Monday, April 21, 2014

Is there an advantage in "reading for teaching" vs. "reading for testing"?

For more than twenty years, my students have done their (almost) nightly reading with the expectation that they would have a short quiz on some of the main plot elements the next day. The quiz gives students immediate feedback on their understanding of the basic plot and characters in the reading and me a sense of who is prepared for that day’s discussion of the text.

But, has this “reading for testing” approach been a detriment to them? Can a slight adjustment in their expectations for what may happen after the reading improve their understanding?

In the article “Learning from Others” by Matthew D. Lieberman in the April 19, 2014 issue of The Chronicle Review, the author cites a 1980 Yale study that showed when college students read with the expectation that they would have to teach the content to others (summarize and evaluate) as opposed to reading to prepare to be tested on it, the “reading to teach” group did better when tested on the content.

Lieberman did a similar study recently involving participants reading descriptions of possible network television shows with the expectation to summarize and evaluate each show for their boss. Brain imaging revealed that “it was activity in the regions involved in social thinking that was associated with accurate recall of the information” which he states is different from the “classic view” of how the brain learns.

In the classroom, this theory certainly plays out when students are assigned a large project which they ultimately present to the class and in activities such as Think-Pair-Share because students are preparing the content they learn to present to others. Neither lends itself to daily use in this instance but maybe the possibility of doing something similar will give my students a more effective approach.

This leads me to several questions which is not surprising because my posts always create more questions than answers for me.

Do students who are "good" at studying already do this with the thought that they plan to be able to teach the material to the teacher on the test?

Will this approach to reading lead to the deeper understanding and therefore, hopefully, appreciation we are striving for all along?

What will a possible daily assessment look like for my students if I want them to read using this approach?

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