Adjusting to at home working provides plenty of challenges. Now that schools and universities have closed their doors, many parents are having to combine their own working pressures with mastering a whole new profession. We didn’t ask to become teachers.
Different families are going to different lengths to recreate something that resembles a school environment. Some are creating tight timetables, mock classrooms and scheduled break times. Others are integrating learning opportunities into other domestic activities.
Whatever approach to homeschooling you take, there’s one aspect of school life that needs to be remembered, even if it won’t be popular. In order to give children and young people the best chance of retaining knowledge and to continue to develop, regular tests are an absolute necessity.
Assessments and exams form part of the fabric of education. When the current crisis abates and schools reopen, formal testing and exams will return with them. It is important that young learners do not lose the habit of test-taking. If they do then it will be that much harder when they next find themselves facing a formal assessment.
But introducing some form of informal testing will also help young people learn while schools are closed. Tests and assessments do not need to be lengthy or intense. They can be fun, informal and flexible. But they are essential.
Tests provide a structure for learning. If regular assessments are planned, they give something to work to. They increase motivation and provide learning goals. If the learner achieves a good result it builds their confidence. If they consistently struggle to make the grade, it’s time to rethink the teaching methods. With regular tests, new teachers can have confidence that their pupils are learning something.
However, there’s an even bigger reason that tests remain essential. Without the regular discipline of recalling information, the human brain’s ability to retain learning is significantly reduced.
According to memory expert Professor Roddy Roediger, we are far more likely to remember information once we have been called upon to reconstruct it. Studies have shown that students who recreate what they have learned in their own words remember more information than those that simply read and reread it.
Although the science is still emerging, there’s growing evidence that retrieving information from your head creates pathways within your brain that make it more able to be retrieved in the future. Quizzes and informal tests are brilliant examples of good retrieval practice. Even just talking through what you have learned with a third party can be helpful.
Science also shows that learning is more effective when spaced out over time. Because of this, when planning informal tests it’s important to spread them over the course of study. Young people are much more likely to retain learning if it’s processed over time. A series of tests spaced out over a period creates a learning focus for each section of your syllabus. It’s one of the reasons that schools and universities hold weekly tests and quizzes. They motivate study continuously through the course. As such, knowledge is much more likely to stay in the brain than if the learner crams just before an exam.
As the weeks and months progress, schools and universities can provide tests online. Technology for remote testing is certainly sophisticated enough.
A variety of assessments can be easily authored. It’s even possible to monitor the assessments in real-time and detect cheating. Thus it is possible to deliver assessments to people learning from home that are valid, fair, reliable and defensible.
If schools do provide online assessments, it’s worth making use of them, even if they’re not made compulsory. If the institutions don’t look to run assessments themselves, then parents should start creating tests and quizzes. Sharing with other families will help spread the load and be a good opportunity to compare notes with those in the same boat.
A formal exam might be unnecessary and impractical. But quizzes, flashcards and knowledge recall tests will go a long way to expanding young minds and help learning stick in their memories.
John Kleeman is Founder and Executive Director of Questionmark, an enterprise-grade assessment platform.