By the third class period, students will be introduced to PLC members and have time to exchange contact information. For the rest of the semester, the PLC functions as both a study group and the test group. The rules are simple and non-negotiable. First, anyone who misses more than once between tests will have to take the test by themselves. University excused absences are exempt from the
one time and you are out rule. Attendance is rarely a problem. Second, if at any time a group member is not pulling their weight, the group can come talk to me and vote them out of the group. These ground rules are critical to the smooth running of the PLCs.
When test day rolls around, I give either a multiple choice or case study exam. Each student has a copy of the exam to read and write on. Only one test paper is turned in by the group. Anyone not agreeing with a group answer, may provide their own response. The collaborative approach supports almost all students’ testing accommodation needs.
During the test, my role is to constantly monitor participation and conversations. I make note of participation, making sure that each member is contributing. If necessary, I will ask students to give an answer, or to provide support for an answer. After the first test, a PLC may request that a nonproductive member be removed. I am more concerned with students learning the content than if students receive a good grade.
When students wrestle over a question, I jot down the question number and make sure that it shows up on subsequent tests. I note incorrect answers. As students wrestle with the questions, their thinking process is given a voice. I am able to clarify misconceptions after the test. Debating responses allows students to make new connections to course content. Reinforcement through repetition of critical content also contributes to student learning.
Over the years, I have made interesting observations of the assessment process. Most surprisingly, I have watched three people with the right answer, be talked out of it by a group member with the wrong answer. While this is painful to watch, I make sure that this question is on the next test. Students will remind each other of their entire discussion and remember the correct answer.
I have heard students declare they know an answer is incorrect, but they are sticking with “My group, right or wrong”, which turns out to be a good choice. To date, every student who chooses to go against the group has been wrong.
Perhaps the most gratifying moments are those that come when students, long after the semester is past, tell me that they still remember content because of the discussions they had during their tests. They didn’t just memorize the content for the test, but remembered it.
– by Kim Nettleton, Ambassador for Excellence in Teaching, Morehead State University
Note: Part 1 of this article can be found in the last edition of the Teaching Tuesday newsletter (vol. 3 no. 8) which was sent on November 27th.