If you haven’t had a chance to read my post “How Did You Do? Does It Matter?” you might want to do so before reading this one. The fact that only 3.5% of the students surveyed “passed” this quiz does indeed matter, but not for the reasons one might expect. Yes a good procedural understanding of how our republic works is essential to its survival. Whether it is a contested election result or a desire to address a concern to your legislator, a basic understanding of the Constitution is necessary. I sincerely believe such information is taught and tested every year in classrooms across the nation. Why then the poor performance? We as educators are reluctant to take the leap of faith into higher level thinking. Intellectually we know that low level questions such as the one on this test do not work and yet the vast majority of questions asked during a typical class are mired in recall. Often we use the rationalization that these facts are on a high stakes test. However unless we ask students to process these facts at a higher level, they are doomed to continue to fail tests like this one. It is only when students manipulate information to make meaning that gelling between the neurons occurs. It is imperative that educators take this leap into the more complex levels of higher level inquiry. Not only is it more engaging for students, it creates enduring learning.
For example how many US History teachers ask students to name the goals of the Preamble to the Constitution? This is an important concept. It is relevant to life today as we consider the proper role of government in 21st century America. However if this concept is kept as a listing item you can be assured students will not remember it. Strategic teaching recognizes this and designs tasks that allow students to manipulate essential information. Analysis, application, and evaluation will ensure recall. Engaging students in higher level activities will ensure the long term learning of the lower levels as well. Instead of asking students to list the goals have them create visuals of each goal. Then hand student groups a list of scenarios of government activities and have them analyze each scenario to identify which goal it demonstrates. Make sure some scenarios are ambiguous so groups have to come to consensus, and explain why the scenario fits the goal their group chose. Take the leap!
Key Idea: Students learn facts only when they process them at the higher levels of thinking. Drilling students at a recall level is a sure path to failure.