Learning without Tests

Can kids learn without having to take a test to prove it? In spite of what No Child Left Behind has us believe, yes, yes they can.

I recently had the pleasure of being a little involved with a theater project for high school students.  It was ambitious: pull together two very different groups of kids and have them produce a play. The two groups included recent arrivals to the U.S. and American-born teens. 

The refugee kids have been in the U.S. for a year or less, and many speak very little English. They have some horrific stories to tell. The American-born kids have their own stories to tell. Can these two groups possibly work together to not only make a production, but to also learn something?

The production ended up being quite good. Was it polished and professional? Of course not. Was it still an amazing show? You bet. But more important than the fact that they did end up with a great final product, the process was an incredible learning experience, with learning that could never ever be measured with a standardized test.

What did they learn? You name it: communication, creativity, cooperation, critical thinking, empathy. The kids had to communicate without having common oral language. They had to cooperate to create scenes, lines and a coherent story. They had to be creative to do all this without props or sets. They had to tell a story without using their own language.

There were some poignant scenes: how many languages do the refugee kids speak? How about the American-born kids?  What foods do these kids like? How can anyone not like pizza? How would you survive if you were stranded on an island? 

Think about this — if you asked these kids in 5 or 10 or 15 years, which experience do you think they’ll remember and think had an impact? This theater experience, or a class filled with tests?

I know which one I’d rather have my for my kids. Participating in the arts is an amazing learning opportunity that teaches skills kids need throughout their life, not things they learn and forget the day after the test.

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