Should tests only test something? Make it extra! With extra tasks.

 What’s next?

I have done a chapter from a coursebook and what’s next? Should I move on to the next one without any special activities or shall I assess the students somehow?

I bet you have done plenty of observations during this month (or whatever amount of time you devoted to cover the chapter) about your students’ progress, and I hope you have shared your thoughts with them in a good feedback session. Even if your pupils are familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, is it enough for such young students? Aren’t they in need of something tangible? Or isn’t the teacher intended to share more complex information about students’ progress with the parents?

All these questions need to be taken into consideration while starting to work as a teacher also, they require reconsideration before each school year begins.

“At most institutions, testing students and assigning them grades provide the bases for such evaluations.”

National Research Council. 1997. Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press

Testing should be done consciously and after bearing in mind the age of pupils, validity and reliability of the test and the other tests’ items.

I won’t be focusing on what the test should look like here.

That’s a nice idea for the next article 😊

I will briefly write about my approach to tests and how I differentiate tasks for my pupils and make the most of them.

Criteria of success

I firstly read about this idea while I was getting to know summative and formative assessment during my studies. It came to me like a thunder strike. I have never experienced such things when I was a pupil at my schools. I remember my old teachers usually said that ‘there will be a test from chapter 1’ or ‘the test will be from pages 30-50’. What it said to me? Not much…really. I assumed some information were more important than others, but I wasn’t 100% sure that I knew what to cram.

The usefulness of criteria is tremendous. It’s almost like having a to-do list for your test.

With the youngest of my classes, I set the criteria on my own and later just briefly explain them and talk them through with students. But from grade 2-3 I let them brainstorm. They think what was important in this chapter, what words should appear on the test, what structures shall we use there, etc. For starters, they feel prominent and their opinions are essential. And of course, if something is made personal for kids, they will learn it better. It’s efficient to give children space in your teaching to add something to it.

Criteria of success should be written in an understandable for children language. Avoid complex structures and metalanguage.

The simpler the better!

Obligatory and extra tasks

As I mentioned above, I try to differentiate tests for my students based on their performance during the lessons and their overall abilities (I always consult my observations with the class teacher).

I have a standardised test for the whole class. I made one by myself based on material available for the coursebook I use. I make some small changes when it comes to weaker students. I may put some extra hints or letters, if I consider the task too challenging for them.

For the better more advanced pupils I always think about one or two more demanding tasks which are graded separately. I constantly remind all the pupils that they ought to at least try the extra task. One convincing reason for them to do that is to make Mrs Paulina read and work more 😉 It works!

Marking and checking extra tasks

My extra tasks contain small criteria of success in them, namely I list out things that I will be looking for in the task. Students can successfully follow the list and they may be sure to perform amazingly.

I use different coloured pencils to mark ONLY the good things in such tasks. The activity is usually slightly above their level of performance, so I do not focus on mistakes (unless they are illogical).

I try to give my students opportunity to feel proud of themselves. They are able to face the extra task and do well! During normal lessons in big classes you cannot have a chance to see the above-level knowledge of some students. Especially, if they are shy. Such extra tasks give you a better opportunity to know your pupils more.

Do exploit tests and make sure you not only check the knowledge, but also give your students some fun and entertainment when they write them.