Friday, March 11, 2011

A Soft Approach to Holding Kids Accountable for Learning from their Tests

I know that a lot of you do the SBG thing so you don't believe in test corrections. Well, I have to admit that I've never been sold on it one way or the other. I've always thought that my job as a teacher is to create as many opportunities as possible for apathetic kids to learn. That means creating insanely accessible and stimulating and (as much as possible) not boring lessons. It also means giving them homework and checking it off for completeness, in order to encourage kids to stay on top of each topic. That also means consistently giving kids practice quizzes and tests with numeric solutions and time provided in class for questions / feedback, so that the material on the upcoming assessment seems concrete and doable for every kid. It also means allowing them to do corrections on quizzes and tests for partial credit, so that they'd go back over their own mistakes. And it means making videos and uploading them online, even if I'm not sure how many kids are going to be using them.

But, all this, for what?? NOT because I'm trying to reward kids for some sort of "nice" behavior in some sort of points game called school. I do it because the points don't matter to me; I don't care if kids "win" and come out of the other end averaging 70s or 80s or 90s in my class, as long as it means that I've successfully tricked them into doing hard work for me the entire time. I don't care if they got some buffer points for homework, if that means that their overall understanding went up and we can get to some trickier material during the unit. I do those things because I'll do whatever it takes for them to be thinking hard daily in my class. I do it because I want to create as many opportunities as possible for them to learn; it's like I'm leading the horse to the water. Quiz and test corrections, for example -- why are you against assigning points to them? Is it because you think that when kids correct their tests at home, it doesn't show real mastery? For me, I allow them to do corrections because I want to give them an extra reason to be sitting down with their quiz or test, and that incentive had better beat out all of the social network and Blackberry temptations. If they're irresponsible enough to copy off of their friend's quiz or test answers without even bothering to look and try to somewhat understand the answer -- well, that lack of effort will come back to bite them later on in my class, and in life. You can be sure of that. (I think of it as a karma of intellect. I help enforce the karma of intellect by making sure that every week in a unit, the level of difficulty of the material is ramping UP in my class. If a kid is happy with a 60% on a couple of quizzes and doesn't try very hard to look them over, he or she'll definitely get a 40% or lower on the test. Almost guaranteed.)

But, anyway, all of that said, I admit that quiz and test corrections are not bullet-proof. They're just a way to encourage all kids to remediate the material without risking lowering their grade further. (Most of my truly struggling kids are NOT confident enough to show up for a re-test, even if they might be able to do better the second time around.)

This week though, I think I've found the perfect complement to this test corrections thing. The kid has to come and explain the work to me, line by line. I swear, I did that with my 11th-graders (2/3 of whom had failed the last test, remember?), and each one of them rattled on beautifully about math for 15 minutes while walking me through their self-corrected 2-day-long chapter test. I would periodically stop each of them to ask questions, and for the most part I was extremely satisfied with their improved understanding. One kid said after I accepted his corrections, "I learned a lot from this!"

So, I don't care that the kid got those points through corrections. The worth is in them sitting down with me and explaining every problem. Even if they might not remember all of this material a month from now, they'll remember the sense of confidence that came with their few days of hard work in correcting this exam, and that'll do good to their relationship with math.

So, I'd say that my chat with my juniors is working. In fact, I've never been prouder of them since August! :)


  1. Sounds like a re-assessment to me. A re-assessment doesn't have to be a test/quiz. A conversation in which students demonstrate their knowledge is an assessment of what they know.

  2. I suppose it is a re-assessment, but not in the traditional sense of the word. Pretty sure none of those kids would not come in and sit down for a re-take, even though they'd definitely show improved learning.

  3. Hey, this is really great, Mimi! Kudos on making a positive impact with your students. I think the most important thing with struggling learners is to have those one-one-one self-confidence building sessions because it makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE in how they will do the rest of the semester. Any way that I can get them to volunteer their time for that is a way I will continue to try. Heck, if giving them free candy is a way to get them to come in after class, I'd encourage that approach in a heartbeat.