Emma Rogers, CEO of Little Bridge, explains why testing is a proven way to motivate learning.
Most, if not all of us remember tests as part of our schooldays and beyond. Not all of those memories are positive! Many Educationalists value ‘teaching to tests’. This is where teachers focus on specific items to ensure their students achieve higher scores during standardized tests. This is at the expense of ‘rich and full knowledge’*.
Research suggests that students may indeed achieve higher grades in some subjects with the “teach to the test” approach. However, this is a worrying trend. It can become obsessional and extinguish a love of learning and lead to poor motivation. Worse, it can result in superficial learning that prohibits advanced thinking and communication skills. It begs the question, what should be the purpose of education in the rapidly changing 21st century?
As research has shown, when done right, testing is an effective way to support learning. Taking tests, as well as engaging in activities before and after, can produce better recall of facts. Taking tests can also produce a deeper, more complex understanding when compared to a system without assessments.
So what does ‘done right’ mean?
Purpose – Why testing is a proven way to motivate learning
The first thing to establish is the purpose of the test. It sounds obvious, but there are a number of motivations for introducing tests to a group of students. These range from classroom management to policy making. They can be used to judge an individual’s right of entry and exit within a particular system. They can enable teachers to plan, by understanding student’s needs and determining their path forwards. Tests provide data to policy makers. This helps them make decisions regarding funding, class size, curriculum adjustments, teacher development and more. Tests help purchasers evaluate educational products and services (see a previous post on this). Which of these are you looking to do?
Being clear about why you are testing your students can enhance the learning experience. Thinking of tests as the means to enable your students to be successful is positive. If tests are not just about passing or failing, they become part of the natural cycle of learning. Tests should be designed to be challenging but not discouraging. They should be transparent and insightful – for both teacher and student.
Placement and progress – Why testing is a proven way to motivate learning
The tests in Little Bridge support teachers by providing both a ‘placement’ and a ‘progress’ evaluation. Combined with ‘real-time’ performance information, available at any point, they help establish milestones. Teachers can determine a student’s position, including at the outset of the program, in terms of knowledge and understanding. This feedback enables strategies to foster their students’ self-belief and set goals. It can and avoid significant barriers to learning, such as boredom and disaffection.
Little Bridge tests encourage students to develop a ‘learning orientation’, not a ‘performance orientation’. They are focused on student motivation and are fun to do, appearing like other gamified activities. Students are encouraged to understand that they are developing valuable competences. And being part of the community of learners in the platform, students can immediately put these competences to real use as they connect with friends.
This is worlds apart from ‘obsessional’ testing, with teachers and students being concerned about their results – a negative and dispiriting experience. ‘Done right’, to create ‘helpful evidence’, tests can be a key driver for learning success.
PS In the late 1990s, an interesting experiment took place in Chicago. It was a three-year study, analyzing classroom activities and students’ gains on standardized tests across 400 Chicago classrooms. Children were encouraged to participate in their learning, by understanding what they know and, with their teachers’ support, to build on this. The process was described as ‘authentic intellectual instruction’. The outcome? Students logged test scores that were 20% higher than the national average**.
*Amanda Spielman, Head of Ofsted in England
**Even when taking into consideration race, gender and poverty levels.
Emma Rogers, co-founder of Little Bridge.
Enjoyed reading Why testing is a proven way to motivate learning? Visit Emma’s Medium profile to find out more about social learning.
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