Saturday, May 20, 2017
As this school year comes to a close, I keep thinking about an area of transformation I want to continue to explore: testing.
Two things have led me to change my approach to testing:
1) The desire for students to have access to resources to assist them on tests.
2) The desire to extend the cooperative atmosphere of my classroom to testing.
I guess the first change to testing began several years ago when I began using interactive notebooks (INBs) with my inclusion Pre-Algebra classes. I've always allowed those students to use their INBs on tests. It has been important to me that they learn how to use available resources to help them with a task. I also found being able to use their INBs greatly increased the confidence of these students.
I've been a little slower to change with my Algebra 1 students. My thoughts? They're advanced kids. They need to be able to take big, scary tests independently and using only what they stored in their own brains.
As other aspects of my classroom have changed, though, my thoughts on testing have begun to change, too.
One thing which I've used in the past but began to use more consistently this year is "reference sheets." I really don't have a great name for them; the kids like to call them "cheat sheets," but since they're allowed to use them, it's not really cheating. Part of my motivation for allowing the reference sheets was the "real world" argument - outside of a classroom, students will be able to look up any information they need. Why not allow them something similar during a test?
Sometimes I gave kids a graphic organizer to help them organize their thoughts for a test; sometimes I allowed them to make one however they thought would be most helpful. Most of the time they told me they wanted some structure and guidance.
The kids appreciated the reference sheets. For me, it was a not-so-sneaky way to get them to prepare for a test. It gave them confidence and helped to lower their anxiety about tests. Some of them were very adept at making themselves reference sheets; others needed more direction. I was always amazed at the number of kids who would neglect to create a reference sheet when given the opportunity to do so.
The other idea I've been toying with for a few years and tried some this year is cooperative tests.
My kids work together a LOT. Almost exclusively. They learn from each other, refine their understanding as they interact, and create that beautiful music to my ears - math talk.
I first attempted a cooperative test early second semester. For solving inequalities, I gave a "Choose Your Poison" test where students chose two out of three problems per section and were able to check their work since different problems had matching answers.
The test was challenging - which was a good thing - but students needed more time to complete it.
I gave more cooperative tests throughout the semester; most of them included some sort of student choice about which problems to attempt.
I like cooperative tests. They're less stressful for students. They reinforce all those skills of cooperative learning mentioned previously I adore. The contribute to the student-centered classroom I continue to strive to attain.
I do have some concerns.
What about the students (a small handful, but they do exist) who "ride the coattails" of their classmates and don't really know the material?
Am I hurting students when they DO have to take tests independently, like tests in future classes or standardized tests?
I think the ability to take a test independently is probably a non-issue. Students get plenty of opportunities to take tests like that. And there are some things - skill-based topics, for example - that lend themselves to independent tests.
As far as ensuring an accurate demonstration of each student's learning - something that's a continual area of focus - I think the type of task would be important. Deep, rich tasks with multiple entry points and ways to solve? Something to continue to ponder....
OK...this post ended up being longer than I intended, but I wanted to get my thoughts about testing in writing before the brain officially turned off at the end of this coming week (in all honesty, it's mostly off already). Continuing to reform assessment in my classroom will be a focus next school year.
Stay tuned for updates. :)
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Yep. That's me. For the past two months.
At the end of January, I decided to attempt to renew my National Board Certification this year (my certification expires in 2018, and I did not understand the "two chances to renew" aspect before a January seminar).
OK...Deep breath...I wasn't planning on this, but maybe it will be a good thing.
Things were rocking along until mid-March. Things at home took an unexpected turn. I found out I was Top 16 Finalist for Alabama Teacher of the Year (definitely exciting, but it required an extra classroom video and reflection with little notice). The May 17 deadline for submitting my National Board renewal was getting closer and closer.
Good stress...Bad stress...A whole lot of stress.
There were a few times I wasn't sure how much more I could take. There were a couple of times I was ready to throw in the towel and run far, far away.
This past Wednesday, I submitted my National Board "Profile of Professional Growth" (a week early!).
I also traveled to Montgomery for the Teacher of the Year reception. What an honor to be recognized along with so many other inspiring educators, to get to represent hundreds of other excellent educators across the state, and to be able to tell a small part of my story.
Thursday morning, I began to feel as if I was emerging from the weeds. By the grace of God, two "biggies" were completed.
Oh, things are still stressful (aren't they always?), but I'm not feeling as pressed as I was.
Typically, around state testing each year I begin to look ahead. I start making plans for the next school year. I knew I was under some pressure when next school year was the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn't sure I was going to survive THIS school year!
But now, I find myself able to see beyond the next couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to getting caught up on my grading (I'm sorry, kids!), getting my disaster of a classroom back in order (#mrsgibbscleandesk is the hashtag that wasn't this year), and making plans for next fall.
This is not a "what's going on in my classroom" post, but I wanted to write SOMEthing; it's been too long!
I'm flipping a semester review again this week. I will also give my students an end-of-year survey and reflection. Surely there will be something classroom-related to write about next weekend!
at May 13, 2017