It’s nice to be here and share my research with all of you!
Before we start, here is some information about me:
I am a teacher in Mathematics and IT in junior-high (Finland). In recent years i have developed a passion for developing material and teaching ideas in mathematics according to the student-centered teaching model.
I am also the co-founder and author of “Ma.fi” (Matematik.fi), a digital math book for junior-high that follows student-centered teaching ideas. Ma.fi is quickly becoming popular in Finnish schools and it is currently being translated into English. The english version will be launched in August.
If you are interested you can find more information about me on my website:
The topic of this presentation is “Are tests necessary”, however, it will involve me mentioning many other things such as “student centered teaching”. I will post links to these topics during the presentation and give you time to read them so that you always understand what I am talking about.
I am basing my teaching on the student centered model. I want you all to have an idea of what it is and what it might look like so I will give you a minute to read about it.
Now let’s start. Students in Europe (and many other places) don’t do as well as they used to and the interest for scientific subjects is low. This is something I noticed myself when I started as a teacher, so I immediately started to think about how can I as a teacher create an inspiring atmosphere in the classroom that will result in a genuine interest for mathematics, which then will result in great knowledge.
This is what I have been working with in recent years and I will immediately share some results with you so that you understand what I am basing my research on.
In 2015 I had finished developing my material for junior-high and I was an experienced teacher. The first year with the students in grade 7 my main focus is on arithmetics and algebra. The year ends with a test on equations which is quite challenging. I have summarized the students performance for this demonstration by grades one, two and three. One being weak, two being average and three excellent.
The results of the students in the year 2015-2016 were:
Grade 1: 32%
Grade 2: 36%
Grade 3: 32%
Since the test was difficult I was quite pleased with having 32% of the students getting excellent test scores, however, 32% of the students also had week scores.
The teaching methods and the system of grading differed a lot from this year to later years. The lack of equipment and proper tools for grading led to more traditional teaching and therefore the grades were mainly based on test results.
The biggest step forward, I as a teacher made, is probably in the year of 2016-2017. The methods for teaching and grading these students took a big leap forward this year since I received whiteboards for the students to work on and the digital matrix for grading students was finished. The grade of the students now consisted of 50% “lesson activity” and 50% test results.
I will give you a minute to read about what I mean by working on the whiteboards and I will also come back to the digital matrix for grading students later in this presentation:
I will immediately show you that the students in 2016-2017 performed a lot better than their predecessors. As I have mentioned the two main reasons for this is activating students by working on the whiteboards and at the same time give them feedback with the help of the digital grading matrix.
I honestly did not think that these two improvements on my teaching would have this big effect. The responses from the students were incredible. They really enjoyed collaborating and exploring mathematics on the whiteboards and they also said that they loved being graded based on their lesson activity.
These are the results at the same test on equations the following year:
Grade 1: 21%
Grade 2: 36%
Grade 3: 42%
As you can see this is a huge improvement. 42% of the students had excellent test results and this time only 21% had week results.
By focusing less on tests and more on guiding the students in the right way the knowledge in mathematics improved drastically.
And this leads us to this year. Earlier I have been focusing on what you can do to catch the interest of students but this year I instead focused on something that you should perhaps not do; and that is having standard written tests.
The reasons why I have started to doubt the idea of standard tests are many and I will only list my main concerns.
First of all, if you emphasize the importance of tests too much, students might be ignorant to the lessons since all they have to do is to study the night before the test to get a decent grade, or even start developing strategies for cheating which is becoming more and more of a problem even at high-level studies. This is of course not the way to learn for life and how to develop real skills or interest for a subject.
My second concern is that I have seen students with low interest in mathematics when they start grade seven, but after a short time this has been turned around. Even though they start working better and start to gain confidence in their abilities, knowledge is not something you gain over a short period of time. A test that comes too soon can therefore result in a grade that is not living up to the expectation of the students and this can have a negative effect for their new interest in the subject.
My final and most important point is that students are, in accordance to basically all new curriculums, taught how to solve problems by collaborating, using theory and technology. Suddenly when the students’ progress is to be tested on a standard test, all of this is forbidden. This does not make a lot of sense, does it?
The purpose of testing students is of course to evaluate their progress. There are, however, many other ways of testing students. The tests should be an integrated part of the lesson and offer regular feedback to the students to make them aware of what they have learned and what they have yet to improve to make even greater progress in the future.
This year I am in charge of three new classes in grade seven and instead of grading these students based on tests, I am grading them entirely on lesson activity. During the lessons the students are tested, but unlike the standard tests with grades, these tests are an integrated part of the lesson and focus on developing strategies for problem solving and make students aware of what they are good at and what they can improve.
So how can you grade students without tests? I will give you a minute to read about that:
The final part of my research is to see how this years students perform on the same test in equations as I discussed before. I am confident that my students will do well. They have improved their methods of learning so much this year.
Unfortunately I don’t have these results today, but they are going to be released the 27th of May on my website (www.barman.fi) so you can check in later. There you are also able to find the full version of my series “Are tests necessary?” and much more.
I hope you found this interesting and if you have questions feel free to ask, but you can also leave comments on my blog later if you like.