TEST Does Not Have to be a Four Letter Word

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!


Journal Writing for Women's History Month

Every Monday, I start the school week with journal writing in my American Literature courses. Sometimes the journals are about the American Dream and other times they're connected to our reading.  For March, though, I hope to do a series of journal writing and discussion activities in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Week One

This week I plan to use the YouTube video from a recent Always commercial.

It raises provoking questions such as the following:

· What stereotypes about girls and women does this commercial show?
· Why do the young girls behave differently than the older girls?
· Do boys face stereotypes, too? What are they?

Week Two

The following week, I plan to expand on these ideas by having my students learn about Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old baseball superstar who made it onto the cover of “Sports Illustrated.” These days she is playing basketball in high school. Here's an interview with her from ESPN.

The video clip presents insightful quotes that I will ask students to record. Then, I will ask them to explain why they selected specific quotes.

Week Three

Finally, for the last journal in the series I plan to inspire discussion with artist David Lopera’s pictures.  Recently, he has gained attention in the news and on social media by using Photoshop to alter celebrity pictures.  By adding weight to the celebrities’ figures, these photos raise questions about society’s standards for female beauty.  While these pictures may not be appropriate to use with younger students, I think my second semester juniors are mature enough to view them and respond to the questions about female beauty they raise.

I’m really excited to try these journal writing and discussion activities and will let you know how it goes!
  If you have more ideas for these journals, please share them in the comments below.

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