Friday, March 4, 2011

Turning the Traditional English Midterm Exam On Its Head - A Multimedia Response: Guest Blog by Kara Douma

Kara Douma
Guest Blog: It's impossible not to be motivated when in the presence of Kara Douma, an instructional leader at Morristown High School (Morristown, NJ). Kara is highly thoughtful, full of "can do" energy, and an advocate for all learners (students & teachers). It is such a pleasure to be able to post Kara's ideas about assessment in the high school English classroom.  I hope her recount inspires others to challenge the traditional paper and pen midterms and seek ways of assessing student learning that situate students as collaborators in the assessment process, not mere receivers.

Bio: Prior to her current work, Kara enjoyed teaching at Holmdel High School as a special educator and at Manchester Middle School as an English teacher. While she instructed a summer program at the Center for Talented Youth, her first experience in education was as a teaching assistant at a private school for students with multiple disabilities. She deeply appreciated learning from and working with a diverse group of students. Today, Kara is a graduate advisor at Monmouth University and a student at Rowan University in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership. 

Reexamining the Mid-Term
 Kara Douma

January always seems to be a challenging month for both students and teachers at the high school. The holidays have just left us as the winter cold settles in our bones. At the beginning of the month, a familiar email circulates within the walls of the school; it is the mid-term exam memo detailing the deadline for submission along with the schedule of exam blocks. This is the catalyst that inspired Ms. Kelly Dabinett and me to turn this January into an experience of blissful student learning by way of matching student interest to their academic needs and their learning preference.  We were determined.

There were several pieces of the puzzle which turned this traditional exam into a more interactive assessment, the first being that I knew I was collaborating with one of the best English teachers in the school. Kelly and I worked to create a meaningful experience to engage learners. In order to accomplish this, we set the parameters of the project -based learning experience which revolved around the books the students had read during the first semester. We decided to link the readings to real life interests of our students. For example, Values of the Game served as a springboard for studying the New York Knicks and The Alchemist proved to be an entry into a study of dreams.  The topic selected was split into two areas of interest to be researched utilizing web based resources on iPads. Then, a personal connection web was completed to translate specific learning to the readings, oneself, and the world. Students selected from simulating an interview, acting out a scene, utilizing drawings or photographs with verbal explanation or considering another mode. Students used Flip Cameras for student recording. Then students conveyed their ideas and research to the class. 
This mid-term exam was unusual as it was not completed in the limitations of an exam block. Rather, it developed over three weeks leading up to the film presentation on exam day. Artifacts combined with video represented several targeted proficiencies for young adults including: writing, speaking, collaboration/ leadership, creativity, problem solving/critical thinking, conducting research/ using information, effective use of technology, and self-assessment/reflection. With new learning experiences reflection can run deep. Reflection occurred naturally throughout the process by way of making thinking visible through discussion, movement, and decisions on the product. When asked about the deviation from the traditional mid-term exam, a student replied, “I had a lot of fun because it was something I really like to do, make movies. It is not written like an essay; this is interesting, not like reading a textbook. The visual, hands-on activity made it real and made me want to learn more.” This evolved into an experience that rocked the cemented exam block and motivated students even in the darkest month of the high school year.

Luckily, two phenomenal students were willing to share their beautiful product with everyone. They completed their process on the text The Contender with an interest in high school dropouts. They discovered they wanted to learn more about existing differences of people in the world. One student reflected, “As the interviews unraveled, I realized I wanted to focus more on the dreams of people.”  She went on to discuss the use of technological tools as a mode of expression, “It’s in front of you. It’s not paper and pencil in front of you. This is the new, that was the old. I can now share my ideas and thoughts with the world.” 

Please follow this link to see the beautiful product of what was once the eighty minute mid-term exam.

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