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Multiple Guessing Game

Multiple-choice testing has no role in my history classroom except as part of standardized tests or assessments I'm required to administer. When I was an 11th-grader 50 years ago (eek!) our otherwise serious teacher included this on one of our tests:

The leading Mexican general in the Mexican-American War was:
A. Santa Ana
B. Santa Anita
C. Santa Catalina
D. Santa Claus

All multiple-choice questions since have reminded me of this one, even though most are serious. I don't use them in my teaching. I want students to write and think. I don't want an emphasis on A-B-C-D guessing.

Here's an example assessment test I will give my 8th-graders:

The first Amendment protects all the following rights EXCEPT
A. a peaceful protest
B. freedom of religion
C. petitioning the government
D. writing a threatening letter

This is an important question, but a more valuable way to use classroom time would be to have students read actual cases and write explanations—preferably in complete sentences—explaining why those involved were protected by the First Amendment. Why can the Amish send their children to schools that don't meet state academic standards? Why can Jehovah's Witness students decline to salute the flag? Why can Muslim girls cover their heads in a school that has a no-hat rule? Such questions can stimulate discussion and organized writing in full sentences and paragraphs.

Another example:

Formal changes to the Constitution are called:
A. elections
B. executive orders
C. court decisions
D. amendments

This is perfectly valid, but I'd rather have students read and discuss important amendments and explain how they have or haven't been enforced, how they have affected our history, and why they were necessary. Here's a great culminating assignment:

Write a new amendment to the Constitution you think we could use now. Work with a partner to discuss ideas. Should we revise the way we elect a President? Is the requirement that the President be native-born outdated in this nation of immigrants? Should each state still have two Senators regardless of population density?

Many ideas will be put forth. Even students with poor writing skills can usually present valuable arguments verbally.

I want students to learn the material of course, but through discussion, reading, writing, explaining, and developing clear opinions. I want them to think, debate, compare ideas, and defend their reasons for their stands.

Years ago a math teacher told me he knew a good history class when he saw one—the kids left each day arguing about the ideas they had dealt with for that hour. I agree. A-B-C-D just does not yield that result.