Saturday, July 31, 2010

the purpose of a test

I'm learning as much about teaching methods in Ulpan as I am hebrew (and that's saying A LOT, considering I read a whole paragraph on day 5!)

We had our first quiz on Thursday.  Because most of the students are in that early college mindset driven by getting through to get the grade, there were groans throughout the room.  Talya, our fabulous teacher, reminded us of a very important principle of teaching/learning.  Quizes are for teachers to discover whether what THEY are doing is working, and to adjust their curriculum based on the results of the quizes.  Quizes are NOT to chastize us for getting things wrong.  Doesn't sound right?  Probably because we're too used to the morphed American education system.  We all know that education is falling apart in the US.  But the reasons may be a surprise (for more on that, check out the new book by Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education in the 1990's and Wellesley alum - the book is titled "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."

Ulpan is an entirely different experience for me than any other formal class I have taken.  I am not afraid.  Sure, I am a little bogged down with the focus and time required, as there are so many things I want to do here.  But I'm not afraid.  Not like I was when grades were on the line.  I am not afraid to show my ignorance.  To let her know that I'm not getting it.  I don't have to stay up all night studying and lose sleep worrying, because I know that if I don't get it, SHE needs to know that I need more help - i.e. more homework on that topic, more practice, or whatever it takes.  As long as I do everything she asks, if I'm still not getting it, that's ok. 

Imagine if we could remove the fear of failure in the US school system for kids, so they could fully participate without fear of repercussions (like bad grades that limit your ability to get into good schools, which can limit your ability to get a chance to prove yourself at a good job, earna good income, pursue a passion, etc)? 

And imagine if instead of opening a text book and insisting on memorization, the teacher approached the topic in a way that forced students to "think" about the issue, thereby retaining it for the long-term. Every experience I remember from K-12 involved an experience that did NOT include a text book.  Of course, there are great teachers out there (I had more than a few), but with "No Child Left Behind" increasing testing for the wrong reasons (to punish and rank students, instead of inform teachers how to best "teach" in their unique classroom), there are less and less.  And unfortunately, the Obama administration may be continuing rather than changing some of the policies put in place by the previous two Bush administrations.

A recent article came out about the drop in creativity of Americans.  It points to our educational system as a big part of the problem.

Not that the Israeli's have it all figured out.  But they do have more entrepreneurs per capita than anywhere else in the world.  And given their success breathing life into a dead language, and based on my personal experience, their teaching methods, at least with language, might be a good place for the US to look.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post and oh so true, especially the part about quizzes! It makes complete sense, though I would have never thought about quizzes that way ever.
    I think play is extremely important and if you've never seen these you should definitely check out these great TED talks on play and creativity (

    Play and creativity definitely needs to be brought back into the system to remind us all of those moments that were not cramming for a major test but learning in a fun and playful way.