10 Weeks and No Tests

This is a single page created to keep all of the updates on this crazy experiment in one place.

10 Weeks and Not Tests Update VIII

The Gatsby Projects are in and here are some of the Student Created Assessments. Here is a selection of Prezi's, Glogs, Youtube videos and On-line magazines. I'm very proud of what my students have created and they all really showed me a deeper understanding of theme and symbolism in the story. I was able to assess their knowledge of the book easier this way than a standardized test.

While some students would have preferred to take a MC test, most of my students really loved the projects. They were excited to be able to express themselves and I was excited to see some of the things they were passionate about. A few complained about having to use technology in their project, but later admitted it was easy and fun to use. Enjoy the projects!

The East Egg Journal

Create Your OpenZine

The Gatsby Times

Create Your OpenZine

Here are some Great Glogs! Please check these out.





I hope that you have enjoyed following my journey with No Tests for 10 Weeks. There were many times I thought that this was not going to be possible. There were days where the students had not done the reading and I had to think of ways to encourage reading and check for reading without going to tests.

It forced me to really evaluate my lessons and explore what I was really trying to teach or assess. I was surprised to see that I wasn't sure why I was doing what I had always done. With a new lens to view my lessons, I was excited to see the new ways to attack my students with the literature I had been covering for years.

I highly suggest that all teachers try this experiment. You don't have to do it for 10 weeks, but maybe one unit. I think it is good for all teachers to take stock in their lessons every once in a while. I want to constantly evolve the way that I teach because I know that the students are in a constant state of change. I look forward to seeing how this experiment is going to influence the rest of my teaching.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

10 Weeks and No Tests Update VII

This is a quick update on my class experiment. I was discussing the student created assessments with my American Literature students and I wanted to know how the projects were going. The majority of them said they were going well and it was a nice change of pace from the regular multiple choice tests they normally receive. One students said they did not like the student created assessment project at all. When asked, they said, "I would rather just take a tests. It's easier to just tell me what is on the test. That way I can study my notes and take the test and get a good grade. You could have just read the cliff notes and do a project." I was a little surprised by this response. This students is one of the best I have this year and they were a little annoyed by he whole process. I told this student that someone could just as easily read the cliff notes and take a MC test or just be really good at guessing having never read the book. I continued to say that at least with a project, the student who didn't read would be forced to work with the information and create something new instead of filling in ovals and moving on.

I'm not sure if this student is convinced, but it did show me something really sad about the educational system as a whole. Even our best students look at testing as just a way to get the grade and move on to the next subject. They don't see assessments as measuring anything substantial. It's that mentality that is hurting the entire educational process. As teachers, we need to stress the importance of varied assessment in the classroom. Think about why you give the test. Is it because it's easier to grade? Is it really the best way to assess the student's learning?

On a slightly different note...

One of the parts of my American Literature class is vocabulary. I give a Word of the Day every day (duh) and have given a test on them after they have received the 25th word. It's not their favorite part of class, but many of the words are later scene on the ACT or the SAT and students always thank me afterward. One of these tests is abut to fall during my No Tests time period and I now have to think of another way to assess their knowledge of these words. This problem has been a blessing. I came up with multiple ways for students to use these words instead of just memorizing them for a test. I could have students visually represent certain words and present them to class. I could have them create crossword puzzles or have them work in groups and come up with some type of Photostory using all of the words. There are so many different possibilities I'm truly excited about revamping a process that has worked fairly well over the past 7 years.

10 Weeks and No Tests Update VI

Today I collected student proposals for their self assessments. Here is a list of some of the assessement ideas that stood out to me.

One students will be creating fake Facebook pages for 5 characters from The Great Gatsby and use posts and gifts to show theme and symbolism.

Many students will be making collages and using online presentation tools to narrate their collages after they create them.

One student will be creating a mix tape of songs dedicated to various characters that will also be linked to a Prezi or other presentation tool to explain the song choice.

A group of boys will be using Halo 3 for the XBox and create and alternate ending. They will place images in the game to represent the symbols and themes.

