Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How do I know what my students know if I don't test them?

Here is an actual Twitter conversation I had with someone we will call Sally:
Joe: The best teachers need not use testsandgrades to know what their students know. 
Sally: How do I know how well my students understand parts of speech without giving them a test on it? 
Joe: Have them write something meaningful that is in a context and for a purpose. 
Sally: How does that test their knowledge of how a noun differs from a verb? 
Joe: well, why do you want children to learn the difference from a noun and a verb if not to write meaningful stuff? 
Sally: Okay, meaningful stuff. Only meaningful if it can be communicated. Only communicated through understanding of language.
Can you see how when we are frantically focused on the minutia of content delivery that testsandgrades can hijack learning and become the raison d'ĂȘtre for school?

Project Based Learning and Portfolio Assessments are authentic alternatives to testsandgrades.

When I have these conversations, I like to remember what Grant Wiggins meant when he said:
When practice becomes unmoored from purpose, rigidity sets in.


  1. OK Joe, try this:
    I teach ninth grade English. The district says they must read The Odyssey. I try my best but, through oral discussions I know my students are daydreaming, not paying attention. They tell me: "This is boring."
    How do I force them to really read and/or listen?
    Does testing have a role here?
    Jerry Heverly

  2. What does the district say the kids must learn by reading the Odyssey? It sounds to me that you are tempted to use a test as a motivator (punishment?) to get them to read. If the district doesn't tell you what the kids need to get from the reading, can you create a project that ties in O Brother Where Art Thou? Can your students make their own version of the Odyssey set in modern day _____? That becomes their "test," and you have an idea if the kids understood the themes of the reading.

    And if the district is interested in the students learning the heroic journey and Greek religion, the Percy Jackson books are much better at teaching that, if only because the kids will actually read them.


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