For the second year in a row now, I am currently getting students across four classes enrolled in Year 11 & 12 Career & Enterprise (a digital literacy focused course I coordinate at our school) to design their own mid-year test, complete with answers. This is what happens:
Students are asked to come up with three types of questions for the test – true/false, multiple choice, and short answer. They can write as many questions as they like, using the material from the Moodle course we share across the four classes. In the Moodle forum, they state the question, write possible answers, highlight the correct answer (T/F, Multiple Choice) or provide the briefest of hints in the case of short answer questions.
Student have to not only know the content but consider the type, the level and appropriateness of the questions, then shape them as best as they can so they can be included in the test. After a period or two of creating question, discussing, modelling and ‘over the shoulder’ help, I pick the best range of 10 – 15 T/F, 15 -20 M/C and 5 – 8 S/A student-designed questions.
At all times, all questions and answers from which the test is drawn are public so everyone can see, share and work alone or together. Students sit a test using a quiz in Moodle (see 2 Minute Moodles for how-to) and get instant feedback at the end with some follow up later.
The idea is that the more you contribute and share, the greater the number of questions you will know in a test, thus increasing the chance of getting a better grade. But the ‘better grades’ incentive is just the surface and on the surface – it may even sound dangerously close to ‘grade inflation’.
Deep inside this exercise is the idea of a small community deciding ‘what is important? (and therefore should be checked for understanding)’ As noted, grades are the surface and one not to be dismissed either. When you dig deeper, students want their question to be in the test, and not only because they know the answer to it but because they want to contribute.
On the surface of it and in edu-speak, it is about metacognition and learning. Students certainly do all that. Deeper though, it is a about participation and confidence and opportunity to participate and shape something that has traditionally been the domain of ‘those who know’ (teachers) as opposed to ‘those who don’t know and need to be taught’ (students). Yes, I still pick the questions but that’s another story…
On the surface of it, a kid could loaf, wait for everyone else to do their questions, read them, learn the answers and then blitz the test with 100%. “Not educationally valid and sound’ some may argue. In a ‘traditional’ understanding of assessment and ‘testing’ they may even be right.
But then I ask students ‘if everyone thought that way, what would happen?’ The follow up is ‘how would other members of the community who have contributed feel about you simply sucking off them? Once or twice may be OK but how about regularly? Who is the real sucker here anyway? What do you think about it?
I have had only a handful of ‘loafers’ over the last couple of years (all normal and expected anyway) but no one has ever flatly refused to participate. If anything, some students don’t quite know what to do since they have never been asked to do such a thing in the past.
If we had gone the ‘traditional’ way I know for sure that just about all of them would loaf, switch-off, expect to do the minimum then pass the test with minimum (or even fail).
A few days ago, I sent out a tweet: Don’t bother changing the [official] curriculum – change the hidden one, it’s more powerful anyway (if new to the concept of hidden curriculum, a link to Wikipedia will get you started then meander from there).
Our test-with-a-twist lies within the official curriculum but it starts to chip away at the hidden curriculum. And it is the hidden one that so often, so insidiously and so powerfully stratifies these students into what they are expected to be and do by virtue of being a member of this particular school community and the community it is situated within. Hence my line about diverting the effort into something that matters (more)…
Or as a dear friend of mine would say: “I don’t teach a subject. I teach them how to live a life. I use a subject to do that.”