I experimented this week with something I had done before, but hadn't done at the high school level. I allowed students to create their own test! Regardless of how you feel about testing, we as teachers are at the mercy of our state and district policies in terms of assessing students and assigning grades. Though I dislike both tests and the grading process, it is a reality that I am faced with frequently.
I recently gave my ninth graders the opportunity to create their own exams. They worked in groups, and each group was responsible to create 15 test questions based on the materials we had been covering this past unit. I really enjoyed this part of the process as it created a natural way for them to go back over their notes and other materials. This is something that students often struggle with. They curate materials, but do not always know how to use them when it comes time to study. A structured activity that facilitates their review of concepts and material can be helpful.
I gave very loose parameters. I did not require each group to come up with a certain number of true/false, open response, etc. I simply asked them to create 15 questions that they felt best represented the material that we covered. I also asked that they create questions that were challenging but fair. In other words, they should not be trying to "trick" each other. Rather they should consider themselves part of a larger effort by the whole class to create their exam.
I'm sure a few of you are thinking, wouldn't they just make easy questions on purpose? How can I ensure that they cover all of the important points? Would they even put forth a good effort for something like this?
Of course I had concerns like that too, but I truly believe if you empower students, they rise to the occasion. Furthermore, by having them create the test, they have a sense of ownership and responsibility. I was very impressed with the questions that my students came up with, and I found that overall they put in a lot of effort, as they knew that this would ultimately impact their grade.
After they turned in their questions, I used them as a "bank" and pulled from those questions to create the exam.
I had one more surprise though. Instead of giving them a pre-created open response question, I asked students to create their own open response question and answer it. After we talked through their initial confusion (and shock), they got to work. I checked in with each student after they created their question to ensure that they were on the right track before they wrote too much. I was very pleased with their questions. Though some students wrote about similar themes, they each did so in a unique way. I think that the freedom to structure the question as they wished, allowed them to expand their writing. Sometimes answering a question I created can stifle their ideas or creativity, I feel as though I got a lot more out of them with this method.
Will it take longer to grade individual questions and responses? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes.
Of course this method may not work for every student or every classroom or every teacher. I'm not suggesting you ditch every test in your folder and have only student generated exams. I'm simply suggesting that if you are in a rut, or feel like your students could use a little challenge, have them create their own exam! I promise you will be amazed!
If you aren't sure where to start, or your students are stuck, try using Bloom's Taxonomy. You can have students create one question for each "level" and even use the question starters. This is also a great way to introduce your students to the evolution of knowledge and why simply memorizing and repeating is something to start with, but not the final stage of knowledge. Here is a great example of Bloom's question starters that you could hand out to your students:
To get a little healthy competition going, you could offer a few points of extra credit (or some other incentive) to the team that you feel creates the best questions. Give some kind of guideline as to how they will be critiqued.
Use the questions the students create in a review game.
After they create their questions, allow students to see a copy of "your" exam. Let them see how close their questions came to those on the original exam.
As a final benefit, I think creating their own exam (especially when using Bloom's) allows students to see just what goes into creating a fair test. Again, this may not work for everyone, but if you're looking to shake things up, give it a try!
Have you ever let students create their own exams? What tips can you offer other educators?