What are we doing to help kids achieve?
Third quarter is like a marathon. Fourth quarter is like a sprint. Third quarter had ten weeks of no breaks, no snow days, grey weather, the flu and, in the mind of a teenager, anything over spring break is better than sitting in chemistry class. Fourth quarter has state testing, the ACT, AP testing, fewer days and more interruptions.
The first week into fourth quarter it was time for an assessment over heat and phase changes. Half of the material we completed before spring break and half after….less than ideal. Students are about to face a week of state testing that consists of a couple of hours every morning doing high stakes testing. Also, before spring break many students had a type of end of year test in several classes (a weird new requirement in the state of confusion...I mean Ohio). Bottom line, we were not able to cover as much material as I would have liked. I knew I had to get a test in and students were already entering the phase of being over tested and stressed.
Students came in and it was announced that they could have a “group” test. Here were the rules.
- You may take the test with a partner that the teacher assigns.
- You both need to put your name on the test.
- You need to agree on the answer before you write it down.
- If one person does not agree, then he/she can write down a separate answer that is different from the partner. Each answer will be graded separately.
- Either partner can decide to opt out and take a test on their own. But this decision must be made before the test.
Here is the interesting part: Grades were a bit better than usual but not spectacular. Few students chose to opt out or answer questions separately. So the question is….why do it?
The answer may be in the anecdotal evidence. The conversations between students were mini debates. “Are you sure this is correct?” “How do you know?” “What about this other data?” “Should we label that number?” “What about the energy of the particles during a phase change?” And on, and on, and on….They were having discussions between themselves that I would not have been able to elicit as a teacher.
So here is the question...is this a worthwhile idea? Do students have an unfair advantage during a “group” test? Or do students challenge and teach each other in ways that I could not teach them as the instructor? The questions they were asking each other sure did seem “scientific”. Do you think this is a valid form of assessment?
Currently, many discussions have been going on about academic integrity, posting homework keys and cheating. We can only provide opportunities for students to learn. Part of me believes that what they do with those opportunities is up to them. I also know that I cannot stick my head in the sand and be ignorant that cheating occurs. A group test did allow students to challenge one another in a healthy way. It also allowed me to ask slightly more difficult questions that I otherwise may not have included on the exam. If students work with each other on a graded assignment...is this an unfair advantage or does it create an enhanced learning environment? How often should this occur if ever? What do you think?