"But you didn't
tell us you were giving a test today!"
"You said the test would just be on the Civil War. You didn't say anything about Abraham Lincoln," complains a perplexed student. "I study, I think I know the stuff. But when I get to the tests it's like all of my ideas fly out of my head and float around the room and go into some other kid's head," wails another.
When it comes to tests, we've heard it all. And then some! There are many reasons, of course, some children do well on examinations and others struggle how well students know the material, how prepared they are, what their natural abilities are, the support they receive at home, and more. While not all of these factors are under your control, you can drastically change how students respond to examinations and increase their enthusiasm for learning by giving tests a new role. The key: to think of tests as teaching tools, not just as a means to evaluate learning after it has occurred. Knowing exactly what you expect students to learn that is, what you will eventually test for before you start teaching will help you develop focused, goal-directed lessons and learning and keep you on track along the way.
Stay the Course
Think of teaching as taking a trip, with testing analogous to reaching your final destination. The real value of the trip, of course, is the traveling the learning. But to get on the road, and stay on course, you need to know where you're going what you want your students to learn. You already do this when creating individual lesson plans. But for units, the test offers you additional opportunities to focus your teaching and keep your students on track.
Let's say you're planning a unit on volcanoes. It's easy to get excited, jump in, and quickly start outlining great activities that will touch on numerous curricular areas. As with an open-ended trip, the options are so vast that it's easy to lose direction. If you love geology, you might focus on teaching about the earth's structure and what causes the volcanoes to erupt. On the other hand, you might concentrate on the social ramifications of volcanic activity. But developing your unit test up front in conjunction with your lesson plans will help you narrow your focus. It will also act as a sounding board for picking the best activities to teach what you want your students to learn and what you want to test on.
Foster a Positive Attitude
Clearly defining the role of testing in your class and your grading policies can ease the anxiety or negative feelings that students may have about tests. And thinking of your students as partners in testing will help foster a positive attitude about examinations. Let your students know:
Create a Test-Date Calendar
Establish a test-date calendar and give students their own individual copies on which they write in the dates and lessons or units on which they will be tested. Then hang a large, blank calendar on a classroom wall and fill in test dates with students to reinforce the dates and provide them with a visual reminder about upcoming examinations.
It is equally important to inform parents about your testing vision. Many parents are grade conscious because they are concerned that test scores reflect intelligence and will affect their children's educational opportunities. They may unwittingly put pressure on their children by asking such questions as "Why did you only get a B+?" or repeatedly asking when upcoming tests are.
Give parents a copy of the test-date calendar, and share your grading policies and your outlook on testing. Armed with clearly outlined expectations from you, parents will be better able to help their children study for tests.
Before giving a test, employ these simple strategies to teach students study skills and improve their performance:
Ask your students to identify what they believe will be hard for them to learn and come up with how they will work to learn it. This will make them active participants in their education and facilitate planning your last lessons before the test.
After the Test
The testing process is not over when grading is finished. You can use the results of the test to make your students more active learners and to gain insight into your teaching.
Analyze Your Teaching
Test results can give excellent feedback on how successfully you've taught the material as well as provide insight into ways to adjust your teaching, both for your entire class and for individual students. Although this type of analysis is not a science, determining whether there is an overall pattern of success or failure can help you identify teaching strengths and weaknesses as well as guide you toward better planning in future.
In this way, testing
will help you create a full-circle approach to teaching. From lesson planning
to analyzing test results, you will stay focused on what you are teaching,
how well your students are learning, and how to make them more proficient
and more enthusiastic learners.