Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Group Test Makeover

Occasionally I give group tests. I usually give a group test with the intention of helping students prepare for the Unit test--kind of like a group review. I'll give each group a test that has problems similar to what they will see on the individual Unit Test. Students will take the test with their group, and I randomly select and grade one test from teach group. But I've never been totally happy with this structure.

I've experimented with other ways to structure group tests (sentence frames, each group member has a different color), but the group tests still felt like they were reinforcing a fixed mindset: the "test" part of the group test pushed students into their danger zone. Students that tend to opt out because of math anxiety were quiet in their group and dutifully copied the answers of other students.  Students that have to get an "A" on a test dictated what others students in their group should write on their test. My review structure was reinforcing existing inequities and student's own fixed mindset about themselves! And there wasn't much thinking going on! Argh!

Thus, while I like the idea of giving a group test to help prepare students for the unit test, I wondered if there could there be another structure for group tests? Could I give group tests a growth mindset makeover? I couldn't think of anything, but fortunately I went to the Carnegie Math Pathways National Forum to learn more about some cool new courses they are developing.

Group Tests for Growth Mindset

At this conference, I heard a teacher explain a group test process he used. I can't remember the specifics of how that teacher structured his group test, but I do remember he talked about using this fascinating individual/group/individual structure. Here is my version of what he suggested:
  1. Give students a "group test". However, students will work on the test individually and are sitting individually (not in groups). Basically like an individual test. I let them work for a set amount of time (10-ish minutes) individually on this test. At this point, I haven't said the words "group test" to the students. So they don't know what's next. 
  2. Students have a graphic organizer to record points of confusion they have. As they take the individual test, they record questions they have as well as what the student does know about the problem. 
  3. I collect the individual tests from the students. I tell the students they will work on the SAME TEST with their groups. I have students move into groups. Then, I give each group a blank test (the same test they were working on before) and let them work on this test together. Let students work for a set amount of time (10-ish minutes).
  4. Groups CANNOT have any pens, pencils, etc out. But each group has a group whiteboard and they can "do the math" on the whiteboard as they discuss the problems. 
  5. I collect the group test from groups and have students move back to their original seat so they are ready to finish the test individually. I return the individual tests to the students. However, they should finish their test IN ANOTHER COLOR!

Here is the graphic organizer I give students to record questions they have while they work individually. 


Then, after I collect their individual tests, students will have a reference of their questions or points of confusion that they can then share with their group.  Here are two examples of how students used this graphic organizer to keep track of their questions.



Here are some examples of student's individual tests looked like before and after the group work time. You can see what the added/changed with the different color! (I know there are still errors on these tests)


Problems with this Structure

Students want to do well on a test. I understand that. It is part of the culture of tests. And this drive to do well creates an issue with this group test structure: while working with their group, students will ask what the answer to #5 is, they will memorize that (or write it down) and then, when they get their individual test back, they will write down the answer to #5 without any supporting work. I think there is an example of this in the second student work sample from above. On question #4, a student has written that the y-intercept of the line is eight, yet they have no work to support that answer. 

The only way I can think of to address this is by making clear that the answer is the least important part of the problem and no work = no credit. But this doesn't feel like the best solution. :/

One other potential issue with this test structure is that it has to be with the right type of questions. I've used this group test structure with a stats test--that did not go well. Things to consider:
  • Are the questions group worthy? Asking students to graph the line y=3x+4 doesn't feel group worthy to me. This type of question isn't going to elicit conversation besides asking "how do I graph this?" (You can see I used a problem like this on problem #1 in the photo of the test I shared) 
  • Is there more than one answer, but still a limited number of potential answers? I used this group test structure with a stats test. One of the questions on that stats test was VERY open-ended and, with the right supporting work, there are an unlimited number of responses to the question. This was not a good question for this test structure because the open-endedness of the question elicited confusion, not conversation. I think the best conversations about a problem like that would be about how to write a convincing answer--whatever the answer may be. But neither I nor my students were at that level!

A Growth Mindset Makeover

This is an example of how I modified an existing routine that I wasn't happy with. I took something that felt fixed mindset and modified the structure to promote a growth mindset.

The growth mindset component of this activity is the opportunity students have to go back to the individual work. Often, tests have a feeling of finality--once a student finishes the test, that is it. They are done. This structure gives students a space to try, record points of confusion, talk with their peers about their questions, then come back to the individual test.

This structure certainly isn't perfect. If you try it and add any modifications, please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. might be able to work in some type of presentation format or screencast ( if it was a digital test format) for a student to explain one of the questions they had issues with. Showing they understand....but I really like the idea here. So much good learning from the conversations that students do.

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