Thursday, October 29, 2015

Teaching Through Testing

"Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs" by Onderwijsgek at nl.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 nl via Commons -
Last weekend, President Obama declared that students take too many standardized tests and noted that "our kids should only take tests that are worth taking, tests that are high quality, aimed at good instruction and make sure everybody's on track."

While many educational experts have decried the practice of "teaching to the test" as counter productive and creatively stifling, I feel that there isn't enough discussion of the positive value of teaching through testing.

Our brains are designed to learn the things we encounter frequently.  Each time our neurons fire to retrieve a piece of information, that neural pathway is strengthened making it easier to remember the next time that data is needed. Learning happens most effectively when we are triggered to retrieve the information at regular intervals.

Tests provide a valuable service by determining the areas where our knowledge has gaps and identifying where to focus our study efforts.  They also provide an even more valuable role in providing opportunities to retrieve information frequently enough to enhance the learning process.

Test for enhancing learning should occur often and have low stakes. A variety of different types of tests should be used to nurture multiple learning methods. According to the educational author and blogger Annie Murphy Paul, "testing should inculcate a growth mindset in students by demonstrating that ability grows through exerting effort and making mistakes."

Paul has labeled the type of testing that she encourages as Affirmative Testing and has developed a course to teach educators how to do it well. I encourage you to read her Affirmative Testing Manifesto

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