March 14, 2014

Make Test Prep Meaningful!

Make Test Prep Meaningful With Student-Created Quizzes
Guest blog post by Blair Turner

They say that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. But for most educators, there exists one other prominent certainty: standardized testing. It's probably unlikely that a passion for standardized testing is what inspired you to be a teacher, but be that as it may, it's a fact of life.

I firmly believe that fabulous instruction within a safe and supportive classroom community is the best "test prep" strategy out there. That being said, it is important to spend some time preparing students for the structure of a standardized test. Today, I'm going to share one way that I accomplished that in my third grade classroom.

In the weeks leading up to ELA testing, I had students create their own multiple-choice quizzes to accompany a reading selection. I like this activity for a few reasons:

1. It gives students the opportunity to "think like a test creator". 
By having students create their own quizzes, they are forced to think like a test creator. They gain a better understanding of the structure of a multiple-choice question. I encourage them to use test-specific language such as, "according to the text..." and "all of the following are true except...". We discuss the types of answer choices that they can provide. Test creators are known for crafting answer choices that act as "distractors". Wrong answer choices are designed to be tricky, requiring the student to really look back at the selection and determine which information is most relevant to the question. After repeating this activity several times, I find that students get to be EXCELLENT at creating distractors.

2. It is student-centered and student-driven.
There are only so many practice tests you can reasonably ask an elementary student to sit through. By giving students the opportunity to create their own quizzes, they are more engaged and have greater ownership over the task  I usually do this activity in partnerships or small groups so that students can benefit from each other's specific strengths.

3. There is a built-in audience and purpose.
Having students create their own quizzes sets a strong purpose for their reading. They are encouraged to read closely to understand the main idea and to search within the text for details. After their quizzes are complete, I have the students exchange with another group and take each other's quizzes. Since students know their audience, they are more engaged in creating strong questions and answer choices. As you can see in the example pictures, I do not edit the quizzes for content or spelling. I pass this responsibility on to the students themselves. After taking another group's quiz, I ask students to provide the other group with feedback on their work. Which questions were the strongest? Which were unclear? Did any questions have multiple correct answers? This provides another layer of accountability for each group.

I wish you the best of luck as you prepare your students for success on this year's standardized testing!

Blair Turner is a math teacher in grades 1-4. Prior to this position, Blair was a third grade classroom teacher. She enjoys creating and sharing resources for elementary school educators on her blog, One Lesson at aTime

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