Friday, August 3, 2012

MC Assessment = Meta Cognitive Assessment

To be a progressive teacher, you find and do what works. Period.

The students should be stakeholders in their education and have accountability, responsibility, and be actively engaged in and out of the classroom. Period.

I apply the theories and philosophies of Bloom, Bandura, Vygotsky, Maslow, Gardner, and many many many others. I'm a proponent of critical thinking, cooperative learning, metacognition, blended learning, flipped learning... see a pattern? I'm a proponent of learning. Period.

Progressive teachers cannot get away from testing in the current educational climate, but at least we can make it engaging for the students in the class. The trick is in the design of the test. Despite criticism, a traditional well-written multiple choice assessment can be a valid assessment tool (I'm bracing for rebuttals).  The techniques outlined below can be used for formative and summative assessments. And, this works for any subject, not just Language Arts.

Teacher Generated Multiple Choice Assessments

Some givens for my MC assessments in 9th grade English:

  1. All test/quizzes are open resources (notebook & text).
  2. Students only get about 30-45 seconds per question. I purposely make time an issue. They might get lucky not studying, but in order to complete the assessment in time, they need to be organized and have worksheets et al complete.
  3. Students are assessed on a range of skills: comprehension, application, identification, etc.

How MC assessments are administered:

  1. MC assessments vary in length, time to administer, and formative/summative purpose. 
  2. On paper in class
    • using scantron forms (really old school), but good back up when servers go down
    • photocopies
  3. On computer in library/computer lab
  4. On computer at home 
  5. On student personal device

For assessments administered on the computer, I use the following platforms:

  1. Edmodo's quiz feature
  2. Socrative

How students are organized:
  1. Alone
  2. In partners-- one stipulation for working with a partner: students cannot communicate audibly, no sounds allowed. They can communicate textually. 
  3. In groups-- the Socrative space race is great for this! 

As far as the questions themselves are concerned, I never write nit-picky questions: What was the color of so-so's shirt in Chapter 2? What is that type of question really assessing? To write valid MC questions and answers, constantly ask, What is the point or goal of this question? What is being assessed?

Here's some sample questions from a paper test on Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey that assess students on comprehension and application. We live in a shore community, so many of my students are familiar with nautical themes.

In my transition to going paperless, I don't have to reinvent the wheel and throw out my paper copies; it just requires some time to copy/paste questions from tests written as Word docs to the online format.

I like Edmodo best for traditional administering of tests. The gradebook feature and automatic scoring save me time and all tests are time-stamped and teachers can set a limit on how long to take the test. Scored tests also include a pie chart for each question letting me know which questions students struggled on. As a reflective teacher, this is very helpful.  And once the test is created in Edmodo, it is saved in your Edmodo cloud and can be assigned to other classes/groups and edited as needed. As of now, Edmodo tests cannot be taken through the app. I hope this changes soon! Edmodo tests are best administered on computers; I vary on whether a test is administered in class or to be done at home/in study hall.

Socrative is my choice for BYOD-esque assessments in class. Students without devices can be paired with those who do have them. I can also create group assessments and have the student with the device be the group leader. I have never laughed so hard watching my students take part in a group Space Race for Act II of Romeo & Juliet. They were so animated and engaged. I wish had video! Socrative quizzes are also very useful because they can be shared with other teachers.  Check out this collaborative effort & add your own Socrative quizzes!

All this above seems pretty standard as far as MC assessments go. Nothing out of the ordinary for testing.

But how about this... 

Multiple Choice Peer Assessment

This is very similar in design to the Peer Assessment for Writing & Projects. They key again is structure and design. This can be applied to any subject.

Note on rubrics:
I use 2 different rubrics for facilitating the peer evaluation.  The Yes-Partial-No checklist is point by point assessing whether the student completed specific aspects proficiently. Students receive 2 points for every Yes, 1 point for each Partial, and 0 points for each No. The OSU rubric is for overall effort, presentation, etc.

