On Becoming a Canadian: facts, figures and formative assessment
This past summer I wrote my Canadian citizenship test. Long silent lines snaked from room to room. The test-takers were eventually seated in rows — an empty chair between each person. We were handed a standard issue pre-sharpened pencil. We were told that if we talked during the test, we would fail. If we looked at someone else’s test, we would fail, along with the poor soul whose test we allegedly looked at.
The test consisted of 20 multiple-choice questions. Some were simple — an answer jumped out. Others were tricky – slight variations on a theme.
What fascinated me about this process was not the test taking itself, but the process of preparing for the test. While I do not have a degree in History, I was pretty sure I could read the “Discover Canada” booklet a bunch of times and learn everything I needed to know. After all, it was just 50 pages of discrete facts.
So I set about to make sense of this static information. What strategies could I use to pull the content off the page and make it stick? Here is what I did:
- Emailed one daily Random Canadian Fact to a group of friends
- Made notes on my iPhone; reviewed them whenever and wherever I wanted
- My kids quizzed me on the phone facts
- Talked about it with others
- Created mnemonics to remember lists of facts such as Canadian rights
- Looked up important people, ie. David Johnston to link his face with his role
What would YOU do?
How Often Do Your Students Practice Without Penalty?
One strategy in particular struck me as especially important. The online practice tests allowed me to practice without penalty. I could take the test often and was given immediate feedback. Any wrong answers and I would go back and look up the information. I did this many times, until the night before the test when I finally got my first perfect score. The ideas of allowing our students to practice without penalty, and giving them timely, specific feedback while there is still an opportunity to improve are key pieces of formative assessment.
I have shared this story with teachers and asked what would YOU do to learn this material? One staff responded with:
- Create mindmaps
- Create and use cue cards
- Write and review notes
- Look at pictures /visuals
- Draw pictures
- Create songs or raps to help remember dates and names
- Use repetition
- Verbalize/talk aloud/tell someone
- Quiz myself/create a quiz/take online quiz
- Make connections
- Memory spill
- Read aloud
- Create a timeline
- Organize the information
- Use a knowledge framework
- Create acronyms
- Watch films on Canada
- Make a movie about Canada
- Highlight notes
- Review daily
These 20 strategies came from a small staff and many groups had well over 15 strategies. What struck me was the variety and sheer number of strategies. Notice how often the word create appears.
This experience was a truly humbling one. I had doubts as to whether or not I could learn and retain all the information and whether I would actually pass the test. I was reminded again of the critical importance of giving students multiple, varied and meaningful opportunities to make sense of content. Yes, learning is terribly time-bound, but we MUST give students chances to succeed.
Belief in the Potential for Success for ALL Students
According to Susan Brookhart, formative assessment involves much more than simply adding a few new strategies to our existing teaching repertoire. She writes:
Formative assessment involves shifting focus
• from instruction and teaching to deeper learning
• from summative assessment for grading and reporting to assessment as a teaching and learning process that enhances (not just monitors) learning
• from teaching in isolation to teaching teams working as learning communities
(Brookhart, S. (2009). Exploring Formative Assessment (PLC), ASCD).
←Click the image at left to take the test.