Are We Testing Enough?

As I watched my sons play a new video game the other day, it occurred to me that maybe the problem isn't that we are assessing students too much, it's that we are assessing them too little. Look at gaming environments. Players are constantly being assessed, challenged, and tested. They adjust and maneuver or crash and/or die. Then they get back up and begin the process all over again. It's demanding but the gamers are resilient.

I have often wondered how this type of learning could be transfered to the literature classroom. An obvious possibility would be to create time periods or even particular settings so that students could experience them first hand. Imagine going into the house from Poe's "The Black Cat" and interacting with the characters. I am not sure what the "game" would be - stop the murder, find the body, or even attempt to throw a dead cat through the window? What fun! My parent/teacher conferences would be standing room only. While this may be taking it a bit too far, there are many possibilities here. Grammar, though, is another story altogether.

Or is it?

What was happening on the screen of my son's game was extremely far from any way I would think to teach grammar. It seemed ludicrous to envision a similar method to use. After all, the thought of a "Grammar Land" is far more horrifying to me than any Poe story. But what if we borrowed the continuous assessment aspect of the gaming model, not the graphics? Take the workbook model (more horror!) and make it interactive, level based, and have it provide immediate feedback.

For example, give the students one thought or topic (a type of noun for instance) and then begin the assessment with many examples and immediate feedback. Continue until they have mastered the "level" and move on. Let them learn by making mistakes in an environment that allows them to happen with little consequence and give them a chance to perfect it. It seems as if something similar could be set up in other areas of literature (vocabulary, etc.) and in most subjects.

Can this be a creative and engaging way to learn or is it just an electronic version of the workbook? I'll have to experiment with it over the summer. In the meantime, I need to go help my kids finish their homework - a couple of pages in their workbooks.


  1. Hey Tom; I think this is a great idea, especially for things such as grammar and vocab which boil down to strict memorization. But can we get them to thirst for victory in a vocabulary game the same way they do in Video games? Perhaps if their grade was calculated by which level they achieved in a set time, and they were able to access the program from home so they could "practice" it would work. I look forward to seeing what you come up with...and I think you should remember what happened when Mike Ptomey let his class throw a fake cat on the roof of the annex. If you don't, lets just say that his voicemail inbox was full. - Brian B

  2. Brian,
    Therein lies the problem! Currently, most of the memorization "games" are no more than flash cards that flash. There needs to be a thought process, incremental success, and a goal. I'll go back and review my copy of Gee's book and Pink's "Drive" looking for insight. Grammar will never be the same. Ditto for all those who have contact with Ptomey. His legend has just begun.

  3. I've thought about something similar for science, but wasn't sure where to start.
    I'll look forward to hearing what you come up with.

  4. Lara,
    Science seems like a good candidate for this approach. I'll be glad to share what I come up with. Please do the same if you beat me to it!

  5. Hi,
    I am a first year education major. I think this is a very interesting idea. In one of my high school classes we would often work with grammar as a game, in my school it was the only way to get class participation. We would team up and work through grammar problems as a team to learn the material then be given new problems to compete with the other groups in the class. I am not sure if this is what you had in mind, especially since we all stayed on the same level regardless of how well we did, but it is what popped into my head. I just thought I'd share my story and let you know that I liked your idea...

  6. Frances,
    Thanks for sharing your story! I am very interested in the process of the game and the competition between groups. It sounds like you enjoyed it and I think so would other students.
    Interesting you replied today because I was just thinking about that. I was thinking that a grammar version of Words with Friends could be created using smart phones. Give them 10 (or whatever number) grammar exercises to complete and have a friend do the same ones. Fastest to get them all correct wins that round. That could be done with almost anything and not just grammar.


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