  • O= Oustanding, the student exceeded expectations for the assignment 100%/A
  • S= Satisfactory, the student met expectations and performed proficiently approximately 90%  A-/B+
  • U= Unsatisfactory, the student did not meet expectations approximately 75% C/D
Notice for the OSU rubric there are no in-betweens & no coddling. Student work falls into one of the 3 categories. When students reply, "but shouldn't I get an S+, it was really good!," I rebut with, "Maybe, but it is still just a S. It either is outstanding or it isn't. Figure out what you need to do to make it outstanding next time."  I'm trying to combat all of my students asking me, "What do I need to do to get an A?" and settling for "good enough."  I refuse to give them the answer for how to get an A. Obviously, do what I told them to do, but I want more. I want them thinking BEYOND the requirements. Stop settling for "good enough" and excel! THINK! Don't just be a robot following commands.

One of our first novel studies of the year is Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong. This comes at the end of our narrative short story unit in the first marking period and transitions into our 2nd marking period unit on Steinbeck and the American Dream which includes reading Of Mice & MenThe Pearl, and the short story "Chrysanthemums." In the narrative unit, all procedures and skills for the year are introduced: peer assessment, group work, active reading, narrative terms, analysis, etc. Dragonsong is read primarily out of class and students engage in cooperative critical thinking activities in class. We look at literary criticism, how to manage digesting large amounts of information, and how we think in general. In addition to taking a teacher generated test, my students use their critical thinking skills for the Multiple Choice Peer Assessment.

The Game Plan:
  1. Students can work in groups, pairs, or individually.
  2. To generate a test, students are supplied with a template for creating the questions that specifies number and types of questions. I adjust the template as needed, varying the types and number of questions. Students may type or hand write their questions and answers.
  3. Students create a separate answer key for their test.
  4. Students trade tests and take it.
  5. While taking the test, the Test-Takers evaluate how well the test was written, completing an evaluation checklist (point by point with Yes-Partial-No) and OSU (Outstanding, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory) rubric for the Test-Generators that assesses the validity, complexity, and over all quality of the test. 
  6. Test-Takers return the test to the Test-Generators and get assessed on right-wrong answers. 
  7. Test-Generators review the Test-Takers' evaluation, conference, sign off on the evaluation scores, AND complete the checklist on the evaluation.
  8.  Students write a journal entry reflecting on the entire process (which is turned in for credit) and we then have a class discussion debrief.

Whew! For one MC assessment, students now have... let me count....  5 scores and used critical thinking and metacogitive skills. The whole process takes about 2-3 in-class periods. So, this is more time consuming than traditional testing, but the trade off is the depth of critical thinking and metacognition that takes place.

Call all this what you will.  Is it flipped? Is it blended? Is is social learning?  Does it align with Common Core Standards? Is it authentic?

Whatever it is, it works. Period.


  1. Excellent! Is there a way that we can share our assessments? I'm a bit behind the curve on that... :)

  2. @Amie, Absolutely! I want to pick your brain on writing the e-textbooks! :-)

    @Morgan, Thank you! & MISS YOU!!!!!!!!

  3. Excellent information provided on cognitive assessment.

  4. You sound very much like a teacher synchronised with my journey. Even though I have been teaching for more years than I would like to count, (and now "tread water" in my grey years), I have never lost the urge to keep the "zing" in my teaching practice. I'm even becoming a "techy nerd" - as long as the techno wizardry means it enhances my teaching practice. I have just joined Edmodo dragging my Year 10 English class with me for a trial run!

  5. I really resonated with your comments about students who ask "what do I have to do to get an A". I always want to answer: "Impress me!" Seriously, too many of my A students are so jaded, only after the A, seemingly not interested in the learning.

  6. I would love to get rid of grades. Students can still receive valid feedback on their work and engage in evaluative activities without me putting a number or letter on their paper.

    Thanks all for reading!