As if we secondary teachers didn’t have enough standards to cover before our students take the spring standardized tests, this week I realized there is another skill many students are lacking. And it’s one that could seriously impair their test-taking performance.
As one student put it so succinctly this week, “I never did learn how to read a regular clock.”
In a world where the time blinks at us constantly from our phones, computers, and business signs, why does this antiquated skill matter?
It matters because many classrooms are equipped with round-faced, industrial-looking clocks whose hands creep or sweep around the numerals ticking off the seconds, minutes, and hours.
And because many students don’t wear watches.
Oh, they can access the time on their devices… and they do… at almost any time, but over the past two years, I have seen students falter and mumble when I ask them to write the time on a pass before I sign it. I have seen them pull out their phones when the clock is right above their heads on the wall. I have seen them slink back to their desks to check the time on their laptops rather than admit that they cannot read the “regular clock.”
This week, I realized the disadvantage these students have when testing time arrives. It falls into at least four distinct possibilities, three of which have to do with pacing.
Many teachers would agree that for students to be successful in taking standardized tests, they need to be able to pace themselves. Pacing advice for successful testing abounds on the Internet. For example, College Board advises students taking the AP Chemistry test to examine each question for a maximum of 40 seconds and to complete 15 questions in 10 minutes on the multiple choice section. For the Free-Response questions, successful students will spend 10 minutes on each of the shorter questions and allow themselves 16 minutes for the longer ones.
On timed writing exams, Skyline College advises testers to spend 10-15% of their time prewriting, 70-80% of their total time writing and 10-15% of their time proofreading.
But if a student cannot tell time from the only clock on the wall, an analog one, how can he or she possibly follow any of this testing advice?
Instead of planning time to complete each question, this student may experience of the following scenarios:
#1 The student rushes through the entire test, not carefully reading each question or writing a response, and finishes early because he doesn’t know when the time will expire.
#2 The student takes her time, but runs out of time and does not finish all the questions because she doesn’t know how to budget her time with an analog clock.
#3 The student finishes, but he does not have time to proofread or check his work after completing the test.
#4 The student is so anxious about not knowing how much time she has that she cannot concentrate fully on the task at hand. Her score does not reflect her knowledge.
Could this basic lagging skill be responsible for many students’ failure on high stakes tests? I believe it is possible.
From that theory, I now am on a quest for ways to integrate clock reading into my freshman English curriculum. I am wondering how analyzing certain works by time might even build my students’ analytical skills.
For example, in Romeo and Juliet, the action takes place over four days, as my student teacher likes to remind students. How could we integrate a calendar and clock face in our analysis of the play as we track the events and theme development? What conclusions might students draw about characterization and about how Shakespeare himself uses pacing as they build their own clock-reading skills?
Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour?” This perennially confusing story about a woman’s relief at being released from her marriage by her husband’s untimely death might be more accessible if students tracked her feelings by five or ten minute segments, which, of course, they would need to record on a clock face.
Ever the pragmatist, I know that when students don’t come to me with the skills I think they should already have, the only way they will gain those skills is if someone teaches them now.
So next year during testing time, I hope my students will not be the ones in a race against a clock they cannot read. Instead, they will know that time is on their side.