Wednesday, May 5, 2010


My 9th grade students just finished taking the 10th grade Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills1 (OAKS) test. There are a few students still finishing up, but these young scholars kicked the test's posterior clear to the moon. On average, students increased their score by 3 points, but what is really impressive is that 13 of these 54 students passed the 10th grade test and now have one less hurdle to jump before they can graduate high school. I am so proud of them and their hard work.

But tonight I'm wondering how much of a role enthusiasm/motivation/confidence played a part. Is there a sort of placebo effect that helped out my students?

I have this thing that I do before I take students to the computer lab to take the test each day. I don't think it's something I do that affects their performance, necessarily, though the intent is to get them pumped up. But it is definitely a gauge for their level of this-class/test-is-such-a-joke-and-I-don't-care-what-I-get-on-it factor.
"I say 'fired up,' you say 'ready to go!' FIRED UP?"
So we yell that, disrupt the classes on either side of us as much as possible (sorry, Dusty), and then we go kill some tests. With a vengeance. Just like John McClain.

But I have three periods. And second period doesn't get so fired up. They don't seem so ready to go. I yell; they mumble. I yell louder; they tell me how "gay" this is. I ask them if they really used "gay" as synonymous with stupid; they say "sorry, sorry, we mean 'dumb.'" Fantastic.

But second period has the lowest average test score for all three periods. Only three students passed in that class, while first period, which most definitely gets fired up and ready to go, boasts eight students who passed the test and an average test score 5 points higher.

Both classes have their negative Nellys, but in first period they aren't negative about getting fired up. Second period has more students who just guessed and blew off the test, but that could be a result of failing to get fired up. I'm just trying to figure out why there's such a big difference when both classes received the same instruction. And if it's something as simple as confidence, how do I give it to all my students, who happen to be sarcastic teenagers (and just so we're clear, I teach them because of it, just so you read my intonation there correctly that it is a term of endearment).

1. As if a test can assess something as broad as knowledge . . . (back)
2. Yes, I did steal that from the 2008 Obama campaign. Not because Obama's awesome, just because it's a really great cheer. I am being completely politically neutral. (back)


  1. I totally believe that getting students fired up, giving them something to work toward (more than a pat on the back for a number score) really does help. It shows them that you take the test seriously and want them to do well. And sometimes, a little external motivation helps all of us do those things we'd rather not do (if someone paid me $50/week for cleaning the bathroom, my bathroom would be spotless, let me tell you).

    And by the way, I had a great time doing the peer revision fishbowl in your class today. But I have to say, it's tough to be a bad student. That type of avoidance really does take work. Maybe they deserve more credit for doing nothing than I ever thought to give them. Not!

  2. You are totally right about the reward: first period is psyched about the pizza party, and I gave some outrageous amounts of extra credit both for improving their score and for passing the test. I knew I had to offer them something to strive for now that they can't get out of my class!

    You guys were awesome for the fishbowl - that's actually the topic I hopped on to write about tonight.

  3. Hi Ben! I'm a 6th grade language arts teacher and am looking for ways to incorporate web 2.0 technologies into the classroom -- and I was just looking around your blog for your podcasts, since I already read some of your entries....but didn't find anything. A google search took me to your Podcasts on podomatic -- and I tried to play one; but it didn't work. Do you have regular podcasts? If so, it'd make my life a lot easier since I'd have to read less! If you are still doing podcasts, let me know. I'd appreciate it!

  4. I greatly enjoy the "fired up" comment. I wonder if community college students would go for it? Thank you for the "gay" does not mean "dumb" comment. I like your blog - a lot.

  5. Mariam, I haven't done a podcast in a while. I have been even less on top of those than the blog posts, which are only trickling right now. Maybe when next school year starts I'll do a few on the drive home from school, Bud the Teacher style ( As for my broken links, I'll have to see if I can get those fixed . . . hopefully the files are still on my computer somewhere.

    Thanks for the compliment, Lucy. Hope you keep reading.