Thursday, September 15, 2011

Measuring the Learning

Call me strange, but I've always enjoyed taking tests. I loved them in elementary school. The teacher passed out those little slips of paper we used for spelling tests and we would number them 1-20, happily anticipating that first word. I loved the quiet classroom, pencils scratching as the minutes ticked by. Later in high school, I even enjoyed the essay questions in classes like British Lit and World History. And don't get me started on the joy of filling in the little bubbles on the SATs.

I really should go back to school soon.

You may be wondering what all of that blabbering about tests has to do with the picture in this post. Don't worry...I'll tell you all about it.

On Monday we took a field trip. It was a surprise birthday field trip for my husband. Being a guitarist, he has wanted to visit the Martin Guitar factory and museum for many years. When I was trying to think of something special for him this year, I remembered that and decided to combine birthday and school time all in one big, fun day.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Nazareth, PA make sure you go see their number one attraction. When I saw that they offered a factory tour, I was expecting something similar to Hershey's Chocolate Factory Tour or the Crayola Factory Tour where you don't really go in the factory itself, but instead learn how the factory works in an amusement ride or performance setting. This tour was the real deal! We were taken on the actual floor of the factory. We spoke with the workers while they were doing their jobs. We could see each step of the process up close and personal. Our tour guide was full of great information and he obviously enjoys his job. After the tour, we visited the on-site museum. It is a good sized museum; just about the right size for two active boys with sporadic attention. My husband also spent some time in their 'pickin' parlor' playing some of the top of the line Martin guitars. Did I mention that there is no charge for any of this?

Right before we headed into the factory, the guide told the boys since they were homeschoolers, there would be a quiz at the end of the tour. We all had a laugh and went on our way. Later I thought about it again and started looking at how we measure learning as homeschoolers.

When I first began homeschooling, we used a cyber charter school. Because of that, my boys had to do monthly tests and mail them in to the school for grading. Over the last year or so that I've homeschooled without the charter, I have found myself moving away from most testing. We continue to do a weekly spelling test out of tradition. Neither of the boys has ever complained about those tests, so they will probably remain in our routine. I don't think I could say that they retained more knowledge in the years that they were regularly being tested on the things they were learning. In fact, I honestly believe they may have retained less. In order to prepare for a test for every subject, every month, they usually had quite a bit to cover and review. We never stopped to dive deeper into a subject because we just didn't have the time. That depth driven by interest is what makes you remember something.

I could make the boys write reports about what they saw at the guitar museum. I could make them draw a picture of the factory floor and recite the steps in the creation of a guitar. Would that mean they had learned more than if I just sit and talk about the wonderful time we had together on Daddy's field trip? I'm guessing not. I'm guessing that starting a habit like that would just make them dread future field trips. Kind of like the way knowing you have to write a book report makes you dread reading a book. I want the boys to learn just for the joy of learning. I know they will need to take tests to get in to college and tests when they are there. As they move closer to high school age, I will be sure that they can answer those essay questions and fill in the bubbles. But for now, I'm just going to focus on exploring our world and learning as we go.

1 comment:

Annie said...

I agree. I'd rather see the kids learn and absorb without dreading the inevitable assignment/test that follows. Seems to me there is plenty of time for tests later.