Experiential learning vs. “teaching to the test”

Education today does not adequately prepare students for the modern world, which is unfortunate considering how important it is. Universities and all other levels of education should be set up to create the next generation of scientists, teachers, scholars, and informed and discerning citizens. As indicated in this TED talk, current instructional practices focus on “teaching to the test.” This is largely due to initiatives that emphasize test scores as the most important metrics of learning. However, learning is a process, not an outcome. Teaching to a test does not teach students to think critically and understand the world around them in a deeper way. I think this is due partly to the fact that education is underfunded, leaving schools and teachers with fewer resources and less time available to work with students. However, this harms students in the end. I don’t think that students benefit very much from multiple choice testing and other similar methods that emphasize rote learning over critical thinking. I am hopeful that we will more towards a more experiential type of model. As we saw in Michael Wesch’s baby George talk, we learn better through experience in a positive, supportive environment than in a drab, stadium seating classroom. Some of my most memorable and beneficial experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student have been from independent research projects and papers. This is something that I think should be available to all students, not just those who are lucky enough to go to a small school for their undergrad or to graduate school. Part of the emphasis on standardized testing comes from the way instructors are evaluated, so this would need to change first. We need to reward instructors for taking the time and effort to truly engage their students. I am hopeful that we will get there eventually!

2 thoughts on “Experiential learning vs. “teaching to the test””

  1. I agree with you when we are talking about simple multiple choice tests, Nicole. But I think that we can create tests that are challenging and engaging and allow standardized measurement of what students know and can do. When the tests are aligned with a challenging curriculum, then teaching to the test simply means teaching the curriculum. I think that this can be a good thing and does not have to stifle creativity. However, teachers have to trust their students to learn and students have to stop worrying about grades and embrace the uncertainty of learning. As a teacher, it is both scary to compare your own students’ performance to students in other classrooms, but it can also be informative. I think that the emphasis on test scores as the endpoint rather than one piece of data to be used to inform teaching is one problem. Also, in addition to the problems you mentioned, I think that we need to work on parents and students to see grades as feedback not judgement. Too many students (and their parents) think that a grade of B or C is failing. All of it is tied together.

  2. Question – what if there were no tests and scores were not something we cared about…then what would teaching and learning look like?!?!

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