Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Falling flat

Okay. People keep saying I should share lessons. Here's one that I'd love some ideas of how to improve.

We have a 4-day week. Next week is testing. It's not really enough time to get into new material and I feel like I'm supposed to help students review before the test. I don't want to teach to the test, but given that South Dakota does not have released tests I'm not sure it's even possible.

What does make sense is to go through and talk about testing strategies. My students don't seem to have been taught them before, so I'm taking the week to go over the ideas that I learned through all the years of SAT team practice. At least that's the plan.

But today fell flat, so I'm not sure how the rest of the week will play out. I'd love advice from anyone who's not totally off on spring break.

Tried to start off with a bit of discussion about why we're doing this. How these strategies work for any multiple choice test, be it the ones next week, the ACT/SAT for college, or the ASVAB for military. Really, I think I lost them care. Testing is boring and I didn't find a way to make it fun. 

When I asked students why we take the tests the most consistent answer was, "So we can see how bad the school is." They know the school is low-achieving, but they fall back on the excuses of being on the reservation. In one typical teenage fashion, they mostly mocked my cheerleading attitude. Alas. Most of that is actually my real personality, so it won't be changed anytime soon.

I decided to start off with the general strategy of eliminating choices to improve your guesses.I put the numbers on the board to show how better guesses can raise your score, next time I'd use a graph to illustrate. 

I focused on how you could eliminate options first by working backwards, checking the answers given rather than generating your own. We've just come off of polynomials, first multiplying and then factoring, so the option of working a problem in the order you want seems sold me. Still didn't catch the students.

Most classes perked up a bit when we talked about estimating. I think they felt more comfortable with that idea. Confuses me. I've been talking about checking your work all year long, haven't mentioned estimation before today. 

Not a thrilling narrative by any means. The PDF matches, but I've submitted it to I Love Math.  I'll toss a link here when it's up. 

So yeah. There we go. My first shared lesson, admittedly rough. What do you do to improve it?


H. said...

Test taking sounds like a hard one to make an interesting lesson on - and it's precisely these boring issues we need to share more thoughts about. I should be thinking more about this myself - I teach a tiny SAT prep section at my school, but we've just talked about the actual math so far.

One idea I came across in Rafe Esquith's "Teach as if your Hair's on Fire" (it's lying around half read somewhere after a burst or reading during the winter break) was to have the students generate distractors for multiple choice items. Esquith got his fifth graders pretty excited about guessing at typical mistakes, and they learned a lot from the process. Maybe some kind of competition can be made of it: you make the questions, and the students work in groups to generate distractors? Then they can test their distractors out on their classmates and see if they work... And, if you're using official questions, they could compare with the published distractors and discuss differences. Hm. Maybe I should try this myself. Had forgotten about the Esquith book entirely. Thanks for bringing this up :)

Sarah Cannon said...

Thanks H. I think one of the reasons I felt comfortable putting this rough of a lesson up is because it is a topic that we rant about, but don't seem to have ideas to improve on.

My friends swear by the MCAT course they took. Or the GRE prep class. I'll borrow a book from someone before I take the GRE this summer. We're from a group that has excelled at these tests. (The 25th percentile at my college is in the 90th percentile nationwide.) Studying for tests--learning the rules of the testing games--is something that we do for the top tier. My students deserve it too. And they deserve something more than, "Get a good night's sleep," and, "Make sure you eat breakfast in the morning. It's across the parking lot at the elementary/middle school."

I'll try to give more of a narrative on what happens once this week is over. I'm pulling on your/Esquith's idea tomorrow. I picked up the book when a Border's I was near at the time was having a close-out sell. Haven't read it yet, but found the chapter you mentioned. (For future reference, chapter 6 begins on page 73.)

Jackie said...

Definitely not a "fun" lesson as h said.

Part of what I do with my students is to review released material (In our state we use the ACT so there are plenty of prep materials available).

Students are amazed at how tiny the writing is (10 point font). I tell them how many questions there will be and how long they have to answer them (60 questions, 60 minutes). I tell them how it is scored (no penalty for wrong answers, scaled scoring...). We talk about who looks at their test scores.

I too emphasize test taking strategies: elimination, working backward from the distractors, estimation...

With the freshmen, in each unit we give 10 "ACT like" questions in addition to the "Free Response" type problem solving questions. The multiple choice questions always reflect the content of the unit of course. After scoring, each group is assigned a question or two. They present the answers to the class. How they arrived at them, along with the common errors that would lead one to choose one of the wrong answers.

Thrilling? Nope. Necessary in today's world of education? Yep. I don't think it's fair to test students in a manner with which they aren't familiar.