Thursday, April 14, 2011

Learning on a test day? You bet!

I remember back to my first year of teaching when my principal walked in during my class to complete an evaluation.  He stepped in, took a look around, and then walked right back out.  I was scared out of my mind, while I thought “should I have been doing more?”  After school I approached my principal and asked if I was doing anything incorrect.  He quickly responded, “No, not at all, but I can’t do an evaluation during a test day”.
Most administrators would agree that an evaluation can’t be done during a class where there is a “test”, and most wouldn’t question that.  I believe the reason is because “there is no way to witness how the teacher teaches, or how the students learn”.  Some might even argue that test days are the days where the least amount of learning occurs.
How does this change?
Recently, I administered a quiz to my students but in a new way, and I saw an entire new outcome.  In the past, during “quiz days” students would put up dividers (since they sit in groups of 4), remain silent, complete the quiz independently, and leave the occasional answer blank.  This adds up to very little or no new learning occurring, just summative assessment.
 This year, I administered a quiz and told my students it was not for marks.  I told them to take down the dividers but to treat this like a test.  After 5 minutes of silence, I noticed one girl whispering to her classmate.  I walked over and informed her that she can’t cheat. She replied with, “I am not cheating but asking for help”.  I smiled and asked her to continue.  Minutes later, I saw another student pointing out some information to a different classmate.  After informing him that cheating would not be accepted, he replied with “I am teaching Sally how to do this”.
After 20 minutes had passed, all of my students were collaborating on questions, comparing answers with a classmate, or teaching a student who had a question blank.   My students were learning from a quiz, not because I graded them on their mistakes, but due to collaboration and determination from each other.
Now the cool part, I would still call this assessment.  I did not need to take in the quizzes to assess which students were struggling with the material and which students were at a level of adequate understanding.  By pacing the room and listening to the conversations, I gained the knowledge of which students needed remedial help and which students were ready to move onto the next topic.  Of course there is no possible way I could say Sally knows 74% of the material, but I would argue that even if Sally’s quiz was marked at 74%, I still couldn’t rightfully say that. 
Overall, students were learning while I was assessing them; that was a great lesson in my books!


  1. I've used partner quizzes/tests with my alg 1 classes, but I put one more limit on the situation... they can only ask me ONE question.

    I notice the same things-- students asking each other questions, communicating nuances within the task, clarifying & correcting each others mistakes & assumptions.

    It is cool to see an evaluation in these circumstances become a learning experience. ...and another cool thing is that the room gets a LOT quieter (not that this is the goal--it just happens) because there is less social & more "professional" interaction. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I've always noticed that when I want my students to collaborate, I deny them that opportunity, for just a little while. I'll say, "Read this problem, try it on your own, no talking, no groupwork until 5 minutes is up." Once the time's up, they appreciate each other's input so much more than if I had allowed sharing at the outset.