Monday, June 21, 2010

You Don't Need to Know This

During Exam Days, I strolled past a teacher and young student who were engaged in a feverish conversation. I overheard a snatch of exasperated comment from the teacher: "You don't need to know this-- It's not on the exam."

I understand the strange pressures that would cause a teacher to urge a student not to know something, and furthermore, I've conducted reviews for exams where students have expressed a real eagerness not to learn anything new or interesting which might not be on the test. But if you think about it, these kinds conversations are symptomatic of something pretty dreadful, aren't they? The assessment tool itself is limiting the range and depth of knowledge.

While it is easy to be cynical about this perversion of education, it is much more challenging to come up with more valid means of authentic assessing student understanding. I find myself at a challenging crossroads. As I reported in Raising the Bar . . . ., I am very happy with the intense evaluation process that I have developed for my students' Challenge Based Learning projects. But I still lean very heavily on conventional testing in other areas of my courses. (Ironically some fellow staffers members have the impression that I don't use books, paper, or testing at all).

But I would like to continue to ween myself from conventional testing, or at least present alternatives to it. My latest endeavor involves a collaboration with a new teacher. We will be teaching all the American Government sections next year. Ironically, we met to discuss our plans on the very same day that day I overheard the "You don't need to know this" remark.

Our intention is to guide our students in building a giant Fall election project. Right now, we are brain storming our ideas on a shared Google Doc, and she already has really stimulated my thinking with some great assessment suggestions. Ideally, I would like to allow my students to choose from a menu of activities and assessments so that the entire process is relatively self-directed.

Readers at the Drive-thru will hear more about this in the future, I'm sure. In the mean time I will welcome input at this blog, on Facebook, or through private email.

"March 6" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by lorenabuena


Alessi said...

Personally, I think a lot of teachers tell their students that they don't have to know something because sometimes the students become way too involved in the material, and, quite frankly, a lot of teachers don't feel like explaining something that they won't test their students on. Quite obviously, you're one of the few exceptions, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard a teacher say such a thing because he or she is simply too lazy to explain something he or she deems to be unimportant. Instead of the student trying to get out of learning, the teacher is trying to get out of teaching.

What you're suggesting sounds really interesting. I really enjoyed our election coverage, so I'm sure this will certainly be just as well thought out. Keep me posted!

Larry Baker said...

Thanks for a student point of view, Alessi.

As a side note, teachers generally don't like to look like they don't know something. This is a consequence of assuming an information dispensing role. My interest is in shifting teachers out of this role into that of an information seeking guide. Personally, I find this much more fun because I learn things too.

Many of us went into teaching because we found out that we were pretty good (or at least comfortable) with the testing "game". We take it so much for granted we can't even hear the irony of saying, "You don't need to know this."

Alessi said...

Excellent point. Information seeking is far more enjoyable for students as well.

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