Does test format influence how much students prepare for tests? Does it influence how deeply students learn content?
These are two questions (two of many) that have been circulating in my brain this week as I'm preparing to meet with teachers next week and outline our focus for our PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) this year.
An area of growth for us as a staff is to examine, discuss, and evaluate student assessments. In our PLCs, our teachers will use Bloom's taxonomy to determine the level of thinking that we are asking students to demonstrate on classroom assessments. We will also discuss how to help students understand how to interact with content to deepen their learning.
One of the articles I read this week is Multiple-Choice Exams: An Obstacle for Higher-Level Thinking in Introductory Science Classes (full article here). The article reminds us that active learning can be used to describe physically active learning and cognitively active learning. However, critical thinking cannot happen without cognitively active learning.
What are some examples of physically active learning behaviors that are cognitively passive?
As a teacher and as a parent, I've seen students repeatedly use these approaches to learning. As the administrator for 9th grade for four years, when working with students we talk with them about study habits and strategies to help them do better in class. When asked how they study, they would most often say, "I read over my notes."
- Highlighting notes
- Reading over notes
- Making index cards (physical or online)
- Attending class
- Listening to lectures
With both of my daughters, they have learned that when trying to learn vocabulary words, they can't look over the list of words or read it on their own. When they make flash cards and I review with them, we discuss each word and definition (and we usually make funny connections), and they are much more successful on remembering the words and definitions. They have come to realize that they have to do more than read over notes or make index cards.
I worry about students whose parents aren't there to help kids see a connection between learning and strategies for learning. I also worry that sometimes as high school educators we assume that students already know how to use cognitively active learning strategies. Or we don't feel like we have time to teach such strategies.
Providing a list of cognitively active strategies is in no way meant to oversimplify the process of deep learning. But it can be used as a starting point for students.
Here are some examples of cognitively active learning behaviors for students:
- Anticipating results before reading
- Creating quiz/test questions
- Rewriting notes to see how much was remembered
- Organizing notes into charts, such as Venn diagrams or other flow charts
From the article Multiple-Choice Exams: An Obstacle for Higher-Level Thinking in Introductory Science Classes, the purpose of the study was to determine if a multiple-choice test might hinder higher-level thinking skills. Can you predict the results?
Students who took multiple choice + short answer tests did not study more than the group who took only multiple choice tests. However, students who were taking multiple-choice + short answer tests used their time more effectively and used higher-level learning strategies.
Did students like having multiple-choice and short answer tests?
"But even though many students in the MC + SA section disliked the experience, they learned significantly more, including critical-thinking skills, than the students in the MC-only section."
While the resistance and practices that are researched in this article are for college students in introductory science classes, I think there are some insights we can take away that are applicable to high school students. In working with high schools students for over 20 years, I know that students don't change in the months between high school and college. The study skills they are taking to college are the ones they learned and used in high school.
Let's teach students the difference between cognitively passive and cognitively active learning strategies. Let's ask more short answer questions and questions that require written responses. Let's stretch students out of their comfort zone and into the zone of proximal development.
I would love to hear how you're doing this at your school. Please leave me a comment or reach out to me on twitter and share. We're better together!