SHARING REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING AND LEARNING AT CATE SCHOOL
by Taylor Donovan Wyatt
Last week my students went through the testing process for the first time. Because our curriculum is written so that topics are interwoven and spiral in difficulty, preparing students for a test is something of a decoding process. The various “threads” are usually obvious to the teacher, but for students, the unraveling of topics can be like "the big reveal" in a renovation show.
In my class last week, each student took responsibility for five problems, listing topics covered and writing up “solution guides” to share with their classmates. In this particular problem set, one student listed topics including “Pythagorean Theorem,” “Circle Formula,” and “Find Distance Between Two Points.” Another student reacted, saying, “Hey, can we just call that category ‘Pythag?’” Some classmates were all in favor, others resistant, but the discussion that followed about why -- or why not -- these problems could be grouped was really encouraging. Other topic connections were explored as well, like the relationship between problems involving linear graphs, equations, and tables. Students also listed problem-solving strategies and attached them to problems: “Use two different methods to check this problem - algebra and graphing,” or “make a chart to show patterns.” Though I prompted students throughout discussion, my role was primarily as note-taker as the class took ownership for what would be on the test.
After the test, a six problem affair that closely resembled the questions they’ve been working on in class or at home, students were asked to do an objectives-based reflection. Rachel came up with this idea a few years ago and it is so useful. She created a google form listing the objectives tested (unconnected to problem numbers). Students must match their performance on certain problems with the objective and rank themselves on a scale from “mastery” to “I need help.” Then, they answer two short questions on their test experience and how they plan to prepare for the next assessment.
Because our students are younger, many of them wrote earnest, but vague responses in their reflections. So we printed out their individual responses, taped it into their journal, and asked questions like “What do you mean when you say, ‘go over problem 2 again’? Would you like to meet for 10 minutes? When? How will you practice unit conversions?” Students then had an opportunity to get more specific. We teachers also learned a lot about what students find challenging in terms of our course objectives, how students actually prepared for the test, and how they plan to improve or continue their preparation process. Two examples are below.
What are the strengths of your PBL testing process? What could we do differently or better? Thank you for reading, Taylor.