Earlier in the year I wrote this: How should we assess them as historians?
It was well received, got me thinking and possibly changed my mind a little.
Since then I’ve done even more thinking and read a lot of blogs so I thought I might share my opinions as a way of reflection. There has been a lot written on history teaching blogs in the last year about ‘low stakes’ testing. Frequent, quick little things to see if they have learnt what you had hoped. I talked about them in my last post and have been utilising them in my own teaching. They are clearly important. But in moderation and in the right context.
Let’s face it whether it is a low stakes test or a high stakes test, a test is a test and kids, like us, hate a test. Sometimes, as I mentioned in my last post, we need to test and we should test but there is a massive danger of doing this too much.
Firstly doing any more testing adds pressure to the students we teach. You can make a test as ‘low stakes’ as you like but if it is a test, and kids can smell a test a mile off, then you are adding pressure to them. Some of my students are already at breaking point and I am concerned that I do not want to add to their troubles. Even the lowest ‘low stakes’ test will get them to compare themselves to their peers. This inevitably has the result that someone in your class will feel rubbish about themselves. I personally don’t want this kind of environment in my classroom if I can avoid it.
On the other side another danger is that the students with the lowest engagement may become further desensitized to the importance of performing well in tests and become increasingly blasé about them. Creating a slippery slope towards not revising for important exams.
At times, this kind of test is unavoidable though and we need to prepare students for the examination system we have which will get the kids to compare themselves anyway. The question I have is do you really want to add to this if you can avoid it? At KS4 and KS5 regular testing is an important tool but restraint must always be used to find a balance.
Secondly, testing takes time. I teach history because I love teaching students about the past. It’s why I became a teacher, not to test to see if they still know some facts I taught them two months ago, but to instill in them their own love of the past. I have very limited curriculum time. At KS3 I get three hours a fortnight, at KS4 I get five and at KS5 I get four (out of a total of eight). I would rather teach them something new and do it in an exciting way that gets them to love learning than spend what little precious time I have over testing them.
Thirdly, this raises a bigger, more contentious issue. Does testing actually matter? At KS4 and KS5 it clearly does as they have examinations to sit that affect their future. But at KS3 does it really matter? It clearly does to an extent but the extent you believe in is clearly a reflection of what you think the purpose of KS3 history is. If you think that history is about knowledge acquisition then testing will be a priority. Personally, although I think this is important, I don’t think it’s priority number one of KS3 history. For me KS3 should be about inspiration, enjoyment and developing a love of the past. Testing won’t help me do these at KS3 and as a result I will probably do less than I do at KS4 and KS5.
In conclusion, please don’t get me wrong, we should assess our students. But I think we need to take a step back and think about why are we doing it and whether it will have a positive impact on their learning.