Friday, May 14, 2010

Final Exams: Of the Students, By the Students, For the Students

It's that time of year again.

That time of year when teachers start reviewing months' worth of information and learning for the sake of cramming enough into the minds of students that they'll be able to sit in a chair for two hours and complete a final exam without throwing the curve off by too much.

I'm not a huge fan of final exams; but I am a huge fan of finding out what students know. So, this year, my Latin III students -- kids I've taught for three straight years -- will be designing their own final exam as a way of showing me what it is that they know.

I've given them all next week to collaborate on the design of the exam -- the questions, the content, the way the whole thing should be assessed. I'll be there to help out, to meddle, and to instigate them to dig deeper into what they have learned to produce an exam that will ultimately better demonstrate how it is that they've developed as learners over these three years.

But ultimately it'll be there's.

If they make it purposefully easy, well, by our agreement that's what it'll be: an easy exam. But I've told them expressly that I expect them to push themselves to and beyond their max -- and not to give in to the easy option.

And time and again -- in fact most everytime I've given them complete control over their learning destiny -- they've pushed themselves harder than I would have thought to push them.

Which, of course, ups the ante.

So here they are with one week to prepare the exam that will accurately assess the learning they've done over the past three years, the trust we have fostered over that span, and the quality of their development as they see it -- not with them as bit-players -- entries in a gradebook -- but as young adults with full awareness of what they are capable of, full cognizance of what the challenges are, and full responsibility for pushing themselves further than they thought they could go.

My students are writing their own final exam.

And I'd bet my last nickel that it's going to be the most challenging exam they've ever sat for.


  1. Congratulations. It is for this moment that we stay up nights ignoring family and friends as we develop lessons that we hope will engage and inspire.

  2. That is great! I am glad to see you are taking exams to another level. This type of learning is so much more effective than simply regurgitating information!

  3. Great idea and approach! I did something similar with my seventh grade social studies (world history) students last week. They used Google Docs and Etherpad (RIP) to create the "collaboration quiz" for their respective periods. They had the actual quiz (and answers) long before the quiz was placed in front of them.

    Our little secret: I didn't so much care how they did on the quiz. I was so proud of the exposure, exposure, and the exposure that they got to the content. As each group debated and discussed what questions to create for their contributions, they were neck-deep (without realizing it) in the very vocabulary and content that I wanted them to master.

    It made my know...teaching...easy.

  4. This is great, and it has certainly got me thinking about applications for my own classes. Look forward to hearing about the resulting exam.


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