on the student taking it. It can either be positive or negative and has been shown to have effects on both learners and teachers. It is also known as test impact.
When you think about it, tests can affect the teaching and learning process, classroom procedures and the emotional state of the learners even before the test is written. In fact, “tests are held to be powerful determiners of what happens in the classroom” (Alderson & Wall, 1993). Then, when the test has been written, there are also effects of the results which need to be considered.
How exactly do tests and exams affect the learning experience?
In a positive sense:
- learners will be motivated to study in order to perform well;
- teachers and learners will be motivated to achieve learning goals;
- teachers and learners can keep track of progress;
- teachers can identify areas which still need work; and
- schools can set learning and teaching objectives and keep track of the progress.
If washback is positive, there should be “no difference between teaching the curriculum and teaching to the test” (Weigle & Jensen, 1997). Students and teachers should use tests as a means of assessing progress, but not as a source of anxiety,
In a negative sense:
- teachers may spend time teaching for the test, rather than teaching general subject matter;
- teachers may ignore activities not directly related to the test;
- learners may only take the time to study when there is a test;
- learners may feel anxiety related to the learning environment; and
- teachers may feel pressure to cover a certain amount of material.
If washback is negative, teachers will focus too much on the test and prepare the students to pass the test rather than learn the subject.
While tests can be thought simply as a means of assessing learning and progress, it must be remembered that there can be more effects of testing than meets the eye.
Alderson, C. & Wall, D. (1993). Does washback exist? Applied Linguistics, 14 (1993), 115.
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