My Grandmother’s Recipe

Once in primary school, I got into a fight with an older kid in another class who was trying to bully my friend. Considering the fact that in my adult life, I am only 5.4 inches tall and weigh 125 pounds, much of this height and weight I gained only in the last 3 years, it wasn’t a particularly great idea to stand up to this tall kid. A little blow on the mouth was all it took to shut me up. I went home with one of my front teeth threatening to fall off any minute. My grandmother who is a strong believer in the potency of salt (she uses salt to treat all kinds of illnesses, from malaria to skin diseases to plain old cough), gave me a solution, highly concentrated with salt. My task was to fill my mouth with as much of this solution as it can contain for about fifteen minutes, spit it out and then fill my mouth again with another batch. After this, my grandmother moistened a ball of cotton wool with salt solution and then placed it on the root of the trembling tooth and asked me to hold it in place firmly with my lip. Her aim was to firm the root of the tooth so it does not fall out.

Assessment in the school system to me is like this: to check if the salt solution and cotton wool were doing their job of firming my tooth, I will take the cotton wool out and then wiggle my weak tooth to see if there was any sign of it firming up, every fifteen minutes. My grandmother kept cautioning me to stop doing that but I failed to listen until finally, the tooth fell out. Although my initial objective was to just ‘assess’ my tooth, I did more harm than good. A teacher engaged in an online debate on the importance of assessment used a different analogy of a plant being repeatedly ripped out of the soil to examine its growing status. Her argument was that, there are better ways of assessing students other than a standardized test.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that as educationists, our curriculum should be wide enough to cater for all kinds of students. As diverse as our thought processes are as humans, we should try to accommodate each other’s lines of reasoning. Having a specific rigid grading rubric where a student gets less marks depending on his or her deviation from the supposedly right answer, is not correct. Insisting that one travels a straight line in other to get to a particular destination, can be interpreted in so many ways by different students (just like this plot shows, this is for my engineer friends :)).

If teachers do their jobs well, I am of the view that there is no need for assessing the performance of the students after a lesson. If my grandmother had told me that the reason why she asked me to keep the cotton wool firmly in place with my lip was to prevent my teeth from moving and therefore allow it to be firm, I don’t think I would have found wisdom in the need to assess the firming process. If we do our jobs well, the result will definitely be positive, no need for assessment. Every teacher ought to be like my grandmother, she believes the process, and so she finds no need for assessment.


Dalya Ismael

Hello Iris, I enjoyed reading the first paragraph about your grandmother’s tooth recipe! The image makes a lot of sense as well. It gives an illustration of how instructors should assess us in a way that considers our efforts towards the course no matter which way it was going. I also liked that statement “If we do our jobs well, the result will definitely be positive”, because instructors usually don’t involve themselves in the assessment process, and instead they just focus on the students. But would this method be successful in the engineering field when most of assessments require a calculation or an experiment that has a ‘known’ right answer? Just wondering..

Alex Noble

Hey Iris, thank you for sharing your story with us! I find the “pulling the plant up from the ground to check it’s growth” example more relatable to our current system of assessment. In engineering and other fields we need assessment, however, some methods of may be better [less detrimental] than others.
Perhaps instead of a standardized assessment, we used a peer evaluation, or maybe instead of an in-class scantron test we assign students an open-ended research question to write a report on. I don’t think that attempting to evaluate student comprehension is a bad thing, I think that assigning too much importance to a number and giving students meaningless exams is.


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