Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: "Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher" -- A gem of a critical thinking game

by Derek Spencer

I don't know about you, but I think looking at logical arguments and probing for weaknesses is a pretty good time. It's also the sort of thing that keeps critical thinking skills sharp.

In Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, a flash-based game you can play in your web browser, you play as the titular character (who, it turns out, is actually an accountant) as you dissect the arguments of some of history's greatest philosophers in search of the true source of morality.

But you won't go it alone! Socrates' daughter, Ariadne, a philosophy student herself, will be by your side to offer advice and help you focus your inquiries.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Writing good multiple-choice questions

by Derek Spencer

Here's the thing: writing good multiple-choice questions is hard. I'm sure those of you who have spent hours creating your own tests can attest to that.

The following article lays out some good ground rules for writing multiple-choice questions. Check it out at the link below, then come back for a little commentary.

Here are some of my thoughts:

The type of multiple-choice question you'll want to use depends completely upon the learning objective you want to meet. Ms. Bartlett lists four types of questions:
  • Recall information
  • Understand concepts
  • Apply knowledge
  • Analyze information
Before you start to write your questions, think about the objective you want your students to achieve. If your questions are intended primarily as plot review, for example, then you'll write "recall information" questions. These require lower-order thinking skills, as they require students to comprehend what they've read and relay that to you.

If you're asking students to analyze information, however, you're asking them to use higher-order thinking skills. A question that asks students to show how a specific use of a literary device affects the passage is a question that requires this sort of analysis — and it's more challenging. These are the kinds of questions students are going to encounter on AP English exams, and they'll need practice if they're going to succeed.

All the points under the "Answers should be" section are strong. When you're writing the incorrect answers (we like to call them "distractors" here), they must be plausible in context. If you ask students to read a passage and then answer five multiple-choice questions, the distractors for those questions must make sense in the context of that passage. Using information from a different part of the book for a distractor is, in my opinion, unfair — it's sort of like a trick.

Distractors also need to be consistent. If one distractor is significantly different from the others, it will draw students' attention, and they'll be more likely to choose it (provided it's plausible, of course) than the others.

The "Questions about Behavior" section presents some good ideas for using multiple-choice questions as a diagnostic tool to evaluate your own teaching.

How do you use multiple-choice questions in your classroom? Do you find them useful? Let us know in the comments! Have a great weekend, and we'll see you next time.

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Smarter Balanced reveals accommodations guidelines

by Derek Spencer

The Smarter Balanced testing consortium, which is working on standardized tests based on the Common Core State Standards, has released its guidelines on accessibility accommodations.

The consortium will not allow students in grades 3 through 5 to have passages read to them while they are taking their exams.

Education Week writes about the issue here.

Smarter Balanced will restrict these students from using the read-aloud accomodation because the consortium's analysis of the Common Core State Standards indicates that students in grades 3 – 5 are being tested on their text-decoding skills. States may elect to use the read-aloud accommodations anyway, but the test results for those students will be deemed invalid.

Interestingly, older students will be afforded read-aloud accommodations, as Smarter Balanced believes these students are being tested on reading skills other than text-decoding. 

You can read Smarter Balanced's Accommodations Guidelines here. There are some particularly interesting comments on test design at the end of the document.

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Free Vocabulary Power Plus White Paper

by Derek Spencer

Want to know more about the kind of research that informed the creation of our best-selling Vocabulary Power Plus series?

Click this link to download a free white paper that discusses the benefits of direct vocabulary instruction compared against learning new words from context while reading. The latter is serviceable, but the former helps students learn more words in less time.

A sample:

Students must spend a large amount of time reading or listening in order to encounter new words often enough to understand their meanings. In “Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension,” William Nagy cites a study that finds that uninstructed students have a one-in-twenty chance of incidentally learning a new word only from context (1988). Students reading a ten-page short story that contains twenty new words, therefore, will be fortunate to fully retain one vocabulary word from the text.

You'll also learn how Vocabulary Power Plus uses several instructional techniques that increase the probability your students will truly learn the words in the program — not merely use them to pass a test and forget them soon after. Finally, there's a handy Common Core State Standards alignment guide for your convenience.

If you have any questions about Vocabulary Power Plus, don't hesitate to get in touch! Give us a call Monday – Friday from 8 AM to 6 PM Eastern. Here's our number: (800) 932-4593. Hope to hear from you soon!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A "Genius Hour" primer: Time for student-directed learning!

by Derek Spencer

© Copyright Roger Morris and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The idea behind the "Genius Hour" (also called "20% Time") is simple: give students one class period per week to work on a project of their choosing.

The argument in favor of the Genius Hour is that if students are allowed to direct their own learning, they'll be more engaged and interested in what they're trying to learn. This reinforces to students that curiosity is a good thing and may spur them to take more of an interest in the rest of their education.

If students are particularly interested in a topic they study in class, they might use their Genius Hour time to delve deeper into that topic — and that would be a big win.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why rhetoric matters to the modern student

by Derek Spencer

Rhetoric is an ancient art, one whose roots reach farther back in time than the Ancient Greeks, widely considered the culture that codified the techniques that would help a speaker make a clear and powerful argument to his audience.

Good ideas can last for thousands of years — so it is with rhetoric, the study of which can impart some valuable lessons to the modern student.