Wednesday, June 6, 2007

To test or not to test

A homeschool mom has an advantage that public and private school teachers don't have. Through our conversations, we have the opportunity to perceive the richness and depth of what our child really knows and understands. We can ask questions and have discussions, clearing up misinformation, making spiritual connections and seeing our child excited over the knowledge they have gained.

Let's take my child's history studies as an example. My boys and I were standing in line at the video store when somehow we began talking about Napoleon. The boys were excitedly talking about the "Boogy man" as Napoleon was called. Then they proceeded to remind me of the details of Napoleon's wars before his banishment to Elba. They could recite the battles, the victories and failures of his reign. I couldn't even do that. Why could they? Because they were interested. They fell in love with learning about it. There was no pressure or stress. When learning, there was no questioning, "Will this be on the test?" No, they simply enjoyed learning the material and were allowed to soak up the parts they wanted to learn, no pressure. They were fascinated by the information. Perhaps there were some things they didn't remember from that period we studied. I don't know. The fact is, they learned what they found interesting. I wonder if I required them to remember specific facts for a test, if they would have retained so much excitement about the material.

I believe tests can ruin the atmosphere of learning that I'm trying to promote in the hearts of my children. Tests tend to create an environment where the student seeks knowledge and learning to score well on the test, rather than seeking knowledge because of their natural curiosity and desire to know. Learning becomes linked with fear of failure. The natural curiosity is quenched, while the desire to score well and the fear of not scoring well replaces the love for learning. Love is replaced by fear.

After a test-free elementary experience (except the occasional test prep and IOWA test required by law), a child enters middle school with a love for learning firmly ingrained in their character. In high school, tests are necessary for the all-important credit and for a smooth transition into college. Yet, these tests and the entire high school experience will be so much easier for a child that enjoys learning, soaks up knowledge and hungers for more information, than for the child who has associated all learning with fear and testing.

That's why, with my elementary science books, I don't create, promote or endorse tests for mom to give to her children. I personally believe tests are for classroom teachers who don't have the blessed advantage of the wonderful discussions we have with our little ones. For, it is through those discussions that we know what they know, learn what they learn and enjoy the knowledge with them.

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