My Scoff-able Final Exam

So, I can tell I’m getting older.  I used to scoff at all sorts of ideas that I thought were simply way too lax (P/nP grading, redos, singing on neutral syllables, journals). As I accrue gray hairs, I’ve adopted many of these formerly uncomfortable ideas–with my own twists, of course–because I think (I know!) they effectively forward my course goals. So, this semester I tried another scoff-able idea. Co-writing the final exam with my students. I know this is hardly a new idea, but it’s the first time I’ve been brave (or stupid) enough to try.

the fears:

  1. the exam will be too easy;
  2. no one will need to study;
  3. some people will earn higher grades than they really should, especially unfortunate if it ends up impacting their course grade;
  4. class time could be better spent on review and answering questions; and
  5. a few voices will control the entire exam.

the reality:

  1. The exam was fine. It absolutely tested what I wanted it to test.
  2. The people who needed to study did.  And what studying happened was definitely directed toward what the exam was testing.
  3. A few people earned grades that were pleasantly surprising to me.  A few people earned grades that were unpleasantly surprising to me.  This situation strikes me as no different from any other semester. The pleasant surprises often were directly related to someone trying really hard for a stretch (but possible) grade.
  4. I was extremely happy with how we used that class time (described below)
  5. And the way we handled class time guaranteed that all voices took the opportunity to contribute to the exam.

Here’s how it all got set up:

In the last week of classes, we put together the review sheet in about 15 minutes on Monday.  We divided the sheet into two lists: Content and Skills. Students took the lead on the Content part; I took the lead on the Skills part. Here’s our review sheet.

On Tuesday, I gave them the typed up version.

On Wednesday, I saved a few minutes for questions, but there weren’t many.  And we did course evaluations.

On Thursday, our final day, we were supposed to have our normal Thursday quiz.  I forgot to write it (DOH). I had them put themselves into small groups and come up with exam questions based on the SKILLS page of the review sheet.  After 7 minutes, we reconvened and started to write the exam together (yay Elmo projector).  After an individual contributed, I gave them the final handout for the class (a reminder of redo policies, 3 final sessions of office hours, and yet another reminder of the exam time and place). To pass the I-forgot-to-write-it quiz, they had to earn a handout.  Essentially, once they made a meaningful contribution, I handed them the handout. When I had zero handouts left, I knew everyone had contributed.  And, I was stingy about what it took to earn a handout.

After class, I typed up their suggestions and posted it to blackboard.  You can see it here.

I finished grading the exams today. In the official version of the exam I ended up expanding the voice leading portion to three very short progressions because I couldn’t test enough of the content I wanted to test with their suggestion. And, the writing about a favorite spot in the musical excerpt (the opening parallel period to the Clock movement of Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony) wasn’t optional. But the rest paralleled their very good suggestions.

The class averaged a B+ on the exam, which strikes me as too high, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  No one bombed the exam, no one got everything perfect.  (63.5 to 99 were the scores).

My biggest takeaway?  I think my process worked because I had students emphasize skills, not content, as they thought about the exam. They understood how to review the content because they were preparing to demonstrate the skills…

Practice what you Preach…

So, it’s time to really model what I believe in. I’ve been invited to come do a 2.5-hour lecture/workshop at my friend and colleague Jena’s pedagogy class. I’ve thought carefully about what I want to do and feel that it is essential to model as many of my most passionately-held beliefs as possible. On the top of my mind is transparency, movement, honesty, risk-taking, and reflection. Here’s some of the decisions I’ve made: Continue reading

cool pedagogy intersections: engineering and the rest of the world

My friend Sarah recommended The Journal of Engineering Education to me as a really solid and totally awesome source of pedagogy research. So, I went and looked at the most recent issue (October 2012) and picked the article that called to me the strongest: “The Informed Design Teaching and Learning Matrix.” Authored by David P. Crismond (CUNY, City College) and Robin S. Adams (Purdue University), it is a huge article (40 large pages of single-spaced prose before the 20 pages of citations), incredibly well-grounded in previous research, and meticulously written/organized. It inspired many ideas for my classrooms and I was regularly amazed by the universality a lot of what they recommend: it applies to my own learning, parenting, classroom teaching, one-on-one teaching, mentoring, and probably a number of other things I’m forgetting at the moment.

These authors are focused on how engineering design is taught and learned. By design, they refer to the process of creating an object/solution (such as a parachute) according to given parameters. They present their findings as a matrix (table) that “contains nine engineering design strategies and associated patterns that contrast beginning versus informed design behaviors, with links to learning goals and instructional approaches that aim to support students in developing their engineering design abilities.” (p. 738) This sounds intimidating, but it is very cool. The bulk of the article and –for me– the most thought-provoking is the section “Unpacking the Matrix.” Each of the nine patterns is discussed in two sub-sections: a summary/description and teaching strategies.  What a goldmine!  Here are three of my three favorite “ah ha!” moments. I have organized them from the most general to the most specific, in terms of “field of study.” Continue reading

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

… which post was the fairest of them all?  I am not referring to this blog; rather, this question was posed to my upper-division students in their final informal out-of-class writing assignment. Over the course of the semester, they have written at least once a week in a GoogleDoc visible to me and that student [I resist the urge to call it a journal.]. Each time, they respond to a prompt. I grade these P/nP. To P, you have to follow directions and present your own thinking. I also respond (usually in a colored font) to their ideas and thoughts, which often starts a conversation between us within the GoogleDoc. Here are a few examples of prompts, which ran the gamut from hard core to touchy-feely. Continue reading

evaluation squared: evaluating my evaluation process

Last week, I experimented with administering my anonymous informal evaluations on-line.  I ran it pretty much as described here, with one exception: I did not hold them accountable (by requiring them to self-report their completion) for returning an evaluation.

I deem this semester’s experiment a failure.  Even though I received good quality feedback, the rate of return was too low for my taste. But, several pleasant surprises and good experiences with this format make me want to try it again next semester with some tweaks. Continue reading

Evaluation: Tuvan Throat Singing Dictation

This reflection is an evaluation of the activity I planned/described in this post and implemented in three consecutive classes today.  I was happy with how it went and will describe the strengths, weaknesses, and stuff I might tweak next time I teach this class. Continue reading