The English language is not helpful when we look at the word test. Typically, we have too narrow a view of the word. Our first impulse is to understand the word as an examination. Examinations are not to be eschewed. Our Learning Communities are infused with the creation of goals and students and our own relative attainment through the use of formative and summative assessments. These are essential tools that need to be used to assess the growth of students and inform our teaching. They are essential ingredients to the recipe of student learning.
But other languages actually use at least two words for test. One word means examination the other means to probe or to put through a trial. It is the latter that we need to consider to a greater extent in our educational lives.
As long as we began using a cooking metaphor of a recipe let’s extend it. I want to submit on often misquoted phrase: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” to illustrate this idea.
This is good imagery for us to consider. What I mean is that the true value or quality of something can only be judged when it is put to use. As educators, we spend an incredible amount of time with the ingredients of student learning or the ingredients of science, language arts, math or social studies but do we spend enough time actually reflecting and considering how “tasty” the results are.
Have you ever watched a true chef (or perhaps your mother or father) work in a kitchen? They don’t stand around reading recipes for every dish they make. They know food, they know their ingredients and they put that knowledge to use in every dish. And if you have ever watched Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares you know that one of his cardinal sins is not tasting the food that goes out to the customers.
But how does this apply to us? I believe we need to put our students through more difficult trials that compel them, at every age, to apply what they have learned in new situations. We need to put them into experiences that allow them to transfer the knowledge skills and strategies that we have taught them and see what happens. Not an examination but a trial.
Consider your own personal experiences. If you have been through any trial, any suffering, any difficult or really-stressful experience most of you would say that while you would not have chosen to go through that experience if you had the choice, you emerged from your trial a different person. Often because of the trial you were more appreciative, more sensitive, more insightful, more compassionate and more understanding than before. You might see the world with different eyes.
French novelist Marcel Proust wrote:
"The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of hundreds of others, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees."
Educationally, our students need those experiences to build their confidence, develop their world-view and to see the world with new eyes.