A pait of sisters are going to create a flag that represents two symbols and themes from the story.

One student will be creating greeting cards that characters would have sent each other over the course of the novel.

A children's novel based on The Great Gatsby.

A series of comic strips retelling the story.

A student will be recording a song and performing it for class.

One student will be using Openzine to create 3 magazines for the story.

One student will be using Glosgster to create a collage for the story.

A couple of board game proposals.

8 minute television interview featuring Daisy and Jordan.

A Paper Mache mask to demonstrate symbols and themes.

There are a few more that will be trickling in, but those were the ones that really stood out. Some students are sticking ot the tried and true PowerPoint, but I hope they will consider other tools after they see what the other students use during our presentations. Look for a new post next week with links to some of the student work to see how they meet their own expectations.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

10 Weeks No Tests Update V

Here is how I've decided to work in Wallwisher into my daily lectures with Prezi instead of using daily quizzes or chapter tests. I use my Gatsby Prezis to lead the discussion while I have students open to a page of links to various Wall I created for specific questions.When I come to an important part of the presentation, I tell students to click on a certain question and respond to the question. Once everyone has responded, I call on students to read a response another student posted. Here are a couple of examples of what students put together.

Wallwishers have been removed. Sorry.

The kids loved this. When I asked them what was good about taking notes this way, multiple kids from different classes said it was nice to "hear" from different people in the class instead of the same 4 or 5 students.  Another student said it was nice to be able to see some other ideas when he was stuck and trying to figure out the best way to start. many said they liked feeling apart of the note giving process. They were creators instead of copiers. If that is not a ringing endorsement of what I was trying to do, I'm not sure what is.

I've decided to create Wallwishers for each class so they can post questions and answers to help one another as they start to work on their final assessments. One students apologized for not reading today, but said she got the gist of some of it because she spent some time online looking up information for hr final project. Ha!

I teach three sections of American Literature, so I will need to create a separate wall for each class and for each lesson. Maybe I should have all three classes work on the same wall. Tell me what you think about that.

Lastly, I've noticed that the students are more relaxed when they don't have the looming threat of a test over their head. It's nice to have students that are a bit more calm when it comes to learning. It makes the process a bit smoother for everyone involved.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any tips or suggestions as I head into the final weeks of this experiment.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

10 Weeks No Tests Update IV

I know I just posted Part III, but there is another update to my no tests initiative. I introduced the Student Created Assessment to my American Literature Students today and they were pretty excited. "So we will not have to take some big MC test at the end of the book?" Also heard, "I can create any assessment I want to show you what I've learned. What's the catch?"

The kids were shocked because they were not sure what I was up to. They are not used to having the power of assessment in their hands. Once I walked them through the requirements (You can see them here on my Livebinder) there was a burst of ideas from the various students. Here are just a few of the ideas they came up with that I am really excited about.

Someone suggested creating a facebook page for the characters in the story. Something like the ones people created for Hamlet and Star Wars.

Create an infomercial for the book explaining the benefits of reading the book.

Creating a sculpture that represents the themes in the story.

Photo montages depicting important aspects of the story.

Re-writing the book as a graphic novel.

2 minute movie recap or a trailer for a new movie version of the book.

These are just a few of the great ideas that students came up with during a 19 minute class period. (We had a half day for Staff PD) Tell me that filling in bubbles is "better" for our students. I'll keep everyone posted on the projects as they come in. Proposals are due Monday, so I should have a better idea about what I'm going to see.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

10 Weeks No Tests Update III

It's been a few weeks and I have been very tempted to give tests to my students to make sure they keep up with their reading. I had to fight those urges and think of alternative ways to assess their reading in class. This was not a very easy process. I tossed out adding more discussion questions because I did not want to add to that work assignment load. I thought of something kind of neat that seemed to work in class.

I had each student write down one question they had about the chapters they read from The Great Gatsby and turn them in. I used the questions in class to lead discussion. It was nice to see that many students had the same questions. It allowed me to see what some of the big issues were and address them to the entire group. Also, it was good for students to see that they were not the only ones that had the same question.

