One last thing before my Wall of Awesome

As many of your already know, today was our last day at our 8-week placements and so just like that, we’ve officially hit our “Wall of Awesome.” For my last day in middle school I knew I needed to gather some data on student comprehension of my most recent unit, evolution, but I also was reluctant to give a test on my final day. In order to work around this, I gave a mini- quiz/workshop that was open notes in order to assess student understanding of the major concepts in evolution. It was meant to be a quick assessment; five multiple choice with an “explain your choice” part attached and 10 short answer questions based upon a cladogram and a fossil diagram. Before I gave my students the workshop/exam, we did a set of practice questions that were similar to what the short answer were on the test to get them back in the mindset of evolution, since it had been three days since I last taught because of unrelated, uncontrollable conflicts.

The assessment itself, from a first glance, seemed to go well. It definitely took everyone longer than I had anticipated and so I found myself rushing to get my surveys done and thank-yous handed out. However, my students seem to be cladogram champs.

Overall, I am happy with my decision not to give a formal test but to give an assessment that looked very similar to their past workshops. The familiarity with the layout and expectations seemed to help everyone and the fact that I allowed them to use any and all notes (but no help from friends) seemed to lower the stakes so that it was a less stressful environment. That being said, there were some hurdles that I would need to think through more if I use this format in the future.; because this wasn’t formally labeled as a “test” I had a more challenging time keeping the room quiet so that everyone could work in the most beneficial environment. I believe this is because I encourage a lot of collaboration in workshop usually and so it was a tougher transition into a relatively short, silent workshop time. Additionally, I planned to give each class about half an hour to finish the workshop assessment and ended up giving very close to this amount of time. Because we started it halfway through the period instead of at the beginning there was no way for me to give students more time to totally finish it if they weren’t finished already. How would you go about remedying this without making in a more formal, higher stakes environment?

I found this to work well, but I definitely see the positive sides of traditional tests. How often is it reasonable to use more informal, low stakes assessments when they resemble workshops that are more collaborative? And if collaboration is encouraged how can individual understanding be assessed in a way that can inform me of specific needs rather than general misunderstandings? This experience did open up a lot of questions but it did show me a viable way to assess understandings in a lower stakes environment. Given the chance to try it again I think I would just need to make some tweaks to the layout and implementation so that it can stand up on its own as a true assessment without losing its “workshop-y” feel.

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