A few days ago, The New York Times published an article with this headline: To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test. It was about a new study which, the article claimed, showed that science students learned more when they took “tests” on what they were taught than when they repeatedly studied the information or when they turned the information into concept maps.
Let’s review what the study really did — the third group didn’t really study by taking “tests.” In fact, they just had them write a ten minute free-form essay summarizing what they had learned. Then, all three groups were given actual tests, and the ones who wrote the essay scored higher.
Having students write a short summary of what they learned that day is certainly not an activity that is alien to many classrooms, and I write about its importance in my book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work. It’s also a good formative assessment tool.
So, that’s one problem I have with either the article or about how the study’s authors are describing it — it doesn’t prove that “testing” is a more effective way to help students learn.
The other big problem I have with the article and the study is that it’s being used by some to discredit the idea of concept-mapping (just look at some of the quotes in the article). I wonder how many, if any, of them have ever used a graphic organizer with students in the classroom. It’s not an either/or issue. Concept maps are not an end in themselves — they’re extremely effective to plan an essay. I use tons of graphic organizers in my mainstream and ELL classes, and the vast majority of time they’re used in preparation for writing. And students create much better essays because of them!
I just wish these academics — and reporters — would sometimes ask a K-12 teacher what they thought….
I had the exact same thought when I read the article! They didn’t give the kids a test after they read the material – they asked the kids to write a summary of what they remembered. Those are two very different activities!
The researchers were trying to highlight the point that the act of retrieving information from memory is significant for learning; that by retrieving the info. once, you make it easier to retrieve it again later. That finding I don’t disagree with at all. My problem is with the journalism that refers to this very useful teaching technique being labeled just a “test.”