After it the class was over, I could see that the students who did not do the reading still learned from the conversation that was had, instead of being lost in the discussion. Also, they will be motivated to do the reading, some of them at least, so they can have their questions answered if they have any.

Also, I see that Wallwisher would be great with this assignment. I could have everyone go to the blank Wall and post their question anonymously. This allows students to ask any question they want and they can actually see that others had similar questions.  It's a simple use of tech to keep kids engaged during a class discussion on any topic for any class. Think about using Wallwisher for your next class discussion. I'll let you know when I try it next.

10 Weeks No Tests Update II

I was having a discussion with some teachers about my 10 Weeks Without Tests earlier this week and was bothered by one of the comments. One teachers said, "It sounds like you have the kids doing you job." The comment was made near the end of lunch and I didn't have the time to fully refute that statement. I was compelled to make a few comments about the educational value of using the same dittos in the classroom since 1983, but I decided to take some time to develop some sound reasons for  trying this in class. For my fellow teacher and those who are wary of student created assessments, here are some answers to your questions.

"Isn't this just an excuse to make your job easier?"

As an English teacher, I know the definition of "easier" and it does not apply to to student created assessments (SCA). First, the placement of SCA in a class is a difficult process. I had to look at my different lessons and see where SCA would most benefit the students and fit the time allotted for each lesson. The organization of the SCA needs to be very detailed. You might have a student create a video, another might paint something and another might sculpt an interpretation. All of these assessments need to be organized in such a way that will allow you to grade them and allow students access to them for peer comments.

Teaching students how to create meaningful rubrics is also important and time consuming. As teachers we know how tough it can be to create a good rubric. Teaching students how to self-evaluate is an important concept for students to learn, but they will not pick it up in a 15 minute review in class. It will be a course long process were students will learn abut the important parts of an assessment and how they can reach the goals they set for themselves. By using SCA in class, I've actually added another item (rubrics) to teach to my kids.

Using SCA for a class will actually require more work upfront for the teacher, not less.

"How can you help a student who created their own assessment?"

I'm not an artistic person. I came to grips with this fact at an early phase. If you need a stick figure, I can help. If you need a straight stick figure, I am of no use. Helping students with assessments is not about assessment itself, it's about the information the student is trying to share through the assessment. I can talk to a student as they work on a computer graphics representation of the theme of a novel without telling him what colors to use or shapes to create. It's about listening and providing leading questions to allow the students to answer the questions they came up with in the first place. The discussion alone is more valuable than a MC test. If the student can verbalize their work to help me "see" their work, that is huge. A student needs to understand a concept very well to be able to explain it to another person. That alone shows knowledge. Again, I might not be able to help a student carve a representation of theme out of oak, but I can help the student understand the nature of the theme and listen as the student shows me their interpretation. It's shared learning.

"Don't all students need to learn to write essays?"

Yes, students need to learn how to write. As an English teacher, I still teaching writing and assign essays. Writing is a skill that students need to master to be prepared for later in life. SCA do not replace all assessments in the classroom. The replace those assessments that were created to make the teacher's life easier when it came time to see if a student memorized information or could pick one answer out of a field of four options. It's important to find the right place to put all lessons and assessments to make sure students get the most out of them. If I need to assess my students essay writing skills, I will have them write an essay. However, if I want to assess my students understanding of essay structure or format, what's wrong with letting a student create a song or poem explaining how to use proper MLA Citation in a research project?

"How is this going to help them prepare for the ACT/MME?"

(The MME is the Michigan Merit Exam. All students have to take it their Junior year in high school. It is currently paired with the ACT. So, all students in Michigan get one free shot at the ACT their Junior year.)

How does it directly prepare the students for that specific test? It doesn't prepare them directly.  Students have plenty of experience taking MC tests. The have been filling in ovals with No. 2 Pencils for years. I think that is why Kindergarten teacher stress coloring in the lines. It's preparing them for a life of test taking. However, if a student is sitting in the desk reading a passage and they have to decide what the theme or allusion is, they might be able to think back to the project they created regarding theme or the song another student preformed for class where he identified all of the allusions. Those connections will have a longer impact on a student than writing an essay about a specific theme.

