Written by contributor Lora Lynn Fanning of Vitafamiliae
When I was just starting out with homeschooling, I sneered at the idea of tests. “Why should I teach to a test?” I wondered. We were going to simply soak up information with good literature and activities and I would just KNOW that my kids knew everything they were supposed to.
But then my kids began reading independently. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure what they knew any more. So I ate my helping of crow and added the evaluations (or tests) that can be purchased with my curriculum.
As I began to use tests, I discovered some of the holes in their information, mostly where their reading comprehension hadn’t completely caught up to their reading ability.
But I also saw that sometimes my teaching of a subject was lacking. I occasionally mistook what the actual focus of the material should be. We focused too much on specific battles of the Civil War when my kids really needed to grasp more of the overall causes for the war. That would be important for them in later years and I had gotten too bogged down in the fun details to see the forest for the trees.
(That isn’t to imply that the fun details aren’t worth learning. But I didn’t want them to miss the overall point of our studies.)
I also learned during several oral exams that one child has a particularly difficult time remembering names – new vocabulary terms, people, big words… he knew the basic sounds or syllables but had a hard time stringing them together to make a specific word. To that end, I made sure we added lots of vocabulary review toward the end of the week to help him roll those words off his tongue and say them correctly.
Most importantly, however, I discovered my kids had no idea how to take a test. True or False? Never heard of it. Matching? Nope, they were writing answers out to the side and drawing spider webs on their papers. And fill-in-the-blank? Please. Their little heads exploded and they turned the word bank into some sort of matching game.
And while there are all sorts of tricks to test taking and their test grades are by no means the GOAL of our learning, I realized that this test-taking business was important. At some point, some day, someone else who hasn’t taught them from birth might need to evaluate their knowledge. And I don’t want that to be the first time they’ve ever seen a multiple choice question.
So we kept at it. All through the year. It took at least four months for my boys to understand that the tests were even significant. It took another two months to hit upon the proper motivation to get the boys to take them seriously. (A combination of constructive bribery and threatening to make them repeat assignments was our solution.)
But over the last three months, we enjoyed using the tests as intended – to help us find the weak spots in our children’s learning.
The kids no longer mind taking them and they began to show general proficiency in taking the different forms of tests. Last week, they took their last test of the year and I prepped them for an oral “exam” on their entire year’s learning. We played lots of games to help them practice. By the time they took their last test and final exam, they were ready and scored nearly perfect scores.
I’m not trying to brag. My goal for the year wasn’t perfect grades (I usually didn’t record them) or total retention. My goal for using tests was simply to teach them how to retain knowledge, how to take a test, and to grade myself on how well I taught them a subject.
And while we didn’t achieve perfection, we certainly achieved a good head start.
Do you use tests? Why or why not?