Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Rid of Tests?

Ok ok so I'm not getting rid of all tests, but I'm revamping the way they are taken. Currently students take their quizzes online and then take their Mastery Tests with me during a scheduled time. A large number of students took the test last week and I have to admit with our short 45 minute periods and all the activity going on in school, finding a time for students to take the test and finish it was a real problem. Many students still need to complete their essays, I find that 45 minutes is not enough time for a well thought out essay.

I spoke with one of my faster moving classes about this today, and they suggested taking the tests online as well. The current style of the test is choosing terms to identify and define and then choosing two essays. I'm trying on tests at least to do away with multiple choice. I am keeping multiple choice for the quizzes however as that is the style of standardized testing in this state.

Doing the tests at home would mean students would have access to their notes during the test, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is ok. I have long said history is not about memorizing facts and dates but about synthesizing information, and understanding why things are important. Shifting away from a memorization test would, in my opinion, be even more of a leap towards mastery of content learning. Students take notes, but do they use them to actually study? I don't think so. Testing this way would allow them to take their notes and actually demonstrate to me that they understand relationships. It would also allow them as much time as needed.

I'm definitely concerned about the backlash I may get from the administration about not actually giving "tests" but I also know that this is much closer to how they will be assessed in college (far away thoughts for 7th graders but isn't that how we should be preparing them)?

Finally this will be the last push I think towards a (nearly) paperless classroom.

Has anybody else done away with in class testing? What about allowing students full access to notes and material while being assessed?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ramblings from inside the Flip

We had a delayed opening today due to snow. Only in New England would this be happening March 1st! Normally delayed openings bring a lot of stress. Since I teach five sections of the same subject I try to keep all my classes in one place. Delayed openings and early dismissals always pose a problem. It means that since I only see half my classes, those classes end up a whole day ahead of the others. Since I did not want the classes too far off one another, these days in all honestly used to be "throw away days." I would do something related to the content we were covering, but not something that would make any one class ahead of the others. Usually an episode of something on the history channel, or a fun facts worksheet of sorts. I hated that the day felt like a waste.

I'm excited because since I've flipped the delay doesn't change anything, the kids will come in as usual and continue working on their projects. I'm excited because since everyone works at their own pace, I don't have to worry about anyone being "off." My only concern is the classes I don't see today having time to finish, but all their projects seemed to be coming along fine yesterday.

This week brought its own set of challenges. The physical space of my classroom continues to be an issue, its a small room and having kids bustling around, grabbing books and sharing supplies has led to organized chaos. Next week I'm going to try to have a more organized set up, dividing the room into more defined areas (ie: Research, construction, study, lecture catch up). I also need to figure out some better storage solutions for their projects.

Observations this week:
Cons: Many students are still not listening to the lectures. I'm not sure if there is a disconnect between how that will impact their grade or not, I'm hoping to rectify that for the coming weeks. This tends to be the same group of students that didn't do homework before. I would say that there are not as many students blowing off lectures as there were blowing off homework, but its still a number I'm not comfortable with. Also, there are still a few (very few) students who are not utilizing class time efficiently.

Pros: I let students pick where they sit, this week less people sat with friends, and more students sat with people working on similar projects. I also noticed far less "Ms. Miller!!" questions and more questions directed at their peers, students really started to help each other out.

How do those flipping classes highlight the importance of mastering the content? Does this realization come with maturity? Or is it something that students have to learn the hard way (ie: not finish the units to get the A)?