At the beginning of each academic year, I ask my VCE Chemistry students what the most important things are in the classroom in order to learn Chemistry. Typical answers include ‘pens’, ‘notebooks’, ‘tables’, ‘chairs’ and ‘a teacher’. I have a different view.
Students are the most important ‘things’ in the classroom if any learning is going to happen. No learning happens without students present!
The primary source of information is not the teacher. It’s the textbook. The textbook explains every topic on the course concisely and accurately, and teaches students all the theory required for the end-of-year examination. Textbooks contain so many practice questions that some students don’t even complete all of them. Before hunting for extra resources or question sets, do all of the questions in the textbook first.
Pens are more important than notebooks because the textbook is designed to be annotated. The giant margins in a textbook (which aren’t there in novels) are placed purposefully to accommodate students’ personalised notes. Students should use at least two different colours of ink to annotate their textbooks, and they should highlight important definitions and phrases as well. (They should translate words, too, if they are fluent in another language.) Teachers will need to guide and encourage students through this process initially. Some students enter your classroom with an aversion to writing in textbooks.
Making your own notes is a very efficient way to learn. Any teacher who gives pre-made notes to their students is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn for themselves. It’s fine to give some notes to students as an example, but the vast majority of student notes should be written by the students themselves (even if they’re copying most of it from the whiteboard).
An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their teacher.
A teacher’s role, in addition to providing academic and moral support, is to bring the textbook (or the subject) to life. A teacher is the difference between reading a play and watching a play. A teacher makes the subject more engaging, more interesting and more relevant by bringing their own experience, funny stories and exciting experiments into the curriculum. Great teachers make even the dullest academic subjects exciting to learn. They serve to inspire and guide students to an extent that technology will never be able to match.
Not in my top 5…
iPads, laptops and other gizmos
laboratory equipment & chemicals
printed notes for students
past examination papers
What do you think of my low-tech “top 5” list? Should technology be in the top 5? Will technology reduce the need for teachers? Is something other than the textbook the primary learning resource in your classroom?
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Here’s another education book: a testing bible.
Makes designing professional-looking tests a whole lot easier!
304 pages, ★★★★★
Teachers spend 25% of their time on designing, invigilating and marking written assessments. For the other 75% of the time, they’re doing what’s called ‘informal assessment’—observing all the tiny cues in the classroom that they pretend not to notice: the cellphone, the yawn, the shy know-it-all, the one who’s not concentrating, the eager hand-raiser who really loves your class… all these observations end up in a secret notebook (or in the teacher’s head).
Developing and Using Classroom Assessments tells you step-by-step how to design all kinds of classroom assessments. Assessments can be:
Formal/informal (informal assessments are daily observations)
Diagnostic/Formative/Summative (and preliminary)
Internal/External (we will only deal with internal)
Curriculum-based/Portfolio-based (students love portfolios: they boost confidence and self-esteem, and allow students to discover their strengths; but portfolios are time-consuming for students to create and for teachers to read)
When designing tests, pay attention to:
Purpose: tell the students how you’re going to use the information gained from the test.
Specifications: design the test carefully
Validity: test everything you taught in the right proportions
Consistency: different skills tested together hides a student’s true ability. Give separate grades for each skill used (argument, handwriting, spelling, style).
Score your tests according to:
Ability: self vs. best ever self
Growth: self vs. previous self
Norm: self vs class
Criterion: pass/fail grading for each question.
Always put grades into context. “Henry scored 90% in geography” is useless information. Say, “Henry understands our plate tectonics class very well” or “Henry’s score on the plate tectonics test was the second-highest in year 9 in our school”.
Computer: students prefer this method and get higher scores on computers than on paper. It’s also more convenient for both teachers and students, and closely resembles any job in the ‘real world’.
Pen & paper: while some schools are emphasizing pen and paper tasks, the main reason for this was “it will help the students get used to paper examinations”. In my opinion, this is not a good reason.
Never use grades to discipline students.
Always give students feedback and a chance to improve their grade. Usually, they will in the ‘real world’, too.
When analyzing grades, use these statistical methods:
Year-group-equivalent scores (use median of each year-group to make a standard curve, then find the year-group-equivalent of each student, e.g. “Johnny attained year 6.7 level”).
You don’t always need to show these grades to the students. Keep some on paper, and some in your head, and be mindful of how your students will react to a bad grade (will they give up?)
I love the balance of theory, pracrice and examples in this book. Let this book guide you step-by-step to design innovative, varied, valid and reliable tests time after time.
Like Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, this is one of those books I’ll be referring to repeatedly at the start of my teaching career.Buy acopy, and it’ll make designing good-looking tests so much quicker and easier. ★★★★★