For essays or MC tests, students have very little interaction with the work other students complete. I usually have a peer editing stage to essay writing, but that only exposes the students to one or two other papers. SCA has the chance for many students to view and experience the learning process of another students. Now, instead of covering the content in one way, they have seen it in multiple ways that can have a lasting impact on the them. In that way, it can prepare a student for a standardized test.

"How is a painting of a theme or song about motif going to help a student in college?"

I actually heard this statement. Information is not only retained through the memorization of facts. I ask you to watch this video and tell me this had no influence in your educational life. I still use it today and I'm a 30 year old High School English teacher.

I'm sure there will be more questions from other teachers as this experiment moves forward. Feel free to send me questions or post them below for everyone to debate. I don't claim to have all of the answers, but this has been something that has made people talk. As an educator, what more could I ask for?

10 Weeks No Tests Update 

Here is my first update on the No Tests for 10 Weeks Challenge. I wanted to give the students an option for their final project on Art Spiegelman's Maus I and II. Many decided they wanted to do an essay and some decided to do PowerPoints. Here is a picture of what one student came up with that is pretty cool.

Gavin O. 

Gavan decided to create a sculpture influenced by the stories that he read. He typed out a page and a half explaining the art. He created a Mobius Strip out of metal and used barbed wire to create a Star of David and a Swastika. He explained that the Mobius Strip symbolized the perpetual nature of the violence and how it affected the characters in the long run. Both symbols were used inside the sculpture because the two icons will forever be linked by the violence and the barbed wire symbolized the concentration camps. Even the stand had symbolism. He said the stand symbolizes an heirloom. The Holocaust is something that is passed down from generation to generation and should not be forgotten. 
Now tell me that a 50 Question Multiple Choice Test would better assess this student.

A Marking Period Without Tests

I read this article on cheating and assessments and it got me thinking. In it, the article says that cheating increases as students get older because learning becomes more and more about testing and less and less about the mastery of skills. As a high school teacher, I spend my time telling students they need to learn this format because it will be on the ACT or the State Test. The reason I tell that to students is because the Administration tells us that these students need to learn these facts because they will be tested on them during the State Test and we need to make AYP to receive an "A" or NCLB. Our tests need to be designed to look like the State Test so students can become familiar with the look of the exam. Test taking strategies, although helpful, have become the focus of too much class time. As teachers, what are we teaching? Are we teaching kids how to be a part of the system? Take information and fill in a bubble? Success is measured by one score on a test that you can take multiple times? Information is only valuable until the assessment then it can be deleted from the mental hard drive? As I sit here peering over midterm exam scores, I realized that things need to change and I'm going to start today.

For the next 10 weeks, I am not going to give a test. All assessments will be project based and created by the students. If I'm really after finding out if they have mastered the material, why not let them show me how they mastered it. They might want to make a PowerPoint. One student might create a movie and another might write a poem or some. Heck, one student might choose to write an essay to show me how they mastered the skills. As long as the students know what skills they are expected to master, this should not be a problem. Right?

Here is how I think the process will work.

1. Teach Lesson that includes Skill Set X

2. Give a detailed explanation of Skill Set X

3. Have students create a project in a specified time frame that will demonstrate Skill Set X (A few suggestions will help kids see where I want them to go)

4. Students need to create a rubric for me to use when I grade the project

5. Students submit or present projects.

6. Skills Mastered

7. Nobel Prize in Education awarded (I'm sure there are a few steps in between, but I just skipped ahead for brevity's sake) :)

As an English teacher, I'm not suggesting that I will never have students write an essay ever again, but I think the essays I have students write that is more for structure than content could be replaced with a student led project. Instead of multiple essays to teach students to use transitions in paragraphs or the correct order of a Persuasive Essay, why not a song or comic book?

What do you think? Want to join me in this new campaign to change assessments in America? The change needs to start somewhere and why not help start it in your classroom. I'll keep everyone posted on the ups and downs of this rollercoaster ride. As always, thanks for reading and please leave feedback.