Standardized testing has skyrocketed in recent years and the anti-testing movement is gaining momentum, but not all testing is bad. In fact, meaningful assessment is an effective measure of student achievement and provides a way to make students accountable for their learning. In my opinion, it may also increase rigor in instruction.
Perhaps what teachers really need are ways to help prepare students for tests without “teaching to the test.” They need lessons and activities that move beyond skill and drill, worksheets, and too-frequent benchmarks exams. Here are some strategies that I have used in my classroom and that may be helpful to you, also.
1. The Art of the Hook
Get students engaged at the beginning of a reading assignment with critical discussion. In all of my Paired Passages Lessons, I use anticipation guides with statements related to central ideas in the upcoming texts that also relate to students’ lives. For instance, before students read Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” and Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” they debate the ideas in the following two sentences: “Women have achieved equal rights to men,” and “A woman will be elected president in the next presidential election.” This helps students immediately make connections between the texts and their own lives.
2. Use Friendly Competition
When teachers incorporate group activities that encourage healthy competition, their classrooms often become energized! I use a variety of Trashketball games to get students excited about reviewing grammar concepts and other topics. Since students work together in heterogeneous groups and compete against other groups, they work together as teams to discover the answers to the questions. With a supportive atmosphere, everyone has a chance to win and learn in a fun way.
3. Discussion & Consensus
In my Advanced Placement English Literature class, my students have been practicing responding to multiple choice questions. Under time constraints, I require them to respond to sample questions provided from the College Board. In the past, after students were finished, I simply reviewed and discussed the answers in a whole-class discussion.
Recently, though, I have arranged students into diverse groups after they complete their individual answers. Within the groups, students share individual answers and then come to a consensus on answers for each question. Additionally, the groups develop a rationale for each answer using text evidence and an analysis of the task. Finally, we discuss all of the group answers in whole-class discussion and everyone’s scores improve!