Tag Archives: motivation

Why Teaching To The Test May Not Be So Bad After All

Despite my background in tests and measures, I’ve been virulently opposed to the whole concept of standards-based education in public schools. To my way of thinking, that approach is about teaching kids how to do well on tests, rather than how to do well in life, which are two completely different things. Worse, if the US is going to compete internationally on the basis of test results, we will lose. It’s impossible for us to overcome the phenomenal discipline parents in other cultures apply to drive their children toward test success. Americans (by and large) just aren’t that way, and that’s served us to our advantage time and time again. (For a clear, if fictional, illustration of this principle, see Kirk’s answer to the Kobayashi Maru. If you need a ‘real life’ example, look to MacAruthur’s return to the Phillipines.)

Exam Sign

However, I’ve just had an insight from some recent reading. It might, possiblymay be that teaching to the test isn’t all bad, if it gives teachers a challenge; a purpose; a result on which to focus their efforts, one which is more concrete and apparent than producing ‘a well-rounded student’.

Consider for example the profile and tweets of the Sylvania Schools’ Assistant Director of Curriculum, Julie Sanford. I realized after reading her statement that “CURRICULUM IS FUN!” (capitalization is hers) that having a meaningful educational agenda to work on, even if that curriculum is oriented toward the result of producing test-compliant kids, may supply a sense of purpose for teachers in the classroom. This, in turn, may yield the well-rounded students we’re actually trying to produce. The last time we (as a country) had such clarity and urgency in teaching, especially in the areas of science, math, and engineering, was when we were in the Space Race with the Soviet Union, and look how that turned out.

photo credit: Blue Square Thing via photopin cc

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On Learning From Mistakes. And Successes.

Doh!They say you can learn more from your mistakes than your successes. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is bullshit. In my experience, if you’re motivated, you can learn as much from what you do right as from what you do wrong by deliberately thinking about what just happened. In the case of physical activities, the sooner you do so, the better.

Consider for example an athletic endeavor, say, soccer. If you kick the ball, and it falls short or curves the wrong way, you can learn by pausing and saying to yourself:

“Ok, self, what just happened? How was my body positioned? What was the angle of my foot, leg, my hips, and my chest? How much force did I apply? Where were my arms? Where was I looking? And which one of those things will I change to try making the next kick better?

On the other hand, if you kick the ball and it goes precisely where you wanted it to and with just enough power to get the job done, you can learn by pausing and saying to yourself:

“Ok, self, what just happened? How was my body positioned? What was the angle of my foot, leg, my hips, and my chest? How much force did I apply? Where were my arms? Where was I looking? And which of all those things should stay the same to make the next kick just as good?”

In other words, if you’re motivated to learn, your relative success or failure on any particular effort does not matter. What does matter is what you do with the information you’ve gained.

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