This is the eighth blog post in the ‘Obvious Truths We Shouldn't Be Ignoring Series.’ This series is based upon eight ‘Obvious Truths’ presented by Alfie Kohn in his "Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn't Be Ignoring" published in the September 2011 issue of The Education Digest.
"Just because a lesson (or book, or class, or test) is harder doesn't mean it's better.”
When it comes to academic rigor, many misconceptions ensue. Many people believe that a difficult test is better than an easier one. By the same token, a more challenging class is better than an easier one. As such, we view something which is more rigorous as better or more complete. Sadly, this is not always the case.
The truth of the matter is that a test or course should be as challenging as it needs to be. This is because we need to ascertain a student's mastery of the material, not their ability to deal with strenuous or even arbitrary testing. Naturally, the difficulty of the test will be based upon the difficulty of the course. But, the levels should match.
For example, a course designed for freshmen at the college level should theoretically be easier than one designed for seniors at the college level. Though, this doesn't necessarily mean that the test at the senior level should be that much different, but that the content should be different.
Let’s say that the course for freshmen ends with a series of four essays. Well, the course for seniors does not need to end with eight essays if four will do. The difference will be the materials which were covered in the course. Hence, the answers provided.
The same is true with the course's difficulty. There is no reason to require students to slave over several books and a number of essays each week if one book and one essay will fulfill the need to cement the information in the student's mind. The old adage of working smarter, not harder comes to mind here.
From the correctional educator's perspective, we need to focus upon what our students need to know, not at what level it will be challenging for them. This is not to say we should dumb down our instruction, but that we should align our instruction with what is needed. For example, the GED test does not contain any calculus or trigonometry. So, we don't need to teach it. Our time would be better spent on meaningful exercises which are on the GED, like basic math and algebra.
As correctional educators, we teach a difficult demographic group. Our students come from all walks of life, with different levels of academic abilities, and different learning strengths and weaknesses. It is up to us to find the right course, assignment, and test for the right student. The answer is rarely uniform and it is never all-or-nothing. As in life, teaching resides in shades of gray. Just as one illustration won't work for every student, one modality won't either. It is up to us – as educators – to find what works for each of our students and put that knowledge to good use.