August 29 – to test or not to test

36/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. People come in to your lives and they have an effect on you in some way in some aspect of your life. Glenn was such a person who affected the way I thought about teaching. Yes, he saw potential in me and took me on a few leadership conferences (because I was sponsoring Students Council) enabling me to pick up skills and activities to bring back to the select few I was working with; however, it was when we had an informal discussion about the strategies that I used in class that really got me thinking about my teaching practice as a whole. At that time in teaching in the 90s, the administration team was tasked with reviewing teachers in their classroom every five years. Glenn, as vice principal, watched me teach – and I must admit, it was a very nerve wracking experience. I selected classes where the students were engaged in different activities: taking notes, working in groups, writing a test. The review was very successful – great report written up about my teaching but the best part of the review was the conversation that Glenn and I engaged in afterwards. In regards to testing, he asked me why I administered tests and I thought wow, he’s losing it – it’s a school, we’re in a classroom, you test for knowledge  I told him that you just do to tie up a unit and to assess student learning and he asked why that way – forcing students to memorize. He asked me what the purpose of note-taking was and that was an easy answer – learning new material. Then he asked me the most profound question that forever changed my teaching – why can’t they use their notes for a test? I sat there dumbfounded as my answer was going to be the obvious ones – it’s school, it’s a test, you just don’t use notes, closed book is what tests are all about, that’s the way its always been done, everyone will get As etc etc. He didn’t ask me to change my teaching practice, he just left me with that to ponder and ponder it I did and since that day, I have been giving open book time for test taking and it has cut cheating down to zero, reduced much test taking anxiety for students and the marks (for the most part) reflect student knowledge. I, as well as hundreds of students, thank you Glenn for guiding my teaching practice in a way that challenged the status quo. Cheers!

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