How to collaborate on a test.

At SLA, the 11th Graders take vocabulary tests every two weeks. The process is as cut and dry as you could imagine — a list of 20 words, taken from The Princeton Review’s “1000 most common SAT vocabulary words,” and they’re tested on ten at random, where they have to write the word and a synonym, antonym, or sentence for each one.

This is the only formal testing I do in my classroom, and I like to think it helps prep them a bit for the actual SAT, not to mention the Keystone exams. I’m probably stating the obvious for folks that don’t work in a project based environment.

But once in a while, I like to mix things up.

Today, I read them ten words, and then each table of four students produced one final document: ten words spelled correctly, and one sentence for each word showing its meaning in context.

Their faces light up when I explain the procedure. A couple of them because, yeah, they didn’t study enough and they’re relieved. But most of them are excited because they like collaborating. They huddle over the papers, speaking quietly so the other tables can’t hear them, and tease out what the best use of each word would be.

This is, of course, what I really want — students talking about words, making as many touch points as possible in the hopes that the word will stick after testing day. Collaborative tests don’t give me a snapshot of individual knowledge in that moment, but they do give me hope that the knowledge will last beyond the day of the exam.

When we do individual quizzes, we review them right after as a class, which gives us time to talk about the words. But I know that the content is better coming from their peers than from me. And after a few weeks of practice standardized testing in solitude, I’m happy to give them something to do together.

So, how could you turn one of your tests into a collaborative affair?

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