Teaching for the Test and the Students

Consider how Daniel Blackmon, a veteran IB and Advanced Placement teacher, uses the exam to develop his Higher Level IB course on the History of the Americas:

Part of what I do when I organize my course is to look at the examination. There is an implicit agreement between the kids and me that I will get them ready for the exam.

The Higher Level (HL) history exam has three parts, all of which allow students to choose which topics to address. This structure allows different teachers to take different approaches to the course and to preparing their students for the exam. I do not have to teach everything in the IB history syllabus, but the choices are structured to assure that all students will be taught key material. Teachers may structure their course in a way that allows them to teach to their own strengths, or choose to expand their own knowledge. Either way, students will have some choice of topics on the IB exam and will get to write to their strengths. IB finds out what a student knows.

My goal is to prepare students to write two of the three document-based questions in Paper 1, four or five essays from Paper 2, and five or six essays from Paper 3.

My next step is to look at the actual essay questions that have been given on previous exams and give them out to the kids. I might give them nine questions to brainstorm at home and let them know that four of the nine will be options for an in-class essay. In this case, the students will have to prepare five of the nine in order to be assured that they have one to write.

I should, perhaps, add that I permit students to rewrite any essay that is marked lower than a C. I re-grade the assignment and replace (not average) the grade. It means that a struggling student can do well by virtue of elbow grease. It also allows a student who catastrophically misunderstands a question to recoup the error. They see me as a partner in learning, not in an adversarial role.

I also build lessons around the essay questions. I break down what the question demands such as the thesis, subtopics, specific factual information to use, and conclusion.

I tend to lecture in the earlier part of the year and shift more to project-based learning as the year progresses. This spring, students prepared individual projects on a single-party state (Mussolini, Franco, Castro, Mao, or Peron). I paired the kids up to an IB essay question. They developed a PowerPoint presentation on how they would answer the question. Meanwhile, I select one exemplary project on each single-party state and photocopy it for the class.

To see a project developed by Daniel Blackmon's IB students, visit http://cghs.dade.k12.fl.us/normandy.

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