Group quizzes and why my students are kind of awesome sometimes

I have been kind of against group quizzes in the past and they certainly aren't something that I would use frequently. However, the schedule was tight and we had a weird week last week. When the dust settled, I was trying to give a Monday quiz to some students who I hadn't seen since the previous Monday. I knew that wasn't fair, so to reduce their stress, I moved the quiz to Tuesday and made it a group quiz. Though I felt like this was a necessary adjustment to make, I ended up being really happy with how it ended up playing out.

In my experience, students beg for group quizzes. I would think it is because they want to latch on to a "smart" kid and ride on their coat tails. Though maybe that is their intention, that is not what ended up happening. It required active monitoring, but I ended up seeing some of the best collaboration that has occurred in my classroom. They were catching each other's mistakes, giving each other ideas, and working through areas of confusion. Normal tests are stressful and lack interaction. While it's important to prepare students for that type of testing environment, it doesn't give them a chance to grow their understanding. It just gives them a chance to show what they already know. Group quizzes truly are assessments for learning. They show what they know and they learn as they complete the assessment too!

The biggest win of the day resulted when I made a last minute adjustment: I let them pick one representative to stand up, take their test, leave their pencils behind, and talk to other representatives about the work they had done so far. Without a pencil, they couldn't just copy another group's work, but they could talk about it and report back. This led to one of my students, who has been consistently quiet and lacking confidence, actually helping one of the top students I have had since I started teaching. It gave a student who had been lacking a voice in the class a seat at the table. It gave that student a chance to step up and show what they had learned with confidence.

The other big win was their performance on a curve ball question. This has always been a goal of mine. I want to be able to put questions on a test that they haven't seen but that tests the content they have learned. If they have truly learned, they should be able to take on questions of any format as long as it requires the content we have covered. No matter how much I prepare them, the result I have gotten when I give curve ball questions has always been the same: the students get super pissed.

It was different today, though. The rate of change of position is velocity and the rate of change of velocity is acceleration. We learned that we can work backwards doing what we call integrating and say the integral of acceleration is velocity and the integral of velocity is position. That's all they knew. Today, I gave them a certain acceleration and some given information. They were able to solve for the unknown information and interpret that unknown information as the initial velocity and the initial position. Further, I made the question hastily and didn't realize the initial position would end up being negative. They totally rolled with that though and realized that could just mean that the object starts in a ditch or maybe the top of the cliff was considered "0" and they were starting at the bottom of the cliff. My experience in the past has been "woah, this is negative? That's not cool. No way that is right. Erase erase erase." This time, they were able to navigate that confusion together. I taught them to do basic integrals and I taught them the relationship between acceleration, velocity, and position. They figured out the rest and they did so during the assessment.

Yes, the scores will be higher than they normally would be. Yes, some students probably didn't understand every question and maybe did ride on their group member's coat tails at times. But I believe they learned more, understood more, and walked away feeling much better than they do normally leaving an assessment. To me, that's a win.

Learning to teach has been hard. I try a lot of things that do not work. Some days, I walk away feeling like I'm not a very good teacher. But every once in a while, I find something that really works. As I keep working hard, I will continue to find more activities, structures, and models that will allow me to be a more effective teacher. It's not about being an amazing teacher every day. It's about becoming a better teacher as much as I can. I guess why that's why I call this blog Mr. Howard learning to teach. That's really what I'm doing, and I'm grateful that I have awesome students and colleagues to help me along the way.


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