Sunday, April 3, 2016

More On Testing

I’m currently reading Make It Stick by Peter Brown.  Perhaps you read “Teaching With the Test” a few posts back.  I’m very excited about the potential for quizzing as a tool for teaching, but continue to wrestle with the mechanics of how one does it and still preserves instructional time.  After all, we already feel as if there’s too much to teach for the time available as it is.  How do we ADD testing to that?

One legitimate argument might be that if our instructional organization is more effective, we will pick up time with efficiency.  I think that’s likely.  Although I considered it a point of pride each year to make sure I made it through the reading and math texts, I was aware that many did not.  And, I have little proof that “making it through” resulted in better learning.  That said, it may be okay to come up short on breadth to improve the quality of student retention of the material that was taught.

I’ve already revised my idea of a 4-5 item quiz at the end of math period.  What I now advocate is a 2 problem quiz at the beginning of the period, and a single problem at the end.  The first quiz would probe recent material, the latter would be a check on the day’s work.  Checking could be done by classmates, or quickly on a white board by the student herself.  The early quizzes could likely be scanned during class and errors often quickly addressed during class.  Or, again, the “quiz” could be a series of problems given to students working on white boards.  A teacher moving around the room could address some review difficulties and note, when the students raise their boards, any students with needs.  The single problem could be scanned when convenient.  It turns out that immediate feedback is not the ideal way to address errors.  A short space of time between the error and it’s correction improves learning, though researchers are not quite sure why.  The thought is that immediate feedback diminishes personal responsibility for the effort.

In reading class, quizzing needs to reflect the structure of the lesson.  If it is whole-class, written questioning is better, though this might be best achieved by the class doing a bit of reading, 1-4 paragraphs, say, and then a written answer to a question about the text.  For small group instruction, oral questioning might be sufficient to insure continued student effort.  Effort is key.  Regardless of group size, a short quiz at the end of the period or the beginning of the next will likely help retention.  In one research study, a final, larger quiz the day before the “test” was used with high success.  Understand that the material on the quiz and the material on the test can differ.  The quizzes work to solidify the learning as a whole, not just isolate a few facts.

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