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Teaching Strategies: Certification Test Prep

For career and technical education (CTE) teachers, spring brings with it a focus on certification test preparation. This can be a daunting task. Consider how a teacher might approach supporting student review sessions. You might hear a teacher announce, “You have 45 minutes to study today. Use this time now to review your notes quietly.”

Is it effective? On the surface, it seems to be a good use of time. Students need to perform well. Time is needed for review. However… Students’ attention spans begin to slip around the 15 minute mark (Medina, 2014). Rather than becoming frustrated when students struggle with quiet review, get creative.

Here is an approach you can take: Structure meaningful test prep lessons in which students talk through questions and concepts and, as a result, engage in deeper thinking. Use the following strategies together to help students identify their knowledge gaps.

Socratic Circle

In a traditional Socratic circle, students are seated in a circle without the teacher. They are challenged with open-ended questions or hypothetical scenarios, and instructed to discuss. This exercise helps students to talk through scenarios and situations — to explore possibilities and think deeply — without constant acknowledgement from a teacher.

Early childhood education students were given the following instructions, “We have studied eight leading theorists this year. Discuss each person’s contribution to understanding and rank them by importance to preschool development.”

Students then learn to collaborate and struggle through awkward moments. According to Tony Wagner (2015), agility and adaptability are as important as collaboration and critical thinking for success in 21st century workplace. Engaging in conversation that is challenging, open for exploration but also outcome-based, will push students to construct deeper meaning for themselves.

Forced Agreement

When you want students to arrive at one correct answer, use the forced agreement strategy alongside your Socratic circle. Design this session to follow a think-pair-share lesson. Students are accountable to think on their own, and then they must “pair” together, with forced agreement, to “share” a single correct answer. With the full class group, expand on and discuss those areas where students disagreed.

Because our session was deliberately designed as test prep, students were given three difficult questions to answer. Students were instructed to answer individually and then deliberate together. When the table agreed to one response, and had a strong defense for that response, they signaled the instructor with a thumb in the air.

While each table of students collaborated, the instructor facilitated. More importantly, the instructor listened and checked for understanding, identifying which students grappled with difficult concepts.

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20–30 minutes, depending on the number of students present

What’s the gist?

When your goal is to prime students for deeper retention of key concepts and theories, arrange students in a circle. Students engage in discussion about the question or scenario given. Students use constructive criticism to make judgments and come to sensible conclusions together. The teacher serves as only a facilitator. The goal is for the teacher to never intervene in the dialogue.

Add the forced agreement piece when you are moving toward a specific desired answer. This is a great tool to engage students in modeling and reflection.

Structuring Success for Your Students

Educators must be cognizant of how many students struggle with study and test prep skills. Given that certification testing covers a vast array of standards, terms, concepts and processes, structuring powerful study sessions is crucial.

By doing so, teachers avoid the habituation of routine studying and help students deepen their own understanding by engaging in continual productive talk themselves. Further, by focusing on strategies that are metacognitive in nature, students can identify the areas in which they are still weak.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement theses certification test prep and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

REFERENCES
Medina, J. (2014). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Pear Press
Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need — and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Teaching Strategy: The Carousel

“I wish all students would participate in the discussion.”

If that sounds familiar, you might want to try this strategy.

The ability to engage students with hands-on learning activities has long been a strong advantage for career and technical educators. However, the excitement that students experience in the lab often does not follow into classroom learning. When an instructor announces, “Let’s head back to the classroom.,” the response is an audible groan from students. Their bodies slump. The students find lab activities more engaging than classroom instruction.

To fix this problem, leverage lab attributes that create engagement to design classroom lesson plans. Consider how:

  • Labs allow every student to be actively engaged (equity)
  • Labs allow for students to openly discuss ideas as needed
  • Labs allow for freedom of movement
  • The teacher serves the role of facilitator
  • There is a de-emphasis on grades (learning for the sake of learning)

Equity, Engagement and Productive Talk

Emphasize the power of speaking and listening between students — what is known as productive talk. Productive talk is speaking that leads to learning. It happens during conversations in which students do most of the talking, while teachers guide them to listen to each other, explain their thinking, question and challenge each other’s ideas, and revise their own opinions based on input from others.

