To pretest or not pretest? I don't really think that is the question teachers ask anymore. It seems to be standard practice to give students a pretest at the beginning of the school year or semester at the very least. The question really is are we using those pretests effectively?
I will admit that I was really not one of those people that was using pretests like I should. I was only giving one pretest that was too large at the beginning of the semester. I always looked at the overall results, but I didn't really look at the individual student results and I really didn't change my teaching style or material based on those tests. I also never asked questions about what students thought about the topic I was pretesting them on. I knew I really wasn’t using pretesting very effectively but honestly I was afraid of the workload that I thought would be created if I was really analyzing my pretests. Then I read a book (Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design) that reinvigorated my drive to better myself (read more about that here) and one of the things I wanted to delve into was using pretests more effectively.
What I took away from the book was how you don’t want to be teaching in the dark, which really stuck with me. Why would I not want to know what my students already know and why wouldn’t I want to use that for my teaching. It was I would call a "duh" moment.
That was all took to get me to dive into how I was going to use pretests more effectively. From there I used stories from the book to guide me and pieced together what I wanted to do with it.
How I scheduled my pretests
I have broken my content down into 3 sections so I am going to have three pretests at different points in the curriculum which I have based around my units.
Here is a break down of my class to show you what I mean:
I decided to not give a pretest on my first unit because that is the one that sets up my entire course and I feel it is important for the students to complete it. It allows me to see how students work towards a deadline and get a feel for them as students. It also allows me to review the results and implement them.
My plan with pretesting was to use the results to decide what activities students would need to complete in order to show proficiency in my standards and objectives and add elements of personal choice/interest based on what they said in the pretest. In my class students have a certain amount of flexibility in how they progress through a unit in terms of time and mode of learning. I refer to it as student-directed and self-paced (see more about how I do that here). In the beginning it was really just self-paced but as I have progressed it has really been about teaching students content but also working on the skills of learning and working students in small groups as opposed to large groups unless it is needed. Now I am adding more options in assessments and creating a personalized experience based on their pretest results.
Makeup of the pretests
When creating the pretest I was looking to have 2-3 questions per content focus for the unit. My goal was to have no more than 25 questions. Then I asked some opinion style questions to see how they felt about the material from this unit. The questions I ask were:
I went with these questions to see how much they valued their environment and what current biases and points of view they have about the environment and how humans use the environment. I will say that asking these questions gave me some valuable insight into my students and what they think about the topic. It was able to highlight issues and create connections that I am not sure would be seen in a typical multiple choice test.
Reviewing the student data
Once the students took the test I had the part that honestly I was dreading: reading through every test. I will say that I am super lucky in that my district uses canvas which allows you to create a spreadsheet broken down by student. The only problem was that I wanted a single 1-2 page breakdown of the test results for each student so I could review it with the students and not show them anything but their own results.
Luckily I have an amazing husband that happens to a spreadsheet genius and helped me organize my results by student with only the important information and helped me print it so it would be useful. Unfortunately I didn’t ask him right away to help with that and was trying to create a page form that I was going to hand write the results on for each student! I was creating so much more work for myself. My co-blogger is going to read this, roll her eyes and laugh, because she is also a spreadsheet genius. (Yes, you should have called me! Plus I guarantee one of the Alice Keeler spreadsheet add-ons would help with the process...next time! haha!- Becca)
Once I had my results printed and ready to review, all I did was highlight the areas of weakness so when I went to review with the student it would be easy to see what areas we needed to work on.
I also looked for patterns in the pretests. What I noticed was that I had three groups of students: students that were weak in the unit as a whole, students that were in the middle needing some review, and the students that were advanced in their knowledge of the material already.
The changes I Have seen in my classes
As students turned in their final assignment from the 5 Themes of Geography unit, I pulled them aside to review their pretest and their HEI checklists (see more about how I use checklists here). As we talked I highlighted the portions of their checklist that they needed to complete. Most students even if they scored advanced had some things that they couldn’t get out of. I usually have at least 2 formative assessments embedded into the unit to make sure they are getting the material before they get to the summative assessment. They could not get out of those and they could not get out of their textbook readings because we are working on reading and notetaking skills.
I used the opinion questions to guide our class bell work activities and added some of the topics they picked out as important to our assignments and have been making sure to talk about them as we work through content. It has been really nice to have those conversations with students and the students have responded pretty well because they can’t dispute the results and they appreciate that I have taken their answers and opinions into account.
So far I would say that really making use of my pretest has been very positive. It definitely has caused some extra work for me because I have to be on my game even more and have extra activities planned for students that need extra support or enrichment, but I feel like I am creating a more student-directed learning environment where students have more ownership in their learning and they know that I am considering them when I am creating materials for the class.