Friday, January 27, 2012

Wrong Answers

I did something interesting today.

After writing that post the other day about testing, I rewrote the pre-tests we give in classes we teach.
The results are quite wonderful.

First, I should explain why we give a pre-test at all. It's simple.
It is in order to have an objective way to evaluate how well the class was taught, whether we were able to communicate effectively.  It isn't testing the students, it's testing the teachers.
If we only give a test at the end of the class, it measures nothing about teaching. For all we know, they already knew all the answers before taking the class. I've had that happen numerous times, where I took a class in something, and it didn't really cover anything new to me.

We give a pre-test, and then, at the end of the series of classes, we give the exact same test as a post-test. Then we can see if anything changed.  Also, giving them the test on the first day helps the students understand what we are hoping they will learn. This is particularly important for our classes because they   teach things much more in depth than most people expect.

The new pre-test today went very well.
I removed all of the multiple choice questions and replaced them with fill in the blanks. I didn't keep all the questions. I asked fewer, and focused on the ones that people should easily be able to do at the end of a semester, and on ones where people have significant misunderstandings to start with.

We handed it out, and explained the purpose of the test. Not for grading, but as a guide for us on teaching, and one way to evaluate our performance later. We didn't want anyone to have any test anxiety. We also told them that it's fine to guess, and if there is something they really don't know- and there probably is- just guess, or make something up, or tell us what you think. Try at answer every question.

They didn't. Answer every question, that is. Some people tried to, some left some blank, some wrote "I have no idea."
That didn't really tell us much.
The answers they DID give told us volumes.

Now we have some idea of what they know, and, more importantly, what they don't know, or what they think they know.

To give them credit, some of the answers they gave are clearly in the right direction. They get the concept, but lack the details. We can clear that up easily.

The ones that were absolutely wrong were not surprises; some of the concepts are confused by popular culture, and we can straighten that out, too.

Overall, it gives us a great starting place for helping people make the journey from where they are now, to a place with a much greater, much deeper understanding.

Plus, we know who the people are who have a good sense of humor.

I'm pretty happy with how they approached the test. I was a little concerned that anxiety would get in the way, and people would feel embarrassed about giving "wrong answers." Those "wrong answers" are actually the most useful for us, by far. They give us tremendous insight into our students.  FAR more than any multiple choice quiz could EVER provide. If someone doesn't know something, it is much more useful to know what they think about it, than it is to know that they don't know the right answer.

Now, to make a plan for the best way to make use of this information.

One of the questions, I'm going to make a list of all the answers given, because they are all good answers, but not the specific ones we use. It will make for a great learning experience to take all those answers, and see how they fit into the categories we use. We were looking for four principles that cover a broad range of behaviors. Many of the answers were the various behaviors, rather than the principle behind them.

Another question, the answers given did not take into account that we are talking about real, actual fighting. Most people's experience with "fighting" is NOT real fighting, and they use fighting terminology loosely.

The test turned out to be very educational for ME. I have a third to design, and now have some ideas to make it even better.

Just to clarify... no one has to take our classes, ever. In fact, if they don't have a particular interest and drive to be there, they shouldn't. It's definitely a subject that can't be learned by anyone who is not committed to it, or who doesn't bring a lot of heart and joy to their practice.  My job is to bring out that joy, by sharing my own.

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