Productive Talk Improves Literacy

When people participate actively in conversation, their brains sync, mirroring and anticipating the neural activity of the others in the conversation (Stephens, Silbert and Hasson, 2010). Engaging in conversation as we learn, rather than simply listening to new information, helps make this neural activity more likely. As we learn, our brains forge and strengthen new pathways through which information can travel.

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20-30 minutes, depending upon how long you want to debrief students.

When should I use the Carousel teaching strategy?

As a pre-assessment or a review game of a broad, multifaceted topic. When you need to get everyone involved, instead of hearing from the same few students each time.

What’s the gist?

An extended, active version of Think-Pair-Share, the Carousel gets everyone moving around the room to write and discuss various topics.

How It Works

  1. Post 4–5 large sheets of paper around the room, with plenty of space between them. On each paper, write a different question or statement that can elicit a broad range of responses.
  2. Divide your students into 4–5 teams, and give each team a different colored marker. Each group begins at one of the posted questions.
  3. Set a timer for two minutes (or another amount of time). Instruct students as follows: “When I say go, you will have two minutes as a group to write as many intelligent points as you can on your board. When I call time, every group will take their marker and rotate to the left, just like a carousel.”
  4. When groups rotate, instruct students to read through what the other group(s) wrote. If a student or group disagrees with something written previously, they are encouraged to draw a line through the statement and respond. After that, students begin to post their own additional thoughts.
  5. Continue rotating until all groups have responded to every question. Then facilitate a class discussion. All it takes to get great conversation going is a couple of lines drawn through comments of another color.

Students encouraged to respond and defend their own words are more invested than if they were just listening to the arguments of others. By responding first in a group with short, written statements, students feel safe to critique and defend their own ideas and are more likely to discuss their ideas aloud afterward.

Example Prompts from an Automotive Classroom

  1. List everything you can think of that relates to Geometry (This is to connect to prior knowledge and emphasize the role of geometry involved with upcoming content on suspension and brake systems.)
  2. List everything you can connect to the concept: alignment.
  3. List every detail you know about wheel bearings. (This serves as an excellent pre-assessment tool, to gauge student knowledge on this topic.)
  4. How many ways can we connect tires to brakes? (This serves to launch the new learning and gives the instructor time to use what students already have told him to lead the discussion.)

Final Thoughts

Productive talk will flourish when your classroom culture promotes learning for its own sake. Decades of research, from 1933 onward, have made it clear that grades are often problematic (Kohn, 2011). Reliance on grades reduces students’ interest in the material, the quality of their thinking, and their intrinsic drive to take intellectual risks (Kohn, 2011). Risk-averse learners “downshift” their brains into a kind of survival mode, looking for the right answer instead of seeking understanding.

People do better creative work and engage more readily in learning when they know that what they’re doing is relevant beyond a quantitative assessment. When we use external rewards to motivate others, we may unintentionally undermine their intrinsic motivation (Pink, 2011) and risk extinguishing their love of learning. Especially in career pathways work, it is important for students to internalize and embrace the intrinsic value of the learning that could become their lives’ work. A class discussion will be more dynamic and productive when students, freed from a preoccupation with their own achievement, can take interest in the topic itself.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement the Carousel and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

For more from Adams, find her at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION next week where she will be on site to sign her book, But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher! Adams will also deliver two educational program sessions: “The Technology Integrated CTE Classroom: Embedding 7 Future Survival Skills” on Friday, Nov. 30 and “Creating Equitable Access to IT Courses” on Saturday, Dec. 1 during the STEM is CTE Symposium.

REFERENCES
Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Retrieved from http://alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/.
Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Stephens, G.J., Silber, L.J. & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pcm/articles/PMC2922522/.
ACTE's CareerTech VISION 2018 will be a celebration in San Antonio

A Celebration in San Antonio: ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018

San Antonio, Texas, is a city with something to celebrate. It also happens to be the host city for ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018, held Nov. 28–Dec. 1 at the Henry B. González Convention Center. VISION is the preeminent annual event for career and technical educators, where educators, industry representatives and business leaders connect, learn and grow — all, together, in an effort to promote career and technical education (CTE) fields as a viable and valuable career pathway.

