I have been thinking about a quote I read in a teacher magazine sometime in the last week. The page was one of those that has a bunch of quotes and a few comics all centered around a particular subject or theme. This months page was dedicated to the last days of school. I am not going to write the direct quote because I am going to add a little extra. I have heard teachers say similar things on many occasions and want to mix all these quotes into one bigger one. It goes something like this:
I always like the end of the year because state testing is over with and now I feel I can have fun in the classroom. For this last month I can do projects with my students. I can do some fun stuff with them in the computer lab. I don’t really have to worry about the standards anymore. We can finally have some fun in the classroom.”
Like I said earlier, I have heard this said many times. I will admit that similar thoughts have even crossed my mind in the past.
This is flawed thinking.
Sadly, teachers work in an environment that is focused on a test towards the end of the year. Notice that I didn’t say focused on standards, because that does not seem to be the focus for many schools. It is all about that test. What this does is forces teachers to teach with that test in mind, not the standards. Teachers feel that the only time they can do a project or work with technology is after the testing is over because in many minds, these activities don’t prepare students for a test. They are the fun stuff, and we don’t have time for that.
Again, this is flawed thinking.
When preparing for a test, we often worry about the layout of the test. We feel that if students practice in a test format enough, they will do much better on a test, so we give lots of tests in preparation for the test. While there may be some truth to this, a student being comfortable with the format of test is not the factor that is going to make or break the score. I have not run across many students that have a hard time filling in the bubbles on an answer sheet. Most of them know the rules for answering a multiple choice tests. They are trained to do that in very early in their education.
We also worry about facts. We seem to think that the more information we cram into a students mind, the more they will know for a test. Vocabulary lists are a great example of this. There are numerous vocabulary lists featuring hundreds of words that students are supposed to know. What I have observed, and maybe I am way off, is that high stakes tests rarely focus solely on the definition of a word. Usually, if a student knows how to think and make inferences, the correct definition can be narrowed down.
These are just a couple examples of where we go wrong as teachers. We work hard, but often focus on the wrong things.
In order for a student to pass a high stakes test, he or she needs to know how to think. That is the single most important skill. If a student knows how to think well, the test may still be hard, but with work, the student can do well on the test.
How does a student learn to think? It’s not by doing worksheets. It’s not by memorizing facts. It’s not by reading endless pages in a text book and doing the questions at the end of the section.
Students learn to think through hands on learning in the form of projects, whether they be on the computer or not. They learn to think through collaboration and discussion with their peers. Students truly learn to think when they are given the license to choose their own path of discovery. Then they want to share what they have learned with their peers. The teacher is no longer the leader of the discussion but the facilitator.
I know it’s the end of the year. Most states are done with the “big” test, so here’s the challenge. Start planning now to incorporate project based learning in the classroom at the beginning of next year. Just try it. See how the students respond. See how much they learn. Make sure that the students are learning what is important before they take the state test next year. Don’t wait until its all over again.