It’s such a shame that in our culture testing has such a bad name.
The dad of one of my students is a physician; he recalls that:
Medical school is all about being tested. We were constantly quizzing, taking tests, and flipping flash cards (each flash card is a tiny test). We were tested multiple times every day. All that testing made our minds sharp, plus it kept us aware of the areas we still needed to work on. It was a powerful way to learn.
One day, I was reviewing with a high school student for a final exam in history. It was rough going; the material was detailed and complex and this young man’s grasp of both the facts and the concepts was poor.
We plowed on for two solid hours, and then he turned to me and floored me with this question: “OK, now, do you think I know this stuff?”
Truly, isn’t that a remarkable thing to ask? This young man couldn’t tell for himself whether or not the hard mental work he had just done had resulted in “knowing.”
But what, indeed, does “knowing” feel like? How do any of us know whether or not we know?
I love science, especially psychology. Nothing fascinates me more than to discover yet another fact about how the human mind works. I’ve found that the more I learn about my own mind, the more at peace I feel about who I am and what my life is all about.
This year I’ve selected another twelve excellent TED talks, each one exploring some surprising, counter-intuitive aspect of our human minds and natures. Our amazing brains often wind up being too clever for our own good, creating illusions and misconceptions that make life a lot harder than it has to be.
I was a psychology major in college, and I love finding out everything about how our minds work. Of course I study education and learning, but I also read all I can get my hands on about human behavior and emotions. Why do we do what we do?…and how can we do better and be happier?
Lots of people figure that psychology isn’t a “real” science, or that it’s just “common sense.” But, within the past few decades psychology has joined forces with fields including neuroscience, medicine and economics to produce tons of data-based, factual information, much of which is extremely helpful, even life-changing, not to mention counter-intuitive and even wacky.
Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.
I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.
Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.
This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!
Recently, I made a mistake that, thankfully, caused only minor damage. I was pulling into my driveway, and my foot slipped off the brake pedal and became momentarily entangled in my sandal; I wound up bumping the nose of my car into my front porch and making a small dent in the wall!
It was a split-second event, one of those common sorts of accidents which occur when we’re doing something routine and operating on mental auto-pilot. That momentary shock and confusion and panic really rattled me!
After I calmed down, I looked online and, sure enough, there are many articles cautioning people to wear proper footwear when driving. I now have a pair of slip-on sneakers in my car for those flip-flop or high-heel-wearing occasions.
I’ve been telling my cautionary tale to every one of my students, because besides conveying a safety message, I also want to make sure and model for all of my students the importance of viewing mistakes as learning tools.
This is true in all of life, including academics.
The prompts are listed below; notice how they are all designed to get students writing about their unique identities, character strengths and core values.
The SAT (or ACT) is that sort of friend, a supplier of not-always-flattering truths. Those scores are a reality bite, and although many students are dismayed, I don’t think they are usually surprised.
I suggest that students view their SAT or ACT results as a wake-up call, a spotlight shining onto the skills they ought to finally get a handle on.
Too many students drag their weak academic areas around with them like a ball and chain, trying to ignore them, too frightened and confused to know how to fix them.
And most students experience an enormous sense of relief and empowerment when they improve in a skill that’s been holding them back.
So make NOW be the time you make a dent in that weak vocabulary…or improve those critical reading skills…or brush up those shaky math concepts.
One great thing about these standardized tests? Some focused work in a specific area, done consistently between now and the next test, can make a noticeable and satisfying difference. I suggest you select one or two areas you need to improve on and concentrate on those.
And, here are some great free resources you can take advantage of:
I love TED talks; I watch them often, I show them in my classes, and I routinely share them with loved ones and students.
There are a number of TED talks that have, without exaggeration, profoundly and permanently changed my own life for the better.
Does this sound unrealistic? Impossible?
When my kids were growing up, we had a big house with an acre of lawn and an in-ground swimming pool. We enjoyed the space and made good use of the pool. Even so, that big spread was a lot to afford and a lot take care of.
I spent a lot of stressful hours, many of them sleepless early-morning ones, fretting over maintenance issues and bills. Paying the cleaning lady, the lawn guy and the pool guy meant I had to work more hours. Letting those folks go and doing the work myself meant spending tons of time doing chores I did not enjoy and couldn’t keep up with.