Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creative Thinkers or High Test Scores: Why Can't We Have Both?

I've noticed that in a lot of the discussions that I have had with teachers, test scores always come up in the conversation.  It usually goes something like this:

"I just can't find time to do all the of the project based learning and fun activities because I am too busy getting them ready for the test in April."

"Genius Hour just won't work in my room because I teach Math/Reading which is tested in the Spring."

"I don't do all of the fun stuff in my classroom because my students need to be ready to test."

Why do so many educators think that we cannot prepare students for tests by using project based learning and innovative teaching?   I don't understand why so many teachers think that it has to be one or the other. Students can be prepared for standardized testing by activities like Genius Hour and projects that make the learning experience more meaningful and frankly, more fun for everyone involved.

In my opinion, application is a huge part of learning.  If students cannot take what they have learned and apply it in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them, then we have missed the mark.  One might even say that we haven't done our job effectively.

For example, knowing math facts is an essential foundation.  However, if students do not know how to apply those math facts in an appropriate situation, what is the point of knowing them?  Students need to know how to comprehend what they have read, but if they are simply comprehending enough to pass a test on the computer, then it is meaningless.

If a student can apply the learning, they will be much more capable of attempting the higher order thinking skills such as analyzing, evaluating, and creating.  On the other hand, if a student has simply seen the skill on a worksheet or on a board at the front of a room, how can we expect them to do any of those things?

Most math worksheets do not show whether a student can apply a skill.  They simply tell us if a student can take what they have learned and do the exact same thing over and over with different numbers.   Reading worksheets simply give students the ability to show that they can comprehend and successfully find the answers in what they read.  They do not tell us anything about the student's ability to connect and find meaning in what they have read.

I'm not saying that there is absolutely no place for worksheets in the classroom.  There may be times that a worksheet is an appropriate way to assess basic skills or simple understanding.  Worksheets might be a way to collect their thoughts or gather information but the learning must be taken a step further.  I often ask students to write their thoughts down before we discuss. But it is very rare that I assign a worksheet with right or wrong answers.

I'm simply saying that I would much rather hear students discussing, collaborating, creating, and really applying what they have learned in a way that is meaningful for them.  Because if this is happening, learning is happening. Students are making connections, understanding, and realizing that learning can be fun and engaging.

I like that one definition of "apply" is to put to practical use.  If students do not connect a way to apply the learning in a practical way, there is really no point to the learning.  It's a waste of their time and we are kidding ourselves if we don't think that they know that.

I've said it many times before but I can cover more standards in one Genius Hour project than I could with an entire stack of worksheets.  Giving students the opportunity to take the skills that they have learned and use them creatively doing something with passion will always be a better idea. Collaborative activities and innovative problem solving will bring excitement and energy into my classroom.  It is for these reasons that I choose to encourage this type of learning.

I write this post just to encourage us all to consider the fact that maybe, just maybe project based learning and innovative teaching might result in higher test scores.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.  That being said, I will always agree that my students come first.  Test scores are not my top priority and never will be.


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