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- Visualize: How Seeing What's Coming Changed My Teaching - August 16, 2021
- 10 Lessons About Teaching from My Youngest Son - June 24, 2021
- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
Recently a reader emailed us this question: What Does a Quality Social Studies Assessment Look Like? Well, reader, I'll be the first to admit - my instruction tactics have evolved much over the years, but nothing has changed more in the way in which I test students. What once began as fill-in questions with some true/false questions have evolved over the years. Here are just some tips of what to include and what to avoid:
What to Avoid:
- True/false questions - Think about when you were back in school; it's test day and you're antsy. You just want to do well so your mom doesn't crack you upside the head / you want to keep that grade high / you want to impress this teacher, who's known to be a real stickler on tests. You studied all night. You know the material. You come in and the test plops down on your desk - it's 100 true/false questions. You got this, you tell yourself. A week later, the test reappears, and you erred on 25 of the questions, because you didn't read deeply enough into the question. The teacher explains the Constitution was signed on September 17th, not the 18th or it was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that ended World War I for the Russians, not the Bulgarians. You rip your hair out. Don't do that to your students.
- Major amounts of lower-level thinking - There's a place and time for recall in social studies (everyone should learn the order of the first 4 presidents, or should know what countries fought on which side in World War II), but the entire test shouldn't consist of more than 50% of recall questions.
- Negatively-worded questions - How many double negatives can you use until a student doesn't not not want to take your tests anymore? Which of the following is not true questions should be avoided.
- Lengthy answers in multiple choice questions - Most answers should be about a line on a Word document; more than that exponentially increases the processing time to answer the questions appropriately and correctly.
- All of the above / none of the above answers - Those answer choices are tricky. Try to eliminate or curtail them unless it's a concept that you emphasized very much.
- Essays that involve a regurgitation of your ideas - Teachers in general are an intelligent lot. We social studies teachers are especially adept at many things, such as the English-Language Arts side of things, science (for technological changes), and math in terms of battle schematics, just to name a few. But one thing we need to encourage students to think on their own. Give them an open-ended prompt that has many answers, not just the one your lecture included 5 days ago.
What to Include:
- Backwards design - This term, coined by Jay McTighe, involves beginning with the unit assessment first rather than last. It makes sense - you should teach to your own test! We should retire the days of "I forgot to teach this, but it's on your test tomorrow."
- Common assessment - This buzz word isn't going anywhere, because you and the teachers who teach similar subjects in your own district and more so in your own school should be testing the same exact concepts. Why? Because next year they're going to move onto the next grade or onto college, and there are certain things those social studies teachers and/or history professors will expect them to know. Sit down with your colleagues and map out the 50-100 most important concepts, ideas, people, events, and more - and include them in your tests together.
- Multiple choice questions - You may hate this suggestion, but students are so (over-) exposed to standardized tests that they need to continually see challenging multiple choice questions that include at least 4 or 5 options for correct answers.
- Quality decoy answers to multiple choice questions - The correct answers shouldn't be obvious unless that student studied and worked hard. They need to be rewarded by not having "Bozo the Clown" and "Snoopy" as part of the choices in an answer set.
- Primary sources - One beauty of social studies is that is was once alive. Assessments should not forget that. I once scrapped a test and gave students 5 primary sources to view. I gave them the "essential questions" / learning objectives and asked them to reflect on how these sources relate to those questions and objectives. I was blown away at their answers, and have been included primary sources ever since. Think about it - at least one picture, portrait, or snippet of words can really test a student's understand of what you taught them, and that's the goal of an assessment in the first place.
- Social studies skills - Tests should include at least one social studies concept from some of the following ideas: timeline, evaluating evidence, cause and effect, technological impacts, political impacts, making inferences, mapping, author bias, citations, primary vs. secondary sources, interpreting graphs, and so on.
- Social studies concepts - I have a colleague who puts what he calls "the 5 major themes" as posters in his room and tests them on every test. Here's a great list of social studies themes from Syracuse University and another from a Wikispaces' page. Whether you teach and / or tests these directly or indirectly, themes should be present in your instruction and assessment.
- Common Core Standards - Whether or not you agree with them, they're here - and probably to stay. Tests should include the standards for English-Literacy and Social Studies (in your content area).
- AP-based questions - See if you can get a few sample questions from the AP and learn how they are written, especially Document-Based Questions (DBQ's). There are nearly 20 different AP social studies courses that students can take, so find what best fits your curriculum and use them as a basis to guide your hand in crafting questions (it's a criminal offense to use exact questions!).
- Thought-provoking essay / short answer prompts (at least 2 choices) - As mentioned above, students should be given the opportunity to display their opinions rooted in examples of what was just taught in your class. In fact, they should have at least 2 essays to choose from, and every test should include an essay because long after they've forgotten about the Mongolian invasions, they'll remember how you helped them express their ideas better.
- Adapted tests - Don't forget about your ELL (English language learners), special ed, and gifted students. They should have some accommodations to their specific abilities.
- Non-test assessments - We're so eager and ready to put a test at the end of every assessment that we need to stop being part of the over-testing problem in education and start being part of the solution. You love social studies - that's why you became a social studies teacher - so shouldn't some of your assessments reflect that? For my revolution unit, I dropped my test in favor of two assessments - a battle recreation (whether using Minecraft, a diorama, or a YouTube video) and having students dress the part of one of the Founders. It's my favorite assessment (and theirs, too!).