The city of San Antonio honors its 300th birthday in the year 2018 and in what better fashion than by celebrating the diverse, multifaceted nature of CTE. ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018 will provide for attendees four packed days of high-quality professional development, prime networking opportunities and direct access to thousands of individuals invested in CTE. Make your travel plans and register today (The advance registration discount is on now, through Oct. 26!) to attend VISION because you won’t want to miss the:

  • Renowned keynote speakers, exploring new directions in CTE
  • 300+ concurrent sessions, covering the complete spectrum of secondary and postsecondary CTE
  • CareerTech Expo and interactive exhibitor workshops
  • Career Pavilion, providing essential resources on several CTE career pathways
  • Wednesday workshops and tours, offering insights into focused topics and CTE programming
  • Awards Banquet, a heartwarming gathering of dedicated CTE professionals and supporters
  • Opportunities to connect, collaborate and build lasting friendships with CTE professionals from around the globe
  • STEM is CTE Symposium, addressing diversity, equity and access issues to STEM fields via CTE programs

Education

Where the teacher becomes a student, and the student becomes a better teacher. With more than 300 concurrent sessions that span the spectrum of career and technical education, the educational program at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION offers something for everyone.

Wednesday, Nov. 28 kicks off the premier event for CTE professionals with hands-on workshops and tours that highlight model programs and industry partners in and around San Antonio, Texas. On Thursday morning grab a bite to eat at the First-time Attendee Orientation and Breakfast, generously sponsored by the U.S. Army, before gathering in the main hall for what promises to be an inspirational opening general session from Jenna Hager.

Jenna Hager, a former teacher in Baltimore, is effusive in her passion for literacy and education. As founding chair of UNICEF’s Next Generation, Hager has committed her life’s work to transforming lives through compassion, community support and educational opportunities.

VISION Program Highlights

With more than 300 sessions, the comprehensive VISION program covers key trends and innovations in nearly every aspect of CTE.

  • High-quality CTE Framework
  • Sequencing and Articulation
  • Student Assessment
  • Prepared and Effective Program Staff
  • Engaging Instruction
  • Access and Equity
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Business & Community Partnerships
  • Career and Technical Student Organizations
  • Work-based Learning
  • Data and Program Improvement
  • Funding and Perkins
  • Integration of Academics and CTE
  • Administrator Trends and Issues
  • Agricultural Education
  • Business Education
  • Family and Consumer Sciences Education
  • Guidance and Career Development
  • Marketing Education
  • Health Science Education
  • Engineering and Technology Education
  • Trade and Industrial Education
  • Postsecondary, Adult and Career Education

The full article, “A Celebration in San Antonio: ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018,” will appear in the September issue of TECHNIQUES. Watch your mailboxes for this and other great content from career and technical educators, for career and technical educators.

PAGES will feature excerpts from articles published in Techniques and wholly original content.

Launching PAGES, a Techniques blog

Hello, world! Welcome to PAGES, a Techniques blog.

Since joining the staff of ACTE in 2017, I have worked for this day. We’re live! PAGES will feature excerpts from articles in print and wholly original content (interviews, case studies, news items and more) based on the theme of each new issue. We’ll talk about topics trending in career and technical education (CTE). And we’ll highlight stories of educators and programs doing the work to ensure our students graduate college- and career-ready.

From PAGES it is my hope you will find increased value in Techniques online, expanded opportunities for engagement and even more stories of CTE success. Written for career and technical educators by career and technical educators, Techniques addresses the issues ACTE members care about most, providing input you can trust when making decisions for your classrooms, programs and school systems — in print and on the web.

Are you interested in writing for PAGES?

Let’s collaborate! View the 2018–19 Editorial Calendar and reach out via email to discuss your ideas. At conferences, in conversation with students and on the Expo floor at VISION, think of Techniques (and PAGES) often. Bring me your stories, because they are the stories that matter to CTE educators like you.

Check back next week for a preview of our celebration in San Antonio: ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018.