Tag Archives: learning process

“I don’t test well” — or do you just not prepare enough?

Testing issues?

You understand it in class, but not when you have to do it on the test?

You do all your homework, but then the teacher pops a question you never saw before?

Actually, you test precisely as well as you learn.

Nice try, though.

We hear this from parents as much as from students:

“My daughter does all her homework but she just doesn’t test well.”

And then

“I think she has test anxiety.”

It’s almost comforting to know that your child doesn’t test well. One would want to sympathize with that, because it would seem to explain things. But it’s just not true.

Here are the components of “testing well”:

  1. Identify teacher expectations

  2. Internalize them through repetitive practice.

“Testing” is demonstration of learning in what we call a “formal assessment.” Certainly there are additional pressures and conditions to render a formal assessment more difficult than homework or classwork. There’s the time limit, there’s the formality of the situation, and the discomfort a teacher getting serious all of a sudden. But that doesn’t change the fact that none of those additional challenges do anything but emphasize preparedness — or lack thereof.

Guided v. Independent Practice

For students who simply do not engage the workflow that teachers expect, they will not “test well” unless they are exceptionally bright and can learn on the fly without studying. Their grades will still suffer, because middle and high school grades are usually no more than 30 or 40 percent from formal assessments.

So acing every test without doing any homework starts you off on a B or C, and maintaining even those grades requires 100% on tests and quizzes. Good luck with that.

For students who follow in the classroom, who understand teacher expectations, and who do the homework and studying that’s required of them — and still do not “test well,” it’s not a “testing” issue. It’s the learning.

A couple of things may be going on:

1. Compliance without learning:

What we call “overly compliant” students are more concerned with fulfilling the form of teacher (or parent) expectations without actually engaging its substance. When this happens, homework and studying happen without real learning. It shows up as high  homework (process) and low test (learning) grades.

2. Lack of lesson internalization:

Whether or not the student engages the expected workflow, if test scores are low, then the student is simply not studying enough. Experts will tell you how it takes 30 distinct acts of learning/practicing something to fully internalize, i.e., to full know it.

With school work, those 30 or whatever acts of learning start with the teacher’s first lesson, then continue through the “guided practice,” in which the teacher shows and leads the students in the lesson (setting expectations, engaging students, building relevancy and breaking it down for understanding — you know, all those things a good teacher does…) and on to enough “independent” practice through which the student has applied the teacher’s learning her or himself.

A quick way to measure “internalization” is to try to teach it to someone else. If you can’t explain it to someone who doesn’t already know it, then you don’t really know it. This is how a parent can engage a child in studying topics that the parent doesn’t know about: “explain it to me.” If the student can’t, then the student needs more learning, be it guided or independent practice or both.

But here’s the crutch: is it important enough to the student to apply him or herself to it fully?

Relevancy

So let’s add an additional component to “testing well”:

3. Making it important enough to study and practice enough (relevancy and commitment)

Overly compliant students do not engage lessons meaningfully, as do other sorts of underperformers who may procrastinate, lack  executive function and other secretarial skills and do not process and practice enough independently.

Just as we would ask the internally-motivated student who learns only topics of interest, the overly compliant, externally-motivated student must adopt that curiosity and drive to learn of the intrinsic learner in order to get past “I don’t test well.”

Both sets must apply themselves with adequate  preparation, practice, and purpose in order to raise those test grades, even in an unenjoyable class.

Heh, it’s only a grade — which actually matters.

So quit making excuses about “testing issues” and get to work really learning it so that when you do have to spit it back out on a test amidst formal, “sit-down and shut-up,” nerve-wracking settings, it’s actually easy — because you already and truly know it.

– Michael

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Learning-Process_flow-chart4_noheader2

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.