Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Creating a Test and the Question Formation Technique

As a final project for their Beowulf unit recently, I had my Juniors design their own test. This was the first time they had thought about the questions on tests as well as my first time assigning students to do so. Thus, it was my favorite kind of activity--a learning experience for everyone involved!

We started off with a discussion about what this assignment was for: a glance at the Bloom's Taxonomy poster quickly let the students know that creating a test required more brain power than merely remembering answers. With a little more investigation, they discovered that they would also need to be analyzing--both questions on other tests to figure out how to ask a good "test question" as well as their own questions in order to word them appropriately. (Okay, I guided them quite a bit to get to this point, but it seems like they understood where we were going with it.)

We didn't do much with analyzing questions from previous tests. As 11th graders, they've taken their fair share of tests and figured they knew by intuition what made a good question. I didn't push much on this as I would have with younger students.

Instead, I just set them out to start the process with question writing. I assigned each student to develop 10 questions for the final. They recognized immediately that they needed to have a good grasp of the material in order to ask a question about it--they had to analyze what points were significant enough to the story to elicit questions PLUS have enough information to know the answer to the question themselves.

When everyone had 10 questions, we broke into partners and shuffled papers. Each team had twenty questions between them, and, armed with different colored highlighters, read through to determine which ones made the best questions and which should be worded differently. They discussed in partners, first, then as a class, offering rationales for why some questions were better than others.

Finally, a volunteer typed up the 10 best questions on a computer connected to the SmartBoard so everyone could follow along, and the whole list was analyzed again. It wasn't until then that they realized they had selected some questions that asked for the same information and had to determine which of THOSE were better!

I did have the students take the test, mostly at their own urging, but I had seen everything I needed for assessment purposes through the creation process. Considering that this was their first time with such an activity, I was thrilled with the results. I noticed them getting a little bored towards the end of the process, but almost everyone was actively involved and participating cooperatively. I called it a success.

After completing this activity (which we spent about a week on), I did a little more research. This was a good first step, and now it's time to bump it up.

The Right Question Institute has a six-step strategy for developing questions they call the Question Formation Technique. Their website is packed full of amazing resources, and I recommend digging through it. To begin with, here is a guide on facilitating the QFT formatted in such a way that I would put it up on the SmartBoard for students to follow along with each step, and here is a list of tips for teachers to follow while conducting it. There are videos of other classes using the method (which I showed to my students, as well), and a TON of other things.

I'm just starting out with the QFT, but it seems to work well because it encourages students/people to KEEP ASKING. We tend to ask a couple of questions and consider ourselves finished with the activity, but this follows a concept I've been running through my mind recently, which is this: The good stuff comes at the end. At the beginning of any activity--writing, drawing, exercise, discussion, etc.--it is almost NECESSARY to cover the basics first before digging deeper and getting to the all-important details. It's as though we need to ascertain that everyone's on the same page first and foremost. We have to sketch the outline of the picture before we can focus on the fine details. We have to stretch our legs before we can actually push them to their limit. In the same way, we HAVE to ask the basic, mundane questions about a topic before the life-shattering, world-breaking questions come up. The QFT allows that to happen.

Plus there's the discussion about the pros and cons of asking open- versus close-ended questions. It's easy (for teachers as well as students) to assume that open-ended questions are "better" than close-ended, but that's not necessarily true. Both are useful in their own ways and serve different functions. The discussion makes students (and teachers) more aware of what they're doing when they ask one or the other. And being able to ask the same question in different words is awesome.

I did a couple of practice QFTs with my juniors and seniors, and they went well, again, for first-time activities. With more experience, they will be master questioners! I'm excited to do more work with this. According to this blog, it ties well into ownership of learning, unsurprisingly, and here's an article from Mind/Shift that speaks highly of it, as well. The creators at RQI have a book I'd really like to pick up at some point. I have a lot of work to do!