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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Teaching for the Test versus Deep Teaching

Teachers are often faced with the quandary to teach to the test versus deep teaching. What's a teacher to do?

With a systemwide test one week away I'm faced with a large number of concepts to review. To teach these concepts well takes time with multimodal teaching and learning. Yet students have a test in one week that will present these concepts, and I want to give every child the chance to know these concepts prior to the test.

Some may say, why didn't you teach the concepts with depth prior to the test. This was impossible given the time, students' preparedness, and the large number of concepts included on the test. Plus this test is not a direct match for the standardized test students take in May, so essentially I'm working to teach students two sets of standards.

I will attempt to do both: teach for the test and for depth. Ideally the "depth teaching" would be a step by step investigative and practice path towards mastery, but I'll deviate from that path a bit by doing the following. Next week well review the algorithmic ways to solve the problems--the quick ways to use numbers and memorize patterns to learn these concepts. Then when that test passes, we'll back track to understand the deeper underpinnings of those algorithms using models and investigations. This approach will give many a chance to do very well on the test and also give all a chance to get greater understanding and depth with the concept before we take the next test and, more importantly, to help students understand the concepts with meaning and engagement.

Testing is a big issue in schools. In some ways tests and assessments help us to move programs along and stay faithful to concept/skill development, but in other ways the test create conditions where teachers may feel that they have to rush the curriculum or teach to the mean rather than work to teach all students in the ways they need to be taught.

The right answer to this question is to work as a team with administrators, teachers, students, and family members to choreography good teaching/learning programs--the kinds of programs that help students gain the skill, interest, concept, and knowledge to learn in engaging, natural ways.  There's many ways to do this including lots of number play, maker math, tech integration with coding, creativity, and robotics, interdisciplinary study, passion-based learning and more. In every context this will look a little different, but if all educators, families, and students learn, share their knowledge, and work together to craft great programs, wonderful learning will occur.