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Michael Harvey

Michael Harvey

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Posted by on in Assessment & Grading
My students moan about my chemistry class. Every Friday, I require students to take a test. With so much riding on test results for both teachers and students, the external examinations required by the Cambridge system my school employs appears to encourage more cheating than learning. At best, they foster memorization, but at the expense of originality and critical thinking. The dreaded teaching to the test. Today, information can be more easily—and accurately— searched online than mentally recalled, old-fashioned testing strikes its critics as obsolete. But it turns out that the right kinds of assessments—frequent, short tests—can actually yield big educational benefits. It’s called the “testing effect,” and it is my belief that educators are missing an opportunity by not doing more to take advantage of it.
One of the major problems with the standardized testing is that it is built on the assumption that there’s a fixed amount of knowledge and ability in a student’s head, which the test merely measures. But that’s not what research has shown. Done properly, testing is not impotent. Rather, it can be much more like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The act of testing students, actually affects how much knowledge they retain, how well they retain it and how they apply it.
Educational researcher Andrew Butler has shown that testing facilitates creative problem solving, a major objection against testing. Undergraduates were given six text passages filled with facts and concepts. He had the students just study some of the passages; others, he repeatedly tested them on. Not only did these latter students demonstrate a better grasp of the tested material, but they also fared better when asked apply these concepts in completely new contexts. When students had been tested on the passages, rather than just reading them, they got about 50 percent more of the answers correct. They were better at drawing inferences, thanks to the testing effect.
The key to this effect is the timing. The sooner students are tested after learning new material, the more it sinks in, the longer you wait to test students the less recall. On the other hand, the more testing a student gets on a given set of more information, the greater the benefits. With the first few tests, students show dramatic gains. With further testing, the positive effects on retention taper off. But surprisingly, there is no plateau. Even after 20 or 30 tests, students’ performances progressively improve with each additional test.
No one is entirely sure what causes the effect. One possible explanation is that connections between neurons increase when you reinforce the learning with examinations. If you don't “use it you lose it.” Because recalling during test-taking requires real mental effort, it may force the brain to create multiple, alternative pathways for accessing the same piece of information. Frequent mental struggle strengthens these networks. This may be why, for all the drawbacks of external examinations featuring lots of practice exams, they force students to retrieve the information on all those flash cards, they provide helpful mental workouts. So although it has it's critics, evidence suggests that examinations and tests still hold an important place in the modern educational system.
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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
A major problem for educators globally is the achievement of indigenous learners. In New Zealand, the issue of Maori and Pasifika “achievement” continues to provide a challenge, however there have been promising initiatives that could be applied to increase success for other indigenious populations around the world.
Culturally responsive teaching practice
An initiative showing positive results for Maori learners which could be applied globally is Te Kotahitanga (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh & Teddy, 2007). Te Kotahitanga gathered student voice from a range of secondary Maori students. The result from this feedback, together with input from parents, principals and teachers, was the creation of the Effective Teaching Profile (p.140) which then formed the basis of a professional development of teachers. One of the major findings of Te Kotahitanga was that the major influence on Maori students’ educational achievement lies in the bias and approaches used by their teachers. In particular the research exposed deficit theorizing by teachers about Maori students which resulted in low teacher expectations of Māori students, and created self-fulfilling justification of failure.

Te Kotahitanga schools are beginning to show significant improvements in Maori student engagement with learning and achievement (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar & Fung, 2007, p.263). Te Kotahitanga places culture and culturally responsive pedagogy at the centre of classroom practice and creates relationships-based classrooms founded on a kaupapa Maori. Although the project is transforming practice in mainstream schools, the solution is grounded in Maori beliefs and values:
"The answers to Maori educational achievement and disparities do not lie in the mainstream, for given the experiences of the last 150 years, mainstream practices and theories have kept Maori in a subordinate position, while at the same time creating a discourse that pathologized and marginalized Maori peoples' lived experiences. (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh, & Teddy, 2009, p.741)"
In New Zealand The Treaty of Waitangi provided a platform for authentic engagement with Māori as Tangata Whenua. Anne Milne's work with Kia Aroha College’s “pedagogy of whanau“, tangibly defines the treaty in all aspects of school life. The question of ‘where’s the whanau in that?’ allows the school to keep focused on the central vision of affirming Maori student identity. 

I can see connections here to the learning I have been doing this year around relationships, where I have come to (re)discover how crucial manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are to me both professionally and personally. 
Certainly the ideas of shifting the locus of control away from the teacher, allowing greater equity of access to knowledge, and thus learning moving towards being student-centered and personalized, must allow space for relationships to be fostered and nurtured. How else might schools enable Maori learners’ success as Maori? Where’s the whanau in our mainstream schools at present?

In terms of how my school addresses cultural responsiveness in practice, one of the core values of the school is tae ana ki te hapori - an inclusive community. Meaning in principle the school community is accepting and welcoming, fostering right relationships and committed to the common good. As part of this, the school recognizes the traditional ownership and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and welcomes them into its community, acknowledges the primary role of whanau in the growth and development of the child and provides opportunities for their participation in the life of the school. However, in planning and assessment, cultural context is not generally present.  At present, my school's assessment models are generally mono-cultural - based primarily on the United Kingdom's Cambridge International Examinations and not representative of the cultural diversity present in the school. As dual pathway school, National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) allows assessment to incorporate cultural aspects of the learner which in turn would validate the cultural identity of learners and could improve learning outcomes for Maori and Pasifika learners. However, this opportunity is not fully being taken advantage of at present. 
However, the underlying approaches outlined in Te Kotahitanga are universal and are a possible way of lifting achievement for all students not just Maori and should be considered.


Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T., & Teddy, L. (2007). Te Kōtahitanga Phase 3 Whānaungatanga: Establishing a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations in Mainstream Secondary School Classrooms. : New Zealand Ministry of Education Research Division.

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Tiakiwai, S., & Richardson, C. (2003). Te Kotahitanga: The experiences of year 9 and 10 Maori students in mainstream classrooms. Report to the Ministry of Education.
Findsen,B.(2012).Older adult learning in Aotearoa New Zealand: Structure, trends and issues. Presented at Adult Community Education (ACE) Conference.
Harrison, B. & Papa, R. (2005).The development of an indigenous knowledge program in a New Zealand Maori-Language immersion school. Anthropology and Education Quarterly; (36) 1,57-72.

Milne, A. (2009). Colouring in the white spaces: Cultural identity and learning in school. ASB/APPA Travelling Fellowship Trust.
Shaw, S.,White,W. & Deed,B.(2013) (Ed.) Health, wellbeing and environment in Aotearoa New Zealand.South Melbourne, Australia:Oxford University Press.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2008). Teacher professional learning and development.
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