Every teacher wants their students to succeed, and assessments are a great way to measure success. Maybe your students are doing fairly well and you’re just looking for small improvements. Or maybe your students are struggling and you just aren’t seeing a change in test scores, no matter what you do. Either way, there is always room for improvement. And with the new year in full swing, the time to start preparing students for their assessments is now.
Use Current Events to Engage Students
We all know that students who are more engaged perform better. Students who are engaged tend to be more alert, take notes, ask questions, and generally are active learners. But increasing student engagement can be harder than it seems—the all too familiar scene of a room full of students with eyes glazed over, completely disengaged is in the back of every educator’s mind. One interesting way to draw students in is to teach using current events. Have students write an editorial about a current issue that interests them, or have them connect an event in the past to what’s happening today. Check out The New York Times blog’s list of 50 ideas for teaching with current events for more ideas.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice gives students the chance to learn and use the skills they will need during exams. It also gives you a chance to expose them to new question types and focus on areas your students consistently struggle with. The more opportunities students have to practice, the better prepared they will be when exam time comes. Wisewire offers an extensive bank of tens of thousands of Common Core-aligned math and ELA assessment items, some free and some available for purchase.
Build Your Own Assessments
You know your students best. While already developed assessment items are great practice when you simply don’t have extra time, the most effective way to ensure your students are focusing on the skills they need to develop the most is to build your own assessment items. Tools like the Wisewire Create platform take the hassle out of developing technology-enhanced learning resources with hints and targeted feedback.
Take Tests with Your Students
High school English teacher Brian Sztabnik used to take a standard approach to testing. Give students a sample exam each quarter with the year culminating in a big standardized exam. When test scores failed to improve, he decided to try a different approach. One thing he did differently was to join in with his students during essays or assessments. This will help you feel what your students feel, and experience their frustration of getting a question wrong when the evidence was sufficient. This knowledge will allow you to help struggling students to learn from their mistakes. It will also allow you to express your through process to them, and model the proper way to work through a question.
Look at Failure as a Chance to Grow
Many students are afraid to fail. Even on a practice test, they see their mistakes as flaws in their intelligence, not as an opportunity to grow and learn. This is known as a fixed mindset. You want to encourage a growth mindset.
A start is to take the pressure away from practice tests. Try giving practice tests that don’t count toward their grade and see how students respond. Do they seem more receptive to really learning the material and understanding why they got an answer wrong?
Think About How You’re Encouraging Students
You may already encourage a growth mindset in your students. But did you know that the way in which you present and encourage students may have an impact on learning?
According to Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University who wrote “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, encouraging a growth mindset is not just about encouraging students to put in more effort. It’s important to praise students for trying new approaches and learning the material, rather than just putting in the effort.
Take a student who is struggling with math. Dweck suggests that to encourage the student, try saying something like “If you catch yourself saying, ‘I’m not a math person,’ just add the word ‘yet’ to the end of the sentence.” Avoid telling the student something like “Don’t worry, you’ll get it if you just keep trying.” Using this type of encouragement fails to consider that the student could be taking the wrong approach to the problem. If this is the case, no matter how much effort the student puts in, his or her efforts won’t work.