From time to time, teachers feel the need to exert more effort in ensuring students' learning. A part of us believe that our success in teaching is measured not only through our students' scores but their lives. Our highest goal becomes making them apply what they learn from Literature to their daily lives because Literature is the study of life. However, this application of learning seem impossible to measure.
In her article Teach the Books, Touch the Heart, published in New York Times, Claire Hollander discusses the ambiguity of assessing students' literary aptitude through objective types of tests.
She summarizes this ambiguity in three points:
1. reading classic literature does not guarantee high scores in national exams
2. appreciation of literary materials needs reliable assessment
3. assessing students' literariness cannot be done through objective tests.
She concludes her article by pointing out that school administrators need to have “extensive written examinations”. This, in the Philippine setting, is not plausible.
I agree that we have to measure our students' learning in different ways apart from multiple choice examinations. I also agree that learners have various ways of interpreting texts and this may be measured by essays. However, essays are not at all reliable. It is considered to be the most subjective among all the tests.
There are so many things to consider in administering essays to students. Among them are the freedom of students to choose their literary texts, the partiality of the instructor toward the subject, and the number of texts a student has to read and analyze, and thus the number of essays teachers have to check within a grading period.
What the author wants to promote is too idealistic. In the Philippines, teachers have to handle several classes, each of which has 40 + students. Let us say, there are at least three reading tasks, and each task is to be assessed through an essay, that will mean 120 essays in one class for one term. If a teacher has 4 classes in a term, that will be 480 essays to read with varied lengths. A teacher does not only read essays in a semester. He or she has to make other tests, read more books, organize more lessons, etc. With barely five months, how can he or she juggle his/her responsibilities with checking written examinations? Moreover, how can the teacher prove fairness in judging the exams when exhaustion and biases hover in the process even with rubrics at hand? Loving Literature is not tantamount to loving writing. Not everyone likes to write particularly as a requirement. Not everyone can write magnificently.
There is also an issue of grammar.
Ms Hollander writes from a point of view of a Literature teacher handling only a handful of students. Her ideas are idealistic and they drive us back to our original objective of making students learn and love literature and not only pass standardized exams. However, in reality, true appreciation of literature is exhibited in different forms that are difficult to assess. One thing that makes testing easier is the presence of objective exams.