After two weeks of my students taking control of their learning, and teaching themselves, and each other, about the brain and nervous system, it is time to assess the success of this venture.
I decided to have a quiz to gauge what my students have learned. I felt caught by this decision because I’m not sure about the authenticity of this format, especially in light of the way we’ve been learning. Yesterday, we were discussing the assessment as a class. One of my student’s commented that she knows the information, but when she looks at the questions she goes blank. She said to me, in all genuineness, “If that happens, can I turn over the paper and write all of the stuff I do know?” Heartbreaking. I think the school system has failed this girl many times.
I’ve had that exact feeling. I’ve taken a course, and learned so much, but the exam does not accurately reflect all that I have learned. Twenty-five questions are supposed to accurately depict all that I’ve learned, during a semester, in a fifteen chapter course. It’s disappointing. And it feels unfair.
Later that night, I created the quiz. However, afterward, I thought deeply about my student’s comment. I began to wonder. If I really want to find out what my students have learned, why don’t I just ask them to tell me what they’ve learned?
Is that really an authentic form of assessment? I definitely didn’t learn that in university. And I’m pretty sure if I pull out my Making the Grade text, it’s not in there.
So, to be honest, that’s the “quiz” I went with. One question. Tell me what you’ve learned. When I told my students this the next day, they were shocked, but so excited. During the exam I kept hearing, “I really love this exam.” How many times do you hear that as a teacher?
However, a few were anxious. What do you mean tell you what I’ve learned? What do I put? How much do I write? You know, the kids who want everything laid out for them. The kids who want you to tell them exactly what they need to do for a good mark. That’s not critical thinking. I knew they would struggle, but I also know they have to overcome the desire to have everything neatly defined. Life isn’t like that. Those are the kids I like to continually push out of their comfort zones.
Most of them wrote for a good half-hour. The girl who normally would have bombed on a quiz? She wrote two pages, including information like the amygdala is the part of the brain that controls fear and, on average, it’s %17 percent smaller in those who are psychopathic. Wow.
After the quiz, I asked to hear their thoughts on how we had done this unit. What did they like, dislike, and what would they do differently? The overwhelming response? They loved it. Some asked if we could do the rest of the course this way. Absolutely. I am never going back to the “other” way.
They loved the Khan Academy video, and reverse instruction learning. They found the illustrations easy to understand, and the format challenging. And most of all, they love the independence.
Many student’s commented on how our new way of learning is a lot more interesting because it is interactive. It’s not just sit and read and listen. Others commented how they learned a lot more this way. Instead, of memorizing facts for the exam that are quickly forgotten, many felt like they really learned it. But more importantly, I think it showed them that they are competent and smart.
One of the difficulties some students encountered was not being sure what they should be learning. It wasn’t defined as neatly as it usually was. Some students found it more difficult to teach their peers than others. These are two areas we will specifically work on during our next unit
So, tomorrow, we’ll be starting our circulatory system unit. And it will run the same way, except for a few changes.
This time, it will look more like a jigsaw. Five students will comprise each “home” group. Each member from the home group will research a different area. However, this time they won’t be researching alone. Instead, one student from each group, will meet in subject-alike groups, and become the expert on their area. They will work as a team and collaborate on what their final products look like. Once subject-alike groups are finished their research, they will return to their home groups to teach their peers. By the time they are done, they will have learned about the entire circulatory system.
Each group will be responsible to contribute a document that will be used to create an e-book, which will be posted to our wiki. This constitutes their notes. Additionally, they will have to contribute links that can be used by students as further resources, and they need to find a video that can be posted to the wiki, much like the Khan video, to explain the basics.
To help groups stay on task, and function better, each group needs a foreperson, to ascertain each day, where the group is at, and what needs to be done. They can also create other positions, if they so desire.
I am absolutely sold on the power of student-centered learning and moving myself off center stage. I have received comments from other teachers who have heard from my students how much they’ve learned, and how excited they are to be doing it this way.
Yesterday, when one of my student’s commented that she preferred “the old way”, most of my students loudly protested. Even if I wanted to go back, I couldn’t. I think there would be a riot. One of my students emphatically spoke up stating, “No! all of our other classes are like that. I like this class this way because I can do this one, and I want one that I can do!” I was speechless.
This is a student who struggles in a traditional classroom, and experiences limited success. And she doesn’t think she’s smart. But the truth is, she is. She gets Biology. During class discussions she grasps the concepts, as soon as, or sometimes sooner than, students who have 90’s. There’s obviously a disconnect somewhere.
This is not something I expected when we first started this. I had no idea what the outcomes of this would be, or that it would be so rewarding. For the first time, one of my students has a class she feels she can “do”. And I feel incredibly honoured that it’s mine. This makes all the uncertainty and missteps worth it.