Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is this going to be on the test?


I feel like I have done something wrong when a student asks, "Is this going to be on the test?"

The word THIS is the problem for me. To a student asking this question, THIS, means a piece of information that will be copied and reused very soon (and then likely never again).

To me, THIS, might mean the act of thinking (or another complex variation on that same activity, but generally cognitive in nature.)

I would like to answer the student like this:
student: "Is this going to be on the test?"
me: "Yes, thinking will be on the test."

But more often then not, I answer, "This is the test!"

The question, which is often a sincere plea, is the difference between a student that is aware that challenges happen (and you need persistence and some kind of search of prior knowledge to solve these challenges), and a student that is taking polaroids of moments in math class space and time.

Some initial questions that I need to consider:
How do I change this polaroid mentality?
How do I create a classroom where I am always encouraging persistence?
How can I avoid a student saying, "I never learned this," followed by pencil down and blank stare?
And it just occurred to me that these may also be related to the mother of all math class questions asked by students, "When are we ever going to need this?"

But we've all been there and have our repertoire of answers for that one.


  1. I'm afraid you're spot on about "...THIS, means a piece of information that will be copied and reused very soon..."

    It is sad when we hear it. I have one student in algebra who consistently asks this question. Her test anxiety and general math anxiety are higher than most. I'm just hoping that as she is the only one (that I know of) who asks me this question that she's the exception rather than the rule. My answer to her is always the same, in the form of a question, "Why would't it be?" It might just be more of a habitual thing for her to ask because she does know what I'll say.

    Luckily I rarely hear "When are we ever going to use this?" The last time someone asked, I think my answer surprised him. I said, "Probably never. But your football coach is having you do a lot of warm-up routines that you'll most likely never do again outside of football." He was cool with that, I think.

    Thank you, Nico.

  2. "Why wouldn't it be," works well. I will add that to my list of responses.

    As for "When will we ever use this?" I do try to answer it during the first week of school. Most students know the answer and and help themselves understand why we do what we do.

    Thanks for the comment Fawn.

    Now back to my daily football routines.

  3. Hi, great post. Here in England 'tests' or assessments as we call them are used to judge the worth and abiity of the student and teacher hence the anxiety on both sides. Do we really use them in the correct way to judge what has been learnt, how we move forward and what can be addressed again in a different way. Often once test is done that it.

  4. I agree with you Steve, when the test is done, that is often the end of that. Even as a teacher I sometimes feel a sense of relief after I have given a test, knowing that I can move on to new material. How can we give assessments and utilize their data so that it doesn't seem so final?

  5. The finality of it is a problem. Developing a culture where they feel like we are continually learning would be ideal...but those are just words, in practice, an assessment feels so final. I often hear, "Can I do a re-take?" or "Can I do extra to bump up my mark?" Perhaps a world where there is no marks would be a start. Even in these last few days of school, after some students have spent 9 months do little to nothing, they are coming to me and saying, how can I raise my mark. Something to digest for the summer ahead.

    Thank you Steve and Lauren for dropping by.

  6. I'm interested in hearing more answers for the mother of all math questions, When will we ever use this? This question has never been asked to me by any of my calculus students, but often times by my remedial math students where the social stigma of it's ok to be bad at math is evident and rears its ugly head often. My advisor's remark is often,"On the test next week!"

    1. This is a classic math teacher dilemma. This year I tackled it day one. I asked my students what is math, and why do we learn it. usually in their 30 answers shared with the class, I can use one or two for the rest of the year.

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  8. I have had a little bit of success in changing the way I teach to change the students' perception of 'snapshot maths'

    I give the students the answer and the problem. I then ask them to work out their answer. If there answer does not match, they then write second attempt, third attempt and so forth until their working matches the answers. We then really celebrate those people who have really shown persistence (which I now have evidence of). To make the 'persistence practice' a little more fun I often post the questions around the room and ask students to move around to the questions rather than simply sitting down and solving them. This has had a major impact on focussing on skills rather than correct answers.
    Also, I never ask for the answer straight away anymore. I always ask the students to vocalise their strategy.

    1. Danielle, this message of persistence is no small thing. A lot can be learned during trial and error, and only one thing can be learned if we just give them a method as "the answer". Great idea. It reminded me of this video on TED about the usefullness of trial and error.
      Thanks for sharing.

  9. Hi! My name is Jamie Baxter, and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama.

    My EDM310 teacher favorite saying is "NO MORE BURP-BACK EDUCATION!" This post reminds me of this saying because I think that is what you are trying to get away from as well.

    I am in school to become a teacher, so I do not have experience with children quite yet. I can imagine students that try to remember everything just to pass the test will most likely not remember the information the next week. I feel if the students have fun and learned the material in different ways other than just a lecture, they will remember the lesson more.

    Interesting post!

    1. Jamie, great to hear from you. The social aspect of teaching becomes a major part of your classroom management. Establishing a classroom that is a safe place to make mistakes, a place where (like you said) they can have fun, a place to share ideas, fail, struggle and learn, is what we all strive for. So, with my "vast" experience, let me just say, I'll tell you when I finally get there. Every year I completely mess up a lesson. Every year something new changes and gets me closer. And every year we learn more. I started this blog last year and it has been a great place to get my thoughts down. And even the blog has had it's struggles. What to share, when, how often, how to deal with spammers. And I'm lucky I get responses. And I'm guilty of not responding in a timely manner. But that is just part of the learning process.
      Thanks for sharing Jamie. It is great to hear from future teachers.

  10. Hello, my name is Eric Merryman, and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama, my class blog is

    I just wanted to say, as a student wanting to become a math teacher, I have heard this asked by fellow classmates all the time. People need to realize that math isn't memory work, but more understanding why and how. That the answer isn't the most important thing, but getting to the correct answer is important. Sure, students may do their best learning by remembering, but they should only remember steps not the numbers. If a situation comes around that is similar but not exactly the same, the students should be able to handle it. I like how you said for a response, "Yes, thinking will be on the test" because it is what students need to do, think! Looking forward to reading more posts.

  11. Thanks Eric. I'm glad EDM310 is getting students out there...blogging and sharing their thoughts. I appreciate the comment.

    Personally, I constantly have to look at what I am doing that promotes this kind of student thinking. The ability to problem solve is not taken seriously enough and is sometimes forgotten in the list of procedural skills we need to cover. These skills are of course needed but we need to create curriculum that includes problems that need the skills, and not test the skills for skills sake.

    I've been teaching 13 years and still have not mastered this problem.

    Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment,

  12. there are a lot of ideas for fun literacy activities to do with your child or children in the holidays, whether your child is in key stage 1 or key stage 2, writing a story and acting it out, writing a letter and making the envelope, and sharing ideas for telling a story.

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  15. Hi my name is Janae, a student at The University of South Alabama. I have asked this question plenty of times in high school, but I never thought there was anything wrong with it. Now that I see how this question is approached from the perspective of a teacher I can see how there is a problem with it. It does make sense that a student would study the material only for the test and forget it later on.

  16. I am guilty of asking this question myself in class. I am the worst when it comes to math but real wold applications would have helped me pay attention in math class. Looking at it now as a future teacher i see where the application can come into play.

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