Tag Archives: testing

Teaching with Genre Games

When I tested students at the end of the first quarter, I was less than satisfied with the results. For some students it was a fun and easy way to learn about genres. These were the students who probably would have learned it anyway because they generally pay attention in class. For the others it was too much play and not enough learning. I wouldn’t abandon the games. They’re a great way to reinforce what is being taught. In the future I might make the test “open book” by making a scavenger hunt that would use the games to find the answers. I think it would direct the learning better than the way I did it this time.

Genre Study Made Easy

The 4th and 5th graders have been studying genres. I’ve noticed that no matter how much time I spend on this subject they don’t seem to be able to apply what they learn. Often they can give me a list of genres or define them, but if you ask what genre they are currently reading right now they don’t have a clue.

I started this unit with a power point presentation that I modified for my classes. I found it on this wonderful site called Pete’s Power Point Station. Be prepared to spend some time in this vast array of links to a huge variety of power points. It was easy to import the ones I liked into my Promethean IWB. Some of my students actually gasped when they saw the first page. There was so much on the one that I used that we didn’t even get through everything and will probably come back to it again from time to time.

Next I put students on computers to play games. My objectives were two-fold; they need practice logging into the system and they need to learn more about genres. There are some wonderful genre games that I linked on the 4/5 Links page of my website. I let them choose which ones they want to play, making sure they understood that the objective was to learn more about literary genres and if that objective was not met there was no point in using the computers. According to my observations, the top 3 games were Genre Battleship, Genre Hangman, and Genre Word Search (which unfortunately does not always load correctly).

At the end of the quarter they will take a pencil and paper test. Why pencil and paper? Because sadly, I still have students who are having trouble logging in. This happens for various reasons: they haven’t turned in a signed AUP, they’re relatively new to the school and haven’t been on the computers much yet, they are ESL or SPED students who have other issues. I don’t think it’s fair to give these students less time to take the test because they have trouble accessing it.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t use the computer to make the test. I think there are a number of sites to help with this but I only looked at a couple. Quizstar is one I think I’ve used before but since I couldn’t remember the account information I started another one. Unfortunately I’ve only seen “Your mailbox is over its size limit” messages in my inbox and no message with the activation link for this new account. Next I tried EasyTestMaker. They didn’t send an activation email so I was able to get started right away and it was kind of fun. I’m not done yet but I won’t mind going back to it. Who knew MAKING a test could be fun?

Having access to the work others have done is an incalculable advantage. As so many others have said, why reinvent the wheel? Making learning fun is something many of us strive for on a daily basis and we have a ready-made fun source right here. If games are going to help students learn, then I’m all for them. Online tools make our jobs much easier and take the drudgery out of some things. Who knew GIVING a test could be so much fun? [Insert evil grin and wicked Halloween laugh here!!]

Testing Blues

I’ve probably ranted about this before. We test every single quarter. Last quarter students were taking the MCA high stakes tests. They were mostly done on paper but next year they’ll be on computers. The other 3 quarters students take MAP tests. Unlike the MCAs, which are summative, the MAP tests are formative and provide good, quick feedback so teachers can see when a student is having trouble before it gets to be a crisis.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any tests. In fact, I use the MAP scores as one way of determining seating arrangements. But do we really have to have a test every single quarter? Since the tests are administered in the library computer lab, I lose almost an entire quarter of instructional time each year. My colleague and close friend schedules the tests but usually I don’t know early enough to plan my way around it. I make do the best I can. I go to the classrooms with a cart of books. I try to deliver a lesson in the classroom and then check out books from the cart. It’s a tiring hauling everything around and I’m not able to teach all the things I need to teach, especially when I don’t have access to computers.

I really want 4th and 5th grade students to evaluate websites. The 3rd graders were having such a hard time logging in that I developed a lesson plan so they can practice that and get some practice on Word in the process. The kindergartners need to learn how to log in and be able to do a simple catalog search by the end of the quarter. I don’t remember now what the 1st and 2nd graders were going to do but it was going to be on computer. I feel like I have to cram all my teaching this quarter into the month of July

Certainly I’ve had students on the computers during the other 3 quarters but I haven’t had an entire quarter to concentrate on it because at some point my classes lose that computer access to testing. What would a classroom teacher do if they were told that they could not teach in their classroom or use the resources there for 2 or 3 weeks every quarter?

The Right Technology

There’s no point in abandoning old lessons for new technology if the old ones work.  Today my fifth grade class did one of their favorite activities.  The most advanced technology they used was a post-it note.

I use 3×5 cards with call numbers on them.  I have everybody (picture book) cards, fiction cards, and nonfiction cards.  Sometimes I mix them together.  Today I decided to just do fiction since the everybody picture books are being moved and don’t have new labels yet.  Each student gets a card and finds a book with a matching call number.  They bring the book and card up to a large conference table, write their name on a post-it note and stick it to the card.  After putting the card in the book, they get another card from me.  They have to do this without talking.  I’m the only person they can ask for help.

This is an important assessment for me.  I check the books and cards to make sure they match and collect all the post-it notes for each student.  If they don’t match I make a note of it.  For the students, it becomes something of a competition and they strive to find more books than anyone else.  I can quickly tell who is having trouble finding books on the shelves.  Basically it’s a test but they think it’s fun.

Today I told the students that we were going to be doing an activity that I knew they liked.  When I held up the cards they cheered!

Year-Round School

Harambee Elementary Community Cultures and Environmental Science School is on a year-round schedule.  While almost everyone else is thinking end-of-the-year thoughts, we have just finished our third quarter.  I love this schedule!  After about 9 weeks everyone is ready for a break.  Because of other holidays on the calendar a typical break between quarters is about 2 1/2 weeks.  The longest break happens in August when we get three full weeks.

Advantages

  • Children need to read as much as they can as often as they can.  A year-round schedule helps me provide students with books to read throughout the year.  Studies have shown that the lack of reading over the summer can be detrimental to student learning.
  • Our school is situated on a beautiful 26-acre site that includes a variety of natural habitats: a pond, wetland, open grassland, oak savanna, and hardwood forest.  With a year-round schedule students can study these environments at various times of the year.
  • At the beginning of every year students need to receive some review, however I don’t need to spend a great deal of time on this because they haven’t been gone long enough to forget everything they ever knew about using the library.
  • ELL students can continue to learn and practice English throughout the year without a long summer break.

Disadvantages

  • Students who want to go to summer camps are not able to go unless the camp is held during the Fourth of July break or in August.
  • Teachers who want to go to summer workshops might not be able to go.  If there are too many teachers scheduled to be out of the building at the same time, some will have to stay.
  • Students in the middle school or high school are not able to work over the summer unless they can find a job that they can do after school is out.
  • Standardized tests must be scheduled within a certain time period.  The problem is that our students are then compared with students who have had more days of instruction.

I’m sure there are other items that could be added to each list.  Personally I like the year-round schedule because it gives me a chance to plan each quarter.  Usually I don’t plan out the entire quarter but I can get a good start.  There isn’t enough time during a typical day to do this kind of long-range planning.  Sometimes I can meet with colleagues to work on a collaboration project.  I come back after each break with something written on the planner, ready to teach again.