Carolism #7: Don’t teach to the test. Teach for understanding.

Carolism #7:  Don’t teach to the test. Teach for understanding.

Carolism #7: Don’t teach to the test. Teach for understanding.

Al Capone died of syphilis. Students might not remember a textbook answer to everything, especially the more complex chapters, but they’ll remember a story that will help them. It’s the very reason why kids learn the alphabet by singing a song. Whenever I teach the dreaded “bacteria” chapter, my students will be able to tell you about the famous mob boss who died of syphilis.

Educators have got to quit teaching to the test—that does our students no good. It doesn’t help them retain the information long-term and does a poor job preparing them for real-life situations. This is especially difficult for newer teachers because they don’t have the life experience and want their students to test well. Let’s start graduating students who really know the content and will become successful professionals.


Teaching for understanding

■  Explain the why. The bacteria class might not be interesting, but when I explain that you could seriously harm a client or yourself if proper sanitation doesn’t take place, now they understand why they need to know this. If our elementary teachers had told that math will help our problem-solving skills or that knowing the history of this country will explain why men often get paid more than women—then we would’ve had our “why” answered.

■  Give connectors. You’ve got to make the content connect to the student to help them understand it. “Do you remember a time in your life when…” or “Have you ever…” The content will relate to each student differently, so you’ve got to help them find uncover how it connects to them.

■  Make it come alive. How do you read Green Eggs and Ham to a 5-year-old? You probably use different voices, inflection—you make the story come alive. I’m not sure what grade our students were in when story-telling became “boring,” but we’ve got to be delivering content in that animated, fun way we used to. Make the textbook chapters come alive! It’s easier for us to process when it’s delivered in a creative way. 


Teaching for understanding will make those test grades go up, but more importantly you’ll be giving your students’ knowledge that will sustain well after graduation and into their careers. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!


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