My kids have been struggling this spring and their exam scores have been pretty sad. Its been one of those years. To help matters, I began adjusting my pace, but I also wanted to implement some sort of structure for collaborative learning. Idea: group exams.
Sadly, I’ve never really used group exams. To be honest, the collaboration aspect of my lessons is usually pretty lackluster as a whole. I may have used group exams once or twice before, but it wasn’t significant enough for me to remember the experience. So, I had no idea on how I was going to structure it now. Brian Vancil mentioned that I try a two-stage exam.
It was amazing.
During a two-stage exam, you first have students take an exam independently, like they normally would (this is stage one). Immediately after you collect it, you get them in groups and give them the same exact exam (this is stage two). They collaborate and submit one document with everyone’s name on it. Their final grade: 80% stage one and 20% stage two. These percentages can certainly be adjusted.
Student discussion during stage two was rich and completely focused on the mathematics. The kids were consumed with sharing their ideas, strategies, and misconceptions. Even my more introverted students were voluntarily sharing their thoughts in the groups. As I was walking around observing, part of me felt like I was dreaming. It was that good.
Their scores didn’t disappoint, either. I’ve given these exams a few times over the course of this spring and, overall, the results have been better than my traditional exams. But their scores are the least of my concerns. And two-stage exams do way more than merely inform me about how well my students understand something.
Students actually LEARN from these exams.
They’re driven by the students, reduce anxiety, and afford the kids a great opportunity to communicate their thoughts in a meaningful way. I’ve polled my kids after each of the exams and their attitudes towards the experience were overwhelmingly positive. The kids loved the immediate feedback and the ability to learn what they did wrong (and right). They were teaching and learning from each other in ways I’ve never seen. There were so many “ah-ha!” moments during stage two that they were hard to count. The groups were reflecting about what they did and didn’t do and unifying these thoughts to really learn from each other.
My kids are looking forward to the next exam. I’ve never heard that before.
P.S. There’s also some introductory research on two stage exams conducted by Carl E. Wieman, Georg W. Rieger, and Cynthia E. Heiner. A good read!