Monday, January 31, 2011

Exams last part 2

Why do we give exams?

After asking many teachers the top three answers that have been given are:

1)      “To assess, and find out actually what the students know” Rebuttal to this
2)      “If we don’t test it, the students won’t want to learn it”
3)      “Hold teachers accountable for their teaching`

Rebuttal to 2:

First, we need to understand that there is difference between learning and achievement.  For more click here. 

Second, if a student asks you, “Why do I have to learn this?” and your first or only response is “for the test”, then you are actually destroying any possible engagement.  People need to understand that learners don’t ask for the application to challenge the teacher, but actually want to understand the meaning behind the concept. 

If there truly is NO real life application then I would first advise you to contact those in charge of your mandated outcomes and ask them why you need to teach the specific outcome.  In the defense of the government, if they don’t know there is a problem, how can we expect them to find a solution?

Assuming that the outcome does have real life application, we should be focusing on the relevance and not the mindless repetition of the outcome.  Contrary to some popular belief, students do crave knowledge, but they need to be shown the “why” just as often as the “how”. 

For some outcomes this is an easy task, while for others I understand this can be quite difficult.  I, however, do believe that no matter how challenging it might be to show the “why”, the learning that will occur because of it, will make the journey worth taking. 

An exam should not be the reason anything is taught in a class.  “Teaching to the test” should be the equivalent of swearing in a classroom; something that should NEVER be done or even entertained.    I read the following, and became sick to my stomach!
Everything that has to do with the test has been given such a high priority, that there is no priority any more but that … The bottom line question comes down to, "Well, what’s going to help them do better on the test?" And if it’s not going to help them do better on the test, well, we don’t have time for that right now (Wright, 2002, p.10).
I would hope, that most agree, that the above statement is not one that teachers should be making.  If you believe, however, that a test is the only way students will learn, you are on your way to making the statement above.  I strongly encourage educators to allow students to find significance in given tasks, and you will start to see that your test no longer becomes the reason students want to learn.

Friday, January 28, 2011

AMP first, marks second.

Why do we give exams?
After asking many teachers the top three answers that have been given are:
1)      “To assess, and find out actually what the students know”
2)      “If we don’t test it, the students won’t want to learn it”
3)      “Hold teachers accountable for their teaching”
After many hours of thought, I have decided to post my rebuttal to these three reasons, over the next three blogs:
1)      To argue this I would like to start by quoting Einstein “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.  I believe that discrete statistical data, derived from tests, actually devalue the professional judgement of a teacher.  Teachers should be able to rely on the personal interaction with their students that they have on a day-to-day basis and not the mark received on an exam. 

To further illustrate this, before a student even writes an exam, he/she could explain to the teacher what his/her mark will be on the evaluation.  Furthermore, I would even go as far saying that most teachers know what mark the student will receive on the exam as well.  If both the teacher and the student know what mark is going to be achieved, why waste valuable class time giving an examination?

Tests are also discouraging to any student achieving a mark that is not sufficient.  A student, in this category, will walk into your class KNOWING they will not achieve an adequate mark, and then write the exam.  When you hand back the exam, marked, their knowledge will be confirmed with the poor mark.  We are beating their confidence down with their own knowledge.

Alfie Kohn, would say:
Most assessment systems are based on an out-dated behaviourist model that assumes nearly everything can -- and should -- be quantified.  But the more educators allow themselves to be turned into accountants, the more trivial their teaching becomes and the more their assessments miss.”

Some would then argue; give more exams.  The more chances a student has to demonstrate their learning, the better the picture the teacher has of what the student knows.  Psychologists Martin Maehr and Carol Midgly would say “an overemphasis on assessment can actually undermine the pursuit of excellence”. 

