Saturday, September 27, 2008

Alternative Assessment Idea: New Version of "Students Become the Teacher"

Last week I replaced my usual weekly quiz with a new version of an idea I shared both here on the website (Slope-Intercept Project, Teacher for a Day) and in my book Ten Cheap Lessons, (Idea #8 "Students Become the Teacher"). In my new school there is less of a focus on teaching to the test, so I use very few multiple choice questions on my assessments. This was a central part of the original version of the lesson, requiring quite a bit of reflection and revision.

I've been very impressed by the progress of my classes this year, and I think their fundamental skills coming in are far beyond what I was expecting given the reputation and results of the school districts here. So I've been giving a lot more open-ended problems, which gives me a much better picture of where students are as we progress. It also means I had to scrap much of the original idea and create a framework to guide students in creating a much different kind of quiz.

The purpose of this kind of assessment is two-fold:
  1. Student create a quiz with an answer key, proving they can answer questions about whatever it is you've been studying.
  2. It promotes higher order thinking as students determine what type of questions to include, what they might look like, and the relative level of difficulty involved. This is especially true if they have to write word problems.
In addition, students may realize that being the teacher isn't the easiest job in the world (even if you don't explicitly mention that part). That's good for your classroom culture.

I decided to use this in both my Algebra I and II classes (for different topics of course), and to give students a clear rubric in the form of a checklist. The list tells them:
  • How many of each type of problem to include
  • In Algebra I, I asked students to include some negative numbers, fractions and decimals to insure a higher level of difficulty on their quiz (those kind of basics are things we struggle with constantly)
  • To include a complete, correct answer key, directions, and a heading as any assessment must have
  • An extra credit question (as teachers like me are known to provide frequently)
What I had thought about providing, but didn't, was an example of a completed quiz as a model. I did give a few examples of what each problem might look like, and strategies for coming up with problems, but neglecting a complete model left many students lost. The class period wasn't long enough to complete the assignment either. This made the turn in rate really low, and is purely my fault.

On the other hand, I've learned over the past month that my students want a more traditional, straightforward approach in my teaching. This is mostly due to a complete lack of stability in the math department at my school--they've had eight different teachers over the course of 2 years, with varying degrees of effectiveness in their respective tenures. In Texas, I often had to use the kinds of alternative strategies I share because my students didn't get the material the first time around. Now, my students tend to get more of the material in less time, and appear to have an insatiable appetite for challenging material. It's a very interesting dynamic to deal with.

In any case, here's the two versions of the checklist via Google Docs. They are designed to fit two to a (landscape-oriented) page to save paper. The back of each half page would be a good place to put a full sample quiz or examples of appropriate questions.