Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Do We Learn Best?...From Our Mistakes

I was talking with a few people this evening about work, education, families....basically life in general and now I'm sitting here watching a Texas Rangers vs. LA Angels of Anaheim baseball game (by the way, another nice win by the Rangers), but I keep reflecting on the evening's earlier conversations. Most of the stories that were told were hilarious mistakes of our youth and "other" people's misfortunes at work. I know that none of us would admit publicly to what we do wrong at work. I mean we do like to keep our jobs and our income, but most of us can talk about the mistakes of "others."

Again, all of these funny stories involved mistakes and it's amazing how we remember so many details about our own mistakes. So what is a "mistake" anyway?

According to Dictionary.com, a "mistake" is defined as:
An error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.
Guess what? The definition never states that any of us are stupid for making mistakes in life or in school. Mistakes are often what we learn best from and we should expect mistakes from our children and our students.

We need to create an environment for students where they have the freedom to make mistakes. For them to understand that this is just "life" and mistakes are what drives us to succeed. After all Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers had a plethora of mistakes, but they never lost their drive to create and to succeed.

Mistakes are just a part of learning (an important part in my opinion).

I know you are wondering why a testing blog is rambling on about creating an educational environment that condones making mistakes. After all, we want our students to have perfect scores on every test don't we? In a perfect world, yes would be the answer, but most of us aren't perfect and mistakes happen. There are also many reasons as to why a student may or may not score well on any given assessment.

From a psychometric point of view, the scores from a standardized test should create a normal (bell-shaped) curve, but this rarely happens. As I have said before on this blog, a test is "one" point-in-time piece of useful information. The following quote will provide you a good description of what constitutes a test?
A standardized test is a task or set of tasks given under standardized conditions and designed to assess some aspect of a person's knowledge, skill, or personality. A test provides a scale of measurement for consistent individual differences regarding some psychological concept and serves to line up people according to that concept. Tests can be thought of as yardsticks, but they are less efficient and reliable than yardsticks, just as the concept of verbal reasoning ability is more complex and less well understood than the concept of length. A test yields one or more objectively obtained quantitative scores, so that, as nearly as possible, each person is assessed in the same way. The intent is to provide a fair and equitable comparison among test takers. Green (1981, p. 1001) as cited in Jerome Sattler's Assessment of Children, 1992.
As Green states, tests are less reliable that the measurement of length and we therefore need to use caution and consider all factors prior to placing a  formal or informal "label" on a child. What educators need to do more of is to use the data that we collect to help students by building upon their strengths and remediating their weaknesses. I think we all too often throw the scores of most tests into a student's file without taking the time to evaluate strengths and weaknesses.

So as we head into the last few weeks of school and all of the testing commences, I hope you will look at each student's end-of-year assessments and do what is best for each individual student. Please consider all environmental or socio-economic factors and remember that any decision about students should include norm-referenced tests, informal assessments, observations, and interviews.

A test means so much more than just a score.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...