Friday, March 15, 2013

Tapping into peer-to-peer teaching with assessments

I am constantly looking at how I am assessing students and trying out new ideas to help the students do a better job of demonstrating their knowledge. With this in mind, I tried a partner test for my new level 1 class. It started as an idea from necessity...we had three snow days in five class days, and there just wasn't enough time to get everything done that needed to be accomplished before Spring Break. When I decided upon this partner test, I had no idea that it was going to turn out to be a great idea.

So, I had the students sit two to a table and let them use notes and their partner to complete the test. They were allowed to use any notes and their partner at their table, no one else and no other resources. (I was pleasantly surprised by how some of the pairings worked out - I had some A/B students with B/C students.) I had created the test so although there would be some quick, easy answers from the notes, there was quite a bit of long answer: translate the sentence, write original sentences with specific words, and writing an original paragraph.

Amazingly, what happened was not a furious copying down of material from the notes, but great dialogues about how and why some grammatical things happened. I loved watching all of the students work together to come up with the right answers. Some worked together the whole way, some each did what they knew and then compared and discussed what was missing. Others (mostly the A students) did the test on their own and then swapped papers to peer review.

Yes, I know that this is not necessarily a true assessment of what each student knew, but to be honest, I thought the dialogue that came from doing this was well worth it. The most interesting part was that when I finished grading the assessments, the majority of students performed the way they normally do on tests. The only exception were my lower achieving students, who, for the most part, did better than normal. The best part was that in the days since we did this, I have heard more students doing peer-to-peer teaching, even the lower achieving students.

Since this went so well with level 1, I thought I would try something similar with my level 3 classes. We are studying adverbial phrases with the subjunctive, which is really some tough material. So, what I decided to do was have the students take the assessment normally. Then I gave them 10 minutes to compare and correct mistakes on their tests. Again, there were some great discussions about some tough grammatical concepts. I did have two students (out of 80) that really made out because they clearly had not studied at all, but the majority were able to tweak and refine their answers.

I guess I am just a sucker for peer-to-peer teaching. The students all have so much to offer each other and it is very difficult to tap into all of their knowledge. I don't think it is bad for students to discuss the concepts and then make decisions about what is right. I wouldn't do it all the time, but with a really tough concept, thought it was a good idea.

What do you think??