Thinking about assessments

Posted on March 28, 2017

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On the twitter feed is a discussion of the purpose of making students take tests w/o notes.  I respond and then go to help a student who’s just starting the “Review” for Math 060, and reflect that the course is set up rather ridiculously well for teaching students to prepare for “no notes” tests.

First & foremost is good, conceptually grounded, face to face instruction.  They come in here to do homework, and pull up ALEKS and say, “oh, yes! We just did this yesterday…”  First and foremost.

Second:   ALEKS is used well as the practice of those skills.   I do not have any idea how many students just plug through with a calculator and/or a friend — but they don’t do that around here — and it occurs to me that they used to.   The course is design so as not to overwhelm.   ALEKS has improved.   I am pretty sure those ratio questions were revised between last semester and this one so that the path to discerning “the ratio of all the books to the used ones” is clearer, and I don’t think they had visuals of red and blue marbles before.   I WISH THEY WOULD DO ABOUT FIFTY TIMES AS MUCH OF THIS, PLEASE??????  With Integers?  Hire me???

Third:   Every week there’s a “quiz.”   Fifteen questions.   I can’t help ’em with that — but they get three attempts, and the quiz questions are the same kinds of questions in the same exact order, and it’s not timed and yes, they can use notes.   So, when you have done attempt one, we can go over the wrong ones and fix them and show the steps… and then when you do Attempt 2, you have the process recorded, right there.  Practice with *having to do it by yourself*  but low risk and tools for getting 100%.

This is an important bridge for the students who’ve gotten by thus far by “doing what looks just like the example” without making connections to other material (see my earlier post)… because now the problems are mixed up but … the right procedure isn’t “somewhere in the book”  — it’s … the other number four.     I see students progress from very rote imitation to making connections, though some of them need coaching in that direction.   Students also have to do all 15 questions so … there’s “practice what you know, too” included — something it’s *really* hard to get students to do independently.   This sometimes means that some students find several kinsd of problems actually *easy*  for the first time in their lives.  You don’t learn growth mindset by talking about it 😉

Fourth:   The “reviews.”   This is 50 questions.   It’s dressed up like a test and it feels like a test.   However, you have infinite attempts, and you don’t have to retake the whole shooting match.  Like the quizzes, if you try hard you can do well even if it’s hard (and you can use notes).

Yes, many students still feel like “I know it, but not for the tests” but it’s *much* less common.   I see the industrious ones consciously replicate these kinds of processes at the higher level courses and it is *why they succeed.*   (A quick review-to-place-better might land them in that course but not as prepared…)

This just in, too:   there are pink sheets with stuff to refer to, like the rules for integer operations.   So when Student is saying “oh, no, I forgot that!! I’m going to have to study that!”  I can say — that pink sheet we saw when we were looking for the times tables chart?   That’s there to study from because… guess what?  Lots of people need to review it.”   Making forgetting normal, not a sign that you shouldn’t be there, is important.

Now, the times table sheet:   love it, but I *don’t* see many students retaining the facts.   They just wear that thing out.   I’d like to see some concept-based review of those things in there — I know ALEKS has a facts module and I wonder if they’ve at least made it granular, so you master the zeroes and 1s first…

I don’t think you should have “no notes” tests because “you’ll get them later so you need to learn to prepare!”   I think we should teach them to prepare.   (There are also probably lots of times when I’d think open notes tests were peachy…)

(OK I promise tomorrow will be an action, not talk day…)

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