How did you do on your last test?
If you’re not a student you probably can’t remember. Tests are for students, right?
Formal education has a long history of testing. Spelling, math, science, history – no other institution tests more than schools. Obviously.
What’s not as top of mind, however, are the tests that we face minute-by-minute, wherever we are, whomever we’re with and whatever we’re doing. These are the tests of character that appear in our interactions with others, choices of how to spend our time, how we work, how we play, and how we respond to the challenges thrown our way. And if you’re following what most experts are saying, it is character, and specifically traits such as initiative, curiosity, grit, creativity, and adaptability, that will best determine our success in life.
Educators and parents alike spend a lot of time thinking about tests, whether designing, marking or preparing children to do their best with them. Tests help us monitor growth in students and effectiveness of teaching. They have value. But most of these tests don’t measure what matters most. They aren’t designed to.
So, what would a test of character look like? Simple. Watch what others do, of their own volition, and particularly when out of the gaze and direction of authority figures. Minute-by-minute.
And if you want to help prepare students to do well on these tests? Provide a school experience that not only teaches character but also includes the encouragement, time and support needed so students can practice the skills and traits that matter, and do so for their own purposes. Students of character need freedom to initiate, create, persist at solving real problems, make a difference and more, not for marks and not because they’re told to. They need a school that believes in the infinite potential of children, if we let it take shape, and a school which recognises that this means doing a number of things differently.
Educators, watch what your students do with free time. That’s testing what matters. And give them a school experience that lets them develop the traits and skills that matter most. That’s preparing them to ace the test. You won’t be disappointed.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.
This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, December 2012.