When someone listens to the word ‘exams’ instantly the mind shifts into long hours of studying, mock tests, demanding preparation, and pressure, both for teachers and students. It is true though that the accomplishment of a B2 level in every language, let alone English which is considered a universal one, gives students their first stepping-stone to a brighter future.
Why does it have to be so stressful though? The English classroom is the best environment for the students to practise their acquired skills. The fact that a student is of a B2 level gives the teacher the convenience to help them achieve the 21st century skills known as the Four Cs consisting of “critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation” (Praba, Artini & Ramendra, 2018, p.2) and not just learn how to effectively pass an exam.
An idea which I have applied to my B2 classes during the past few years is to combine project-based lessons and in parallel work with the exam’s preparation. In a closer look “most of the instructional materials generally serve the need for language input and interaction on the ground of a classroom setting” something which does not promote critical thinking and the production of comprehensible output (Richards, 2001, p.251 quoted in Tomlinson, 2012, p.1), here is where I use project-based lessons for.
Their advantages are numerous but one of the most important is that they are explanatory by nature so, students need to apply the skills which have already been taught and incorporate them into their way of expressing themselves. They become active participants of the lesson and not just passive receivers, something which tires them and cuts them away from the process of learning.
This procedure helps them become confident in all language parts (listening, speaking, writing, reading), but also refine information and become active thinkers. All these skills are the ones asked to be proven in a B2 exam, so students are more ready to sit for the exam in a more active way.
To make myself clear this does not mean that students do not have to sit for mock exams or get themselves familiarized with the procedure of a B2 exam, what I am suggesting is to combine different and more active ways of doing so. For instance, a project-based lesson could be focused on really important issues such as global-warming, peer-pressure, bullying and so on. All these topics are very frequently mentioned in exams, so learners have acquired the appropriate input regarding those issues in a more productive way. This happens because they are asked to create a project on this topic. They have to search for information from different sources, produce their project and be able to support their findings and ideas with sustainable arguments feeling free to express their thoughts and ideas. As a result, a sense of trust is built among them, so within a supporting environment successful learning occurs and students shape their ideas with their own cognitive skills and strategies (Fragoulis & Tsipaklidis, 2009, p.114). The teacher plays the role of the facilitator and does not follow the old-fashioned way of teaching (with the instructor being the main participant). The research and investigation framework which PjBLs help students pursue solutions, come into debate with their classmates, refine ideas and concepts and elaborate their findings in a productive way (Blumenfeld, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial & Palinscar, 2011, p.371). More specifically as there are numerous tragic events on a global basis, students can encounter, learn their history in a more elaborate way with the help of technology and put themselves into the position of an active thinker.
In my opinion our role as teachers in not only to prepare our learners for an exam but also broaden their horizons and make them feel confident in the production of a language. I recall myself as a student and I am thinking of all the pressure and anxiety I had to cope with when the time of my preparation for the B2 exam had come and I am thinking that if I had to practise all those skills in a way that would sharpen my critical thinking and force me, in a positive way, to produce language, I would not be so scared when the time of the exam came and maybe my results would have been even better as the ones I had achieved then.
In the Greek learning context, there is evident pressure towards English language schools to educate learners so well that by the time they acquire their C2 level they would be of a native level. We all should understand though that for this to happen students cannot just memorize vocabulary and grammar rules without actively practise all skills that a language is consisted of.
If we take our native language as an example and we think of the way, we have acquired it we would see that the stimulus we get to excel in it comes from a combination of different sources. So, it is rather overwhelming for a student to be able to produce all those skills in an accurate way just by following an older approach towards learning.
If I have to give a final thought or advice as a teacher and continuous learner myself, I would have to say that a student can grow educationally and mentally if you give them the appropriate environment and stimulus so as to reach their full potential. Our role as teachers is to think out of the box, be rebels, try new ideas and not be afraid to implement them in our classes, as most of the times we will see that our craziest ideas are the ones which appeal to our students the most and the outcomes are even better than the ones we have thought.