It has been shown, many times, that the more a student is told to focus on their marks, the less engaged they become about the learning.  Classrooms should have less of an emphasis on achievement and marks, and more emphasis on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Understanding first, memorization second

NY times posted the following article.  The article claims that,
Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques. “
After laughing I continued to read on.  The above statement is supported by
“students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods. “
Alas, the research opens the reality doors.  Of course, if you are asking students to only RECALL information, it makes sense that they more they see a certain topic the more they will understand.  I don’t want my students to recall information I want my students to understand concepts.
According to Jeffery Karpicke, “I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge”.  This is the idea that understanding is the outcome of memorization.
I disagree greatly!  Memorization should be the outcome of understanding. Recalling information will become easier as the students use the knowledge more and not because of force or requirement.  If I was to tell you a fact over and over again, would you understand why the fact is true?  Students should be told the why part, and after understanding it and applying the “why”, the memorization will occur.
Understanding will always last longer in a mind than memorization.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Engaging activity at my school

Today I am honoured to have Jennifer Kofin as a guest blogger.  She is a second year teacher, who teaches ESL, at my school.  After trying to get away from the traditional fill-in-the-blanks worksheets, she has created an amazing and engaging activity.  The students were not marked or graded, however still assessed and in a non-traditional way.  Here is her story:

One of the topics that we were covering in ESL one day was prepositions. I went over the various prepositions that I wanted the students to learn giving them specific examples. I wanted them to practice using these prepositions through sentences but wanted to avoid the typical worksheet format. So one of my esteemed colleagues suggested that I use the Smart board and two interactive dice. On one die I put the preposition and on the other I had the students brainstorm different verbs that we could use. Students were then given the opportunity to come up to the Smart board and hit each of the dies and create a sentence. This task was done verbally and the students did really well! My students really enjoyed this activity and I was able to assess their understanding of the prepositions and verbs without using pen and paper.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cell phones first, paper second

How do we embrace phone technology?
First, watch the video and have a laugh about teenagers and their cell phones.

 Below is a list, from k12 Cell phone projects, it shows the grade level, content area, and all resources used.
Other sites are:

  • EDCHAT on TWITTER: Teachers Discussing this issue...worth a look!
Grade Level
Content Area
Resources Used
General Technology
Radio Theater Podcasts
Science Museum Field Trip Cell Phone Pictures (Chemistry Class)
Cell phone cameras
Documenting the Australian Environment
Cell phone cameras
Wordsworth in Nature
Cell phone call
High School
Computer Technology
Researching cell phone web2.0 resources
Researching cell phone web2.0 resources
Middle School
Brainstorming text messaging beginning of unit science concepts
High School
Spanish Podcasts
Using cell phone cameras to document laboratory projects and mathematical steps.
Cell phone cameras
Environmental Studies
A digital record of student trip to the Grampians National Park in 2008
Physical Education
Text Message exam questions
Physical Education
Live Streaming Course activities
Social Studies
Mobcasting/Podcasting whole class discussion.
Using cell phones on exams
Phone call
Information Gathering. Recording Interviews for "street memory" assignment. Oral history.
Record on a cell phone and sent to a server.
Polling students
Student Live Radio Broadcasts
Using Student Cell Phones as CPS clickers in polling
Using Student Cell Phones to create digital stories for Algebra
High School
Student Cell phones document and report on the 2009 Inauguration
Initially used in an 8th and 9th grade class in 2008, currently partnering with local ISP and being provided with data and text plans for all students
High School
World Languages
Cell phone recordings of Speaking Exam. Used with Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 classes.
Permission slip for cell phone use. Created one class acount for level.
High School
English and Everyday Psychology
Facebook and Cell phones. Students use cell phones to post images, video, text, and audio of everyday psychology experiences to the class Facebook page.
Cell to Students' Mobile Facebook
Discussion and Social Contract. Clean up profiles.
Larryliu in Facebook
High School
9th Grade English
Romeo and Juliet: Calling in Homework for R&J. Advice letter (dear abby). Conversation between Juliet and Nurse.
High School
To spice things up, I told their kids to bring their cell phones today. Using some prompts on a worksheet I gave them and, the students created sentences using the above conjunctions and the subjunctive. I had the projector on in the front of the room, so all of their text messages appeared immediately. Then, they critiqued each other's sentences and copied down the ones they liked on their worksheet.

To finish off the lesson, the students recorded some of the book exercises to my dropbox at When I got home, I was welcomed by the friendly voices of my students practicing the subjunctive and having fun at the same time!
Depends on the animation created
Animations for Mobiles
(All Free)
Pivot Stick Animation
SuperC file format conversion
Recording IB internal assessments
Polling in class
Class notes o learning aides
Adding voice to video
Telling stories or comments
Garage Band or Audacity
Use cellphone camera