The Passage of Time
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Teachers frequently complain about debate the need for the plethora of tests that we administer on a regular basis, and I have to admit I’m right in there with them. It seems like there is so much testing going on that we have little time left for instruction.

The reality of course is that there is plenty of instruction going on, we just don’t have time to teach everything we would like or even are supposed to teach.

In this article, Scott McCleod proposes doing more testing, not less. I can almost hear you saying, “You have got to be kidding!” But hold on. He has a great point, and in fact if we do more of the right kind of testing, we can actually save time and have more time for the quality instruction we want to do.

Pretesting like Scott is suggesting is something that I heartily advocate. As a teacher of gifted students, I’m often called on to help classroom teachers figure out how to meet the needs of students who have already mastered a large chunk of the material they are about to cover in class. Though some teachers are open and willing to learn how to compact the curriculum by letting kids “test out” of some things they’ve already learned, many are reluctant. They are afraid they won’t have enough “scores” for the child to adequately calculate a report card grade, for example. They have a hard time justifying allowing a child to “skip” an assignment that others have to do because it’s “unfair.”

But as Scott points out, how fair is it to the child who has to sit through instruction they don’t need? Consider taking the time to pretest every unit you teach, and you will gain much:

  • Pretesting can help you identify content that everyone in the class has mastered, which means you can skim over or skip it completely.
  • You will also note the areas that are most broadly misunderstood so you can plan the most intensive instruction around those topics and avoid skimming over things you “knew” they already had last year.
  • You can identify patterns in the errors that students make so you can select specific exercises and instruction that will correct those misconceptions.
  • You can use the data to group students according to need, designing small group instruction or learning center assignments that are targeted to supporting their particular weaknesses.
  • If you team teach or co-teach with someone who isn’t in the classroom with you every day, pretest results can give that co-teacher a more complete picture of your students
  • If you are basing instructional decisions on pretest data, you have something objective you can point back to if you are challenged by a parent or administrator about why you are doing a particular lesson, activity or assignment.

What have been your experiences with pretesting? When is it most useful? When do you find it not as helpful?

(A shorter version of this article originally appeared in Grandé With Room.)

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