For many students, Spring Break is a time tranquility and relaxation. While this tend to be true, this week break is also considered the eye of the storm for those within the education sector. In just a couple of short weeks, schools across the nation will be taking their state-mandated examinations. Yes, two to three weeks is not enough time to prepare your students for the test of their lives. But it is enough time to check and evaluate for understanding. In my opinion, I believe so.
To start off, we need to of course understand the harsh realities of test fatigue. Just think about the perspective of your students. For months, they have been tested, evaluated, taught, analyzed, and retested to make sure they pass an exam that can dictate their future teachers and future educational path. Because of these ramifications, it will be your job to create a positive and encouraging learning environment where your students can feel safe, respected, and driven for success. They need to know what you are expecting from them and what they are intended to accomplish. To do this, make sure that they understand your class goals. Be sure to personalize them based off of their individual data and translate what that data can mean for them for their futures. Now this does not mean every student will be accepting to your approach. If you find they are already showing signs of the white flag, try and see what you can do to inspire them. At times, it could be just a confidence issues. Show that sense of encouragement. Give that speech to spark their fire. And last but not least, show them that they can succeed.
This is where checking for understanding comes into play. Now, this process is never easy. In fact, there is nothing easy about teaching. But it is essential that you are able to holistically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all of your students based off of their performances. Start off by asking yourself various goals you expect from your class. This can be the following:
- What do I want them to learn?
- How much do I want them to increase by?
- What areas do I want X student improving by?
- What classes haven’t mastered Y lesson? What can I do to enhance that lesson?
These questions will allow you to carefully and strategically plan and break down the standards needed for these last few weeks. Once you have those questions answer, you will be able to plan a strong curriculum that is both relevant and useful right before the test.
To help evaluate your students’ strengths and weaknesses, make sure you are providing daily on-going formative assessments. Now, this does not mean these have to be full class exams. Instead, they can vary depending on the content and the overall class. Start off with various questioning strategies. Create an environment where you can test your students through minimal questions of whether or not they understand the concepts. Make sure to scaffold these questions from easy, medium, to hard. This level of questions will help differentiate points you can work on later on before the state exam. In addition, leverage your students as a source. Provide a Think-Pair-Share method so that your students can listen and comprehend rich and organic right answers. For many teachers, this is a practice that is done daily. To enhance this, try and cultivate a competitive gaming environment where student groups can compete for the right answer like in Jeopardy. Now once that is done, to finally check for understanding, make sure you have daily exit tickets after each new lesson. Think of these as mini-quizzes. While they do not have to go in-depth like an exam, they need to be practice in covering the material you are expecting them to master. You can even use this as a Bell Ringer the next day to reiterative your last lesson.
Once that is done, be sure you are evaluating all of this information. Remember, the game changer is not the material, but what you are able to do with in the future. With just a few more weeks till the big exam, make sure you spend those extra hours evaluating your student success rate. This can be the biggest differentiator between your students getting an advance class or another reading class.