During our first test of the semester this year, I asked my students to do something new.
- Get out a fresh page of your spiral notebook, and label it “important but unsure words on the test.”
- Every time you come across a word on the test that is unfamiliar to you but seems important to doing well on the test, write it down.
- An example of a word like this might be “innumerable” or “disintegration” or “Mamluk.”
- A non-example of a word like this might be a super specific person mentioned in a document (e.g., King Alahajjikan).
I told my students that I'd be walking around to take a look at their lists and that they would give me information on how to best support them in the next unit.
How it turned out
I wasn't sure how many words students would record, but they actually recorded quite a bit. I jotted them down as I circulated through my test-taking classes.
My favorite thing about this list is that each of the words written came from a student's awareness of something specific in a question that was hanging them up. Rather than being confused in a general way, they were identifying confusion at the word level. This is one of the most empowering shifts a test-taker can make.
I was also grateful to see some of the Tier 2 words that students were hung up on.* Words like “prevalence,” “incongruous,” “disintegration,” and “innumerable” are easier for me to miss in my instruction than Tier 3 words like “eunuch,” “hajj,” or “Sufis.”
In summary, I'm glad to add this to my repertoire. It's one more way of helping my students internalize the truth that tests are about learning.
*Tier 2 words are cross-disciplinary, academic-ish words that are least likely to be taught in school and most likely to impact performance in lots of classes. Tier 3 words are discipline-specific words that do tend to get taught explicitly.