Disrupt Your Class

“Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first.  The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior.  When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed.”  ~ Marva Collins

About seven or eight years ago I stopped giving traditional tests. I used to be very good at giving tests. They used to last two days. One day for the short answer stuff and one day for the long answer stuff. I was very good at getting kids to remember the information they needed to know for the test. Then one year my district implemented a district-wide social studies test. I quickly realized while reviewing for the test at the end of the year that my kids did not remember many of the facts that they had been able to recite for all the previous tests. <<<Lightbulb>>> Ironically it was the mother of all tests that made me stop giving tests.

I am currently reading the book Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen and read a paragraph that jarred that memory.

In the past, testing has been used to do two jobs for students, teachers, and administrators. The first has been to determine the extent to which students have mastered a body of material and are ready to progress…The conventional teacher-administrator examination doesn’t do the first job well. Regardless of whether students have mastered the material in a unit, they all move on. Teachers don’t find out what students actually learned until an exam is administered and graded, which tends to be some time after the unit of class is already complete. If students haven’t mastered all the material but know it well enough to get a passing grade, students must still move on. And even if they fail an exam, the students typically move on, because moving on is inherent in the model of monolithic instruction. This teacher-administered examination tells teachers and administrators only what percentage of the students has demonstrated mastery of what percentage of the material. The amount of time in which to learn the material is fixed, but the amount of learning varies significantly.

I know there are plenty of folks who will read this and I will never change your mind—but how about if you just stop for a second and consider the type of questions that you give. If your kids have to study for the test then they did not learn the material when you taught it, or they had it in short term memory, maybe even re-memorized it for the quiz, and then forgot it again. If they study it and try to remember it for the test they automatically put it into short-term memory and 72 hours later it begins to fade fast. So basically you are testing how well they can memorize and how long they can hang onto their short-term memory. If you really want to give a test, and you really want to see how much your kids will retain, and how well you did with your lesson plans, give them the test without anytime for them to prepare for it…or better yet…O’ you are not going to like this one…give them the test unannounced a month after you finish the unit. Wouldn’t that be the true test of how well the students are doing? How well you are doing? I have done it before and I can almost promise you it will change the way you teach, it will change the way you present information, it will change the structure of your lesson plans. When you see what they remember after a month and you match the info with the lesson in which it was presented, you end up designing more lessons like the one they retained the info from.

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