Not testing? Is it a disservice to our students?

I was one of those teachers who was constantly saying “I have to prepare my students for grade 7.”  Or “I have to prepare my students for high school.”  Then one wise administrator suggested what about preparing them for now.  Try getting through grade 8 by using a wide variety of skills that would work for any grade.  So guess what?  I stopped  worrying so much about grade 9 and starting thinking of beyond.  I have always focused on their social skills for life after school but needed to also focus on those skills that could get them through academically as well.  Yes, I don’t give hour long direct tests but we do short quick assessments where they are expected to show me their level of understanding once we have taken some time to complete a concept.  Some might say I chunk my teaching.  We don’t usually go through an entire unit without having at least 5 or 6 quick assessments/exit cards (whatever you might want to call them).  Two weeks ago about 2/3s of my students showed some misunderstanding on one of  our patterning concepts.  I realised that I must have not presented the information clear enough or did not give them enough time to practice.  So we went back, got out our patterning tiles and physically created those patterns so they could see how their pattern was consistently growing.  Good thing I didn’t wait until a unit test to catch this.  We do a number of open ended problem solving activities; we share and discuss solutions; we use real life situations to get a good understanding of why the math concept might be relevant, am I not preparing them for high school?  I try to get them to understand that:

  • there can be multiple answers to a question
  • they do not really ‘suck’ at math, they just have to be able to talk though the problems
  • most of the math concepts that we are studying in elementary school have relevance
  • they need to show working and provide evidence to support their answers or statements
  • they need to develop good deep questions to help gather pertinent information
  • they need to evaluate different perspectives or viewpoints and identify author bias
  • any particular textbook is still subjected to bias from its author (and that’s why we do not have one prescribed textbook in our class)
  • and the list goes on.

If I do all this am I not getting them ready for high school, university and life beyond?  What about the universities (McMaster, OISE; Queen’s) where some of their professors are doing more inquiry based learning and shying away from traditional tests/university classrooms?  Are we not getting our students ready to deal with these types of learning environments?  I strongly believe that my students can sit in a testing environment and still do well because I help them to develop skills that allow them to not only transfer their learning from one subject area to another, but from one learning environment to another.

  • How do you assess your students?
  • Will they be able to adapt the skills you have developed with them from one situation to another?
  • What are some things we can do to prepare our students not only for high school but for jobs that do not even exist yet? (I am still a little scared about this? How do I know I’m doing the right thing?)
  • How can we make sure that we are reaching all students? (Whether we are testing, doing inquiry, etc.)

About jcorbinh

I am a grade 8 teacher who absolutely love teaching language and math and would find it extremely stressful if I had to choose between the two. After 20 years of teaching I am still passionate about my job and enjoy learning new things with and from my students. I try to incorporate new things to motivate and encourage my students and integrating more technology into my lessons has become one of my major goals.
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2 Responses to Not testing? Is it a disservice to our students?

  1. Aviva (@avivaloca) says:

    Jo-Ann, I really echo your thoughts here, and I’d love to just add a “+1” to each of your points. I think that what you’re doing is providing a rich learning experience for each of your students, and constantly conferencing with each of them, to ensure that your program continues to meet their needs. You don’t need a test because you know where they’re at. A test isn’t going to tell you more. And teaching your students to think will help them in a testing environment, even if they’re not used to having tests (everything I’ve read about inquiry supports this). I think that this small group instruction, continuous dialogue with other educators that push your thinking (and inspire you to learn, grow, and change), and open-ended, differentiated activities will help the students be inspired to learn as well as learn more. Documenting learning throughout the process is so important, and providing this meaningful feedback to students is as well, and you do both! I also can’t help but wonder if your “quick assessments” aren’t similar to tests, but without the stress that comes with the test, and with more opportunities for you to find out where students are at and adjust your program accordingly. And then you’re not waiting until the end of the unit to notice problems. You’re constantly putting students first. What’s better than that?!

    I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about this!

    • jcorbinh says:

      Thanks Aviva, I too see the quick assessments as a type of mini quizzes. It also helps me see some more (oral or written) thoughts of those I have maybe not conference enough with. I guess it’s just another way to clearly see their level of understanding (my product). I think it is important to gather information about our students learning in as many ways as we cann

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