Characteristics of All Effective Learning Experiences

And Jim’s theater performance has the added benefit of providing motivation, structure and purpose to student learning, as anyone who has performed in a play, a band or orchestra concert or for a school sports team in an athletic contest knows.

Have the bubble sheet tests and the endless prep exercises for those tests had a positive impact on student motivation to learn? Not likely. An overemphasis on testing definitely leads to problems. We could easily replace failing instruction in many classrooms with failing, prescriptive and even more boring instruction for the benefit of testing.

Jim’s play had one other characteristic that bubble sheet tests don’t. Jim’s class performed that play in 1978, more than 35 years ago, and his students are now in their early 50s. How many of them still remember that play and their role in its success? No doubt, every one of them.

How many of them were impacted in some positive and meaningful way as learners, as parents and as workers by their experience in that play? My guess, probably more than one and maybe more than a handful. How many of us can remember anything meaningful coming from our preparation for and participation in any of the many bubble sheet tests we encountered in our years in school?

One of the characteristics of all effective learning experiences in our lives – including those learning experiences that occur outside the classroom – is that they are read more.memorable. Many teachers do their best to make classroom instruction memorable. But if teachers limit themselves to traditional lectures and bubble sheet test prep activities as their entire instructional tactical arsenal, their efforts will be forgotten. There are many ways to create memorability: authentic assessments with an audience, academic contests, experimental activities, school/workplace collaborations, etc. Effective learning and teaching requires a combination of those strategies.

“How many of us can remember anything meaningful coming from our preparation for and participation in any of the many bubble sheet tests we encountered in our years in school?”
At the same time, we need reliable, believable, numerical measures of student learning. Without these reliable academic measures, children from poverty would almost certainly experience more inequity than they’re already experiencing in our educational system.   Bubble sheet tests with their reliable essays and simple extended problems that include packaged scoring rubrics provide us with data that can help us make decisions about how to proceed with academic improvement efforts. Without these tests and some common standards that guide the test and curriculum development, we’re guaranteed to have a disjointed system of mostly weak standards and tests across the country. And our race to the top will quickly become a race to the bottom.
Anyone who says we don’t need standardized tests is kidding themselves. The question is: How do we marry those two different measurement systems into something that helps our students learn and increases the odds they’ll develop the “soft” less easily measured but very important skills and values that came from Jim’s class play?
To buy the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” by Lonnie Palmer, click here.

Author: Lonnie Palmer

Author of the solutions-based book "Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform"

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