What is docimology in teaching?

Docimology goes back to the 1920s in France where professionals of education coined the term to refer to the subjective factors that influence the scoring of a pupil’s work.

It is about finding all the elements outside of the actual written or oral exam, which influence a student’s results.

Some of these might be the student’s handwriting, the time at which the teacher grades the test, the mood of the corrector, the subjective information that we know of and project onto the pupil, etc.

A typical case might be a student of an “upper class” family whose father is always on about how the son will be going to an Ivy league school. It is harder for the teacher to do them the insult of pointing out that the son can’t spell to save his life, or has not the slightest spark of creativity. Perhaps the corrector will look the other way and round off that C minus to a B because of such outside influences.

Even though docimology focuses solely on the teacher, we should not forget that the student also comes to the class (or test) with a number of influences. And as a third partner in the mix, the class itself contains factors of influence: the reputation of the school, a certain branding, the location in a certain neighbourhood…

To say things clearly in the manner of a diagram, the teacher, the class and the student all come with their respective influences. These can be “good” or on the other hand harm the learning. A lesson (or class) is never just 3 parts coming together. The full list is indeed much longer!

For my part I am of the opinion of limiting them as much as we can and providing the student with the study material to learn alone. The student can then ask their teacher at a later stage for clarifications on certain points of the lesson.

This view of the teaching of languages has long been the guiding principle of our French school OuiCommunicate. Long ago, I noticed that the learning lost in productivity because of this coming together of “teacher and learner” and because of the mental associations we make with the notion of “taking a class”.

All these influences add up at a terrifying speed: influences of the teacher + influences of the student + pre-conceptions of the meaning of a class coupled with beliefs about what “learning” is truly about….

I will give you an example:

Sandy B is a student from Wales in the UK. She is 27 years old and earns a comfortable living organizing events. She quit formal schooling before graduating but went on to do a one-year course to work in event management. She met with success in her career and drives a neat little sports car. Outside of her busy professional life, she likes to go out for a drink at the weekend and otherwise watches the popular TV programmes such as the Great British Bake Off or Dancing with the Stars. She took a trip to France and fell in love with the country. After trying to learn a bit of French alone she needs structure and searched for a tutor. Some unknown poster on Quora recommended a certain school. She learned that Alliance Francaise were the best in the field. Sandy has never learned a language before but figures that a good teacher will have her learn within a year. If she is still interested, she might find a partner to chat with in French….

This short description of the fictitious Sandy B has already racked up a large number of influences before she even set foot in any French class. She has many “beliefs” about the French class, little time to dedicate to it, limited experience in an academic type of learning, has met with success in a relatively straightforward way, enjoys activities that don’t require much mental strain…

But the problems don’t stop there. Her yet-unknown French teacher might never have spent even a second considering these influences and will start the class with a number of assumptions: that Sandy B understands that learning French is a commitment several times a week, that languages are not just about wiggling our tongue about with foreign words, that grammar explains what is allowed or not, that Sandy will make notes during the class and read them regularly, that Sandy will use her own curiosity outside of the class to learn new French words…

If this French class took place in a “brick and mortar” language school, there would be even more influences such as the general atmosphere, the type of management of the school, the seating in the classroom, the time of day of the lesson, the degree of formality of the class (professional/hobby), the length of the class, the frequency of the class, whether there was homework to do, whether the size of the group allowed for any conversing….and many, many others.

In an ideal world, if we are to counter the effects of docimology as well as the negative forces playing on the quality of the learning, we are obliged to “strip down” the variables. As much as we can, we must limit the human and material factors that will cause less learning to take place than its full potential might allow.

Instead of laying bricks on a house in bad weather conditions, in the early early morning, with bad visibility, we would be building the same house all alone in peace and quiet in a clearly-lit room at the time of our choice.

For the best learning to take place, we must try to create laboratory conditions that are as neutral as possible. Neither the teacher nor the learner must get in the way of the learning. Even if it means limiting their interaction.

In case you’ve not read our other blog posts, it is a golden principle that a teacher never makes the learning happen. Their job is to ignite an interest and guide the learner. It is ALWAYS the student that makes the learning happen.

The first practical tool I propose to students is this very website. They can buy the course which is comprised of written exercises and video, and teach themselves French. By meeting up with myself regularly or sending in questions, they will be able to limit the influence of the class.

The second step for higher performance still is a program on which I am currently working: a highly directive French program that will teach learners at a high speed. It will be a “Do as I say, you will think later” type of program. Students will be equipped with pen and paper and listen to the instructions. By doing so, we will control as much as possible the outside influences, up to the time frame. (No pressing “pause” during the lesson!)

It will also have the advantage of not taking into account the assumptions of the student such as their own self-worth, their beliefs regarding learning and their thoughts on what is humanly achievable.

The only variable I will not yet be able to control is the trust of the learner, which in turn influences the performance. Just as a runner will have the impression they perform better in Nike, so will OuiCommunicate need time to prove to the world that we are at the top of our field. Once it is established, there will be no stopping the learning of French for everyone.

Watch this space!

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