“Could we have an oral quiz?”

What would you do (or have you done) if your students asked you that?

I said sure, and tried to figure out a way to make it happen.

This was my 1st period geometry class, but I decided to use the same method for 5th period as well. The unit was on angles, and to be honest, I was feeling very very bored with the whole chapter. I understand the necessity of having students grasp the basic vocabulary and concepts, but it’s so tedious to have to go through it.

So for their quiz, I had the students do an angle scavenger hunt. They worked with a partner, and each pair had a list of terms (same for everyone) and a picture of a quilt block (varied by group).* They had to label points on their pictures and then identify on the list what examples they’d found & labeled for each item. The items on the list were things like “pair of adjacent angles,” “segment that bisects an angle,” etc.

When they’d finished labeling these things with their partners, I called them up individually and asked them questions. “Okay, you wrote that angle ABC and angle CBD are complementary. What do you mean by that? How do you know they’re complementary? You drew them so that they share a side – do they have to share a side in order to be complementary?” And so on. I had my list of Learning Targets beside me and was able to mark their scores as they showed me their examples and explained them to me.

The Good:

  1. I was able to see and correct errors in understanding much more immediately than when students take completely written assessments.
  2. I was able to see some really awesome things about my students’ thinking – one student’s spatial reasoning is really strong, and I know he wouldn’t have written out all the words he said to me about how “if you flip the angle over like this and then slide it over here, it will fit exactly on top of the other one.” Another student tends to rush through written work but was taking his time and thinking carefully so he could communicate using extremely precise language.
  3. I had worried that the working together part might result in a poor measure of individual students’ understandings, but it didn’t – the kids that had different levels of understanding still demonstrated that when they spoke with me one on one, even if they had the exact same things written on their papers.
  4. The “scavenger hunt” aspect made it a little more interesting, at least in my opinion. Don’t know if the kids agree or not – I need to ask them.

The Bad:

  1. This is a classroom management nightmare. Once the kids were done with their own written work, they had to sit around and wait for their turn to talk to me (or wait after they talked to me). Not a productive use of their time, and I need to come up with something else for them to do while they wait if I’m going to use this idea again. It was poor planning.
  2. It took a long time. A traditional assessment would have taken one class period. This took two, and in 1st period where I have kids who take longer to think through things, I still need to talk to a couple more kids. Combined with the previous note especially, I need to work on this. At the same time, though, I don’t want to skip any questions, because I need to make sure they truly have understanding on all the Learning Targets.

I’m sure there were more drawbacks, but those were the really big ones. The kids felt nervous about talking to me individually and getting a grade for it, but hey, I’m defending my thesis on Wednesday and am right there with them on the nervousness thing. Doing this more often would help them feel more confident in their ability to communicate their understanding verbally, I think.

Anyway, just reviewing and reflecting on how this little experiment went. I’m not going to do something like this for every unit, but I may well try something like it again later in the year and/or with other classes.

* The pictures I used were this, this, and this, all of which came from this quilt. Hey, if you have a hobby with mathematical tie-ins, use it, right?

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Comments

  • David  On October 12, 2010 at 8:27 am

    I gave some oral assessments last year and I completely agree with you. It is worth giving oral assessments, if only so you can clarify exactly what your students know, but also so you can give different students an opportunity to shine. The classroom management things are a bit of an issue as it is difficult to plan an activity which the rest of the class will actually do before AND after their oral assessment.

    Nice work experimenting with a new form of assessment of your students.

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