I know that some of you are already done for the year. I know that many, like myself, are in the homestretch.
Next week is our last week of classes, followed by exams. So, naturally, I’ve been discussing with my students the nature of their final.
My team and I have had a number of conversations, evolving what the final looks like in our English classes. I’m a very vocal advocate for having a team that communicates and plans together, because it allows for so much rich discussion and growth, resulting in classes that are engaging for students and teachers alike.
We work in a high school, Grades 9 to 12. Where we live, we are given a provincial exam in our Grade 12 courses. Though there’s part of me that questions the practice of giving a test that shows up in a box, not created by our team, I don’t hate it completely. It’s a test that does a decent job of assessing a number of standards that we teach. Given a theme, students get to read and respond to a variety of texts, and they get to compose a writing piece to express their ideas related to that theme. We actually use the material from the test throughout our courses, when the questions or texts included are good fits for other things we’re teaching.
It’s a four day process, and we’ve actually taken, lately to running a version of it within our Grade 9 to 11 courses, crafting exams in a similar style related to the themes we’re teaching. Students often spend their last few regular classes of these courses writing a final piece expressing their thoughts about the course’s theme.
In discussing this, we’ve actually done a lot of thinking about the purpose of a final assessment in a course – English courses in particular. The notion that an exam is the last chance to put one over on students seems to, thankfully, has left schools. Instead, we look at the final as a last chance for students to show what they can do. It’s one of the reasons that we adopt the format of our provincial exam – it’s a process exam, so students don’t need to recall things, but instead need to do things. As a result, in English, the final becomes about what you can do more than what you know.
We’ve taken another step in evolving the final. This next set of exams will be the second time that we’ve added other elements to the final. With a provincial exam waiting for our students in their final year, I think we traditionally felt compelled to have students replicate that process a few times over the whole of their high school English careers. In doing so, we adhered to the philosophy of a single assessment opportunity being the final assessment. This meant that a single test wound up being the source of 25-30% of their overall grade in the course.
Last semester, we experimented with having a final project stand for part of that mark. We worked to find projects that allowed students to showcase their learning, and their abilities, in projects that they had time to ponder and craft. This also allowed us to assess some of the outcomes that might not get assessed in a traditional exam.
As well, we decided to make a regular classroom activity part of their final assessment. The Poetry and Image Pairing, or PIP, has become a regular feature in our classrooms. It’s engaging, and interesting, so we rolled it into the final. A final PIP gives us that last blast of our classroom community at it’s finest as the course ends. Honestly, I’ve never had a class laughing and so relaxed during finals as we had last semester when my Grade 11 class did their final PIP.
The final in a course is an academic rite of passage of sorts. However, rites of passage should evolve, and be altered to match the culture of the class they’re in, to reflect the values of the students and teachers of that class. In our classes, we want the final to be a time to shine, to be rewarded well for the things you should be able to do. This is what we’ve been working to create.
What does the final look like in your classes? Are you bound to a traditional final? Do you do something different? What would you do to make the final better?