So Failing Exams Can Be A Good Thing?

I recently read the New York Times article ‘Why Flunking Exams Is Actually A Good Thing‘ by Benedict Carey.  A pretty insightful read.  Found things I was doing, things I had done, and things I plan to do.

Carey proposed having a pre-course exam could be helpful.  He stated:

A test can be an intro to what students should learn instead of a final judgement on what they did not.

I thought maybe a pre-course exam for my math classes but definitely multiple choice (probably use a Google Form).  If not for the whole course, at least for each unit.  I already have ‘opening questions’ for every lesson that’s meant to tap into student background knowledge on the upcoming concept as well as let them struggle a bit through the type of problem they will encounter.  If I were to do a pre-unit exam, it’d be interesting to bring back some of those exact problems in either the discussion we have when we get to the concept, or even use them again in my ‘opening question’ for that lessons.  As the unit progresses, perhaps those pre-unit assessment questions that are reintroduced in the lessons ‘opening questions’ will become more and more doable as students gain more knowledge about the related concepts in the unit.

On failing the pre-test, Carey notes

We fail, but we fail forward.

Pre-tests can be the best type of studying because when we just try to memorize, we overestimate our memory and misjudge the depth of what we know, which is why self-assessments can be faulty.  Practice tests for SAT’s and other major tests have been a pretty common practice for a long time; it doesn’t seem to be something happening in classrooms a ton though.

When doing the opening questions of a lesson, some students just don’t try.  I’ll catch them sometimes and redirect/encourage effort, but it would be good to have everyone be accountable for giving an answer.  One option is using Socrative, which I’ve done before, but there’s also AnswerGarden, which creates a word cloud based on the results.  The more an answer is given, the larger that answer will be in the word cloud (see below). From a management point, having a discussion on putting real answers (instead of ‘poop + face’).  I will also be able to scan the word cloud that’s created before projecting it to the class as well; granted, they could all still see it on their screens as they fill it in which may lead some to not put their original answer if they see everyone else is putting something else.

How do you pre-assess in your class?  Has it proven to be effective?

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