The last several weeks have been unusual. We had an ice storm unlike anything seen here in over 40 years. As a result many of our students were without power or internet (or both) for days, some were without for 10 days. Being without power and internet makes distance learning nearly impossible. Yet, we continued with school.
Teaching an AP class often means a tight timeline. This year, the timeline seems even tighter as I meet with my students only twice a week instead of five times. The students know the need to stay on schedule. Despite the ice storm, we had to push through and keep our assessment date.
As the teacher, I struggled with how to make this experience not one of punishment for those unable to attend classes, and still stay on our timeline. There were other options, but ultimately I decided on something I had never done before – a group test. Each student had the test open in front of them and they would enter their chosen answers individually, however, they would talk through each question as a group.
This approach was very interesting to watch play out. At first, the students didn’t know what to do. They sat in silence and read the questions. A few started whispering. Then, I reminded them it was a group test and I expected to hear discussion as they worked through each problem. The tone changed and the discussion became real. As students struggled with a few questions, some of the quieter voices would finally speak up and offer an answer. On almost every question, the group came to consensus on an answer. On two questions, though, there was a clear division in thinking and I told them they could answer differently from one another. This was interesting as many of them wanted to make sure they agreed before moving on and others were ready to move on. Ultimately, one person chose a different answer and they moved on.
As I listened, I wrote down problems I heard them agree on the incorrect answer for. At the end of the assessment, I suggested they return to a handful of questions, maybe individually this time, and see if their ideas had changed. In returning to those questions, one student would work on a single question, then propose a new solution and the rest would talk about it. Again, wanting to find consensus before coming to a final conclusion.
In the end, the student scores were close to their average test scores in this class. I was so pleased with the conversations I heard, hearing from every voice, and providing me insight into which content we may need to revisit. The best part was the students that had missed classes because of the ice storm contributed to the conversation and succeeded. They are not burdened with a later deadline that prolongs the stress. They can move forward with the rest of the class.
The official AP exam in May will be individual, not group. In planning this group assessment, I considered if I was providing a skewed opportunity for these students and not setting them up for the strategies they need going into that exam. However, after listening to the discussion from this assessment, I am convinced this was a valuable exercise. Every other assessment in this class will be a practice of the official exam (multiple choice, short answer, individual, etc.), so I know they are prepared for that style. This, however, may be my favorite 🙂