The Constitution test is a week from Wednesday. Studying this document is a right of passage for the entire 8th grade. They have been hard at work parsing out the 18th century language, dealing with lots of intense vocabulary and concepts, working to memorize many specific details and facts. The students have been told if they don’t pass this test they can’t pass 8th grade which is technically true. Illinois State Law requires that students must pass a Constitution test before they can enter high school. This prerequisite has caused all sorts of anxiety in the collective drama of this passage. It’s like an academic bar mitzvah. As a class community, the panic, struggle, and obsessive compulsive focus is both amusing and heartening. In every nook and cranny of the school, students are huddled together reviewing terms on their flashcards.
Flash cards, by the way, are a very powerful tool for learning. The act of making them –picking out what to put on flash cards and then providing concise definitions/ responses on their reverse sides is probably 90% of studying itself. Using the cards is valuable in managing what students know and what they don’t know. By categorizing their understanding of each term/ question on a card, students can prioritize on what terms they need to focus. They can tangibly see the piles of cards they know and the ones they don’t.
I have cards in the classroom that I have made over the years. The stack is huge, reflecting several sets which have melded together. Often students ask to use my cards. I remind them that making their own cards really is much more beneficial, but since I have them, during study halls I allow them to use them (which is probably how the several sets got mixed up together in the first place).
NI, who has really indecipherable handwriting, even to himself, asked to borrow my cards this morning in study hall. About 15 minutes later, I found him photographing the flashcards one by one (see photo above). Though it was pretty obvious, I asked him what he was doing? He assured me he was going to use the photographs to make his own set of flashcards by hand.
I have to admit that I was rather surprised but found it mildly humorous. I am fairly sure that NI has no plans to make flashcards by hand. I am also fairly sure that taking pictures of the terms is the most inefficient plan I have ever heard of as far as learning this large amount of material. Though perhaps a clever and creative harnessing of technology, it is one that is wholly without merit as far as accomplishing what its intention is. Somehow for NI, the act of taking pictures of these flash cards is a valid way to study. Tomorrow when I ask him if he studied for the test on the previous evening, he will honestly tell me yes and what he will have done is simply downloaded the photos to a computer.
NI’s flash card method is even further removed from the tangible, visceral, sweaty act of learning. His method has a lot of action but very little substance in what he must have thought was a clever way to prepare for this test. There are no real short cuts in the hard work of learning. A flashy method done in a flash will yield little more than our collective amusement. I think NI knows this too. He got bored halfway through the pile before I could take the flash cards away.