Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2008
Reviewer Patty Jordan says that Put Thinking to the Test (Stenhouse, 2008) is "a practical book written by real teachers" who set out to understand why their own students who performed in class could not be successful on tests. Their solution: "focus on teaching test-taking as another reading genre, emphasizing reading comprehension strategies." Jordan concludes: "Wow! What a book!"
Put Thinking to the Test
By Lori L. Conrad; Missy Matthews; Cheryl Zimmerman; Patrick A. Allen
2008 (184 pp, paperback)
Reviewed by Patty Jordan
Wake County, North Carolina
Wow! What a book! I head back to school at the end of this week, and I want to buy a copy of this book for every teacher at every grade level involved in state testing.
Put Thinking to the Test covers all levels from about second grade through middle school. It’s a practical book written by real teachers. The book is divided into three sections: Wondering About Tests, Thinking About Tests, and Learning About Tests. Wondering, thinking and learning are three actions I want my students to take each day — test or no test!
The teachers who wrote this book worked collaboratively at lunch. Essentially, they were a Professional Learning Community, meeting together to devise these lessons as they struggled to understand why their own students who performed in class could not be successful on tests. They designed these lessons in an effort to maintain their own integrity, determined to teach students in the ways they knew to be best and not to “teach to the test."
Lori, Missy, Cheryl and Patrick focus on teaching test-taking as just another reading genre, emphasizing reading comprehension strategies. So often, we teach test taking by giving students practice tests with little follow-up other than going over the correct answers. These teachers give examples of specific lessons that teach specific thinking strategies. They provide actual work samples from their classes and include discussion to help us understand their work.
In Chapter 1, Cheryl Zimmerman helps the PLC group establish themselves as learners as they take sample tests and notice how they feel and what they discover about the tests. In Chapter 2, the teachers help their students notice what is unique about tests as a genre. They provide strategies for vocabulary specific to tests. Chapter 3 focuses on building stamina in students as they work quietly in isolation and use metacognitive strategies. Chapter 4 helps students take the role of the question maker. The almost too simple question of "What kinds of questions can we expect?" opens the door for student research and reflection.
Chapter 5 gives strategies to help students create mental images. Sample graphic organizers are provided as well as suggestions for helping students “draw what they know.” Chapter 6 discusses making inferences. In general, teachers tend to stick with knowledge and comprehension in their whole group lessons. Tests often require students to infer. Helping students learn to make inferences is helping them to succeed on tests.
Chapter 7 deals with even higher order thinking skills — synthesizing! Again specific examples are given for both 3rd grade and 8th grade. Chapter 8 discusses how we hep students build background knowledge. This is important for all learners but especially important for students who live in poverty or live in an isolated area, or those students who speak a first language other than English. As always there are specific examples and plenty of student work to bring the strategy to life.
Chapter 9 is a help to all of us who are global learners! This chapter speaks to the importance of determining what is most essential in our learning. Chapter 10, titled "Monitor for Meaning and Problem-Solve when Meaning Breaks Down,” focuses on one of the most difficult challenges when taking a test--making sure our answers make sense and how to problem solve when we realize we’re not sure what the answer may This is a challenge in life as well!
The last few chapters of Putting Thinking to the Test are about the teachers themselves, what they have learned through this experience, and how they kept their integrity intact.
Thanks to the work of this team of Colorado educators and their willingness to take the risk and devote the time to creating a book, I will have a ready toolkit to work with my professional learning community this year!
Patty Jordan teaches the academically gifted and serves as the instructional resources teacher at Poe Montessori School in the Wake County (NC) Public School System.
For a limited time, Putting Thinking to the Test can be reviewed in its entirety (but not printed) at the publisher’s website.