Grade Authentic Responses (Anti-cheating)

I see teachers, in the current virtual teaching modality, struggling with student assessment. I have some thoughts on that.

First – grades are only as good as the test and do nothing to increase happiness. It is that- happiness that we need more of in the classroom. It is the only logical response to the mass global trauma that everyone is going through. Trauma changes the way your brain functions; it is not making logical choices, not everything is connecting fully.

I understand that people feel a need for control and the response goes to the authoritarian, information processing, teacher strategies that may have been handed down through teacher induction, mentoring, and systemic ideas about what education was.

Second – I have been asked this question multiple times:

How can we stop students from cheating on their at-home testing. My response, really goes to the core of, what are you teaching?

The problem: Teachers, why are you testing students on things that can be googled? Regardless of the constraints you place on them, time limits, screen-casting to document and monitor the test, locked google forms, and even education software that promises to manage it for you, students will find a way to cheat if they want. And then you still have to verify their work. This, at its core, is not the job of the teacher. That’s what a proctor does.

Here is a solution:  Why not give an exam that requires original creative thinking? Ask a question that gives the answer and the student must come up with the question. Ask for a book summary in the form of a monologue from the second most important character. Ask a riddle that has no answer (aside from the creative response that applies authentic connection with the material). Move the quiz into an oral defense of the work. With google we can use Blooms taxonomy to move beyond the facts and analysis (and the former style of info-processing teaching) and move into creation and synthesis. Test students on that.

When you engage students authentically, with personalized material, you increase the chances of intrinsic motivation. That is a key to happiness.

Subjective and Objective Student Assessment- A Thought Experiment on Student Learning

What assessment is fair to every student?

Imagine for a moment – you are a student, learning in a subject that you find to be difficult. Consider a time that you struggled to grasp the content; but, you ‘failed’ the mid-term exam. Can you remember a time in your life or the experience of your students that the ‘failure’ to learn at the mid-term actually motivated a positive growth in learning. What would be in the best interests of the student?

  • How would positive based assessment impact a student?
    • Why mark down incorrect understanding?
    • Why not reward correct knowledge?
    • Assessment at any time?
  • What would be the impact of students choosing their mode of assessment?
    • Unless the mode of assessment (a writing task in an English class for example) is germane to the assessment, why should the mode matter?
    • Can students show their understanding in multiple ways?
  • Could a student be assessed fairly at any time?
    • What if the student completes the learning task late? Does that change the amount they have learned?

What would be in the best interests of the teacher? The teacher has a set time-frame to assess every student – a semester, a week, a day perhaps. What would be fair to all of the students? If the teacher allows for maximum flexibility in assessment, are they setting the path to every student achieving their very best? What if the student does not display mastery at the same level as another student simply because the modality of the assessment does not allow for some expression of knowledge?

Suppose a science class is finishing a unit on the water cycle. One student might choose to be assessed traditionally by completing a paper based test. A second student may opt for more flexibility in how the information is presented and create a presentation with graphics and written paragraphs that explain the content. A third, less talented writer with test anxiety, may opt to create a dance that demonstrates the water cycle. All three students may have the same understanding. The mode of assessment will reveal different sets of knowledge.

The first student will show a prompted understanding of the knowledge deemed important by the teacher.

The second student – assuming they are a good writer – will be able to clearly articulate what they understand to be important in regards to the water cycle.

The third may be a highly accomplished dancer – and compose a dance that could be interpreted with all the same content as either of the first two students, but it is dependent on the teacher’s ability to understand the dance.

It seems there is a line between subjective assessment and objective assessment. Clear criteria, the correct and incorrect answers are set in one corner. As is the case with student one, accolades are given for reproducing the answer exactly as instructed. It is clear which student has the information and which does not. Some may argue that test anxiety gets in the way – a re-test on paper or even orally may be the remedy.

This is set against the modality of the student that creates their own mode of assessment and tells the teacher what they know. The second student clearly has done this.

The third student may need to interpret their work for the teacher, which is ultimately an oral report (a hybrid of student one and two); perhaps the second two students can even assesses their own work for their own grade. At what point is the assessment fair? At what point does the assessment support the learning of the student?

In life outside of school – which all teachers must consider in the instruction of students – the later, student created assessment, seems to be more applicable to growth. The answer to a real world problem rarely has a clear single solution. With the drive toward soft-skills such as flexibility and creativity this mode seems to be the most relevant. It also allows students to test how they want to be perceived in the world and how their ideas my be received. However, for the sake of teacher-ease and transparent fairness to the students, a clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer is clearly the way to go.



Poetry Assessment Objectives IGCSE

Upon reflecting on effective teaching practices, here are four activities that engage students in the four AOs for IGCSE Literature.

FOR AO4: Display of Questions

I believe these questions are good starters for the students to identify their perspective on a text. There are two possible deployment tactics I would first take. OUT OF CLASS TACTIC: Primarily, given that my students are fairly high level, I would give these questions as an out-of-class assignment. Students would be instructed to read the text and then write for 10 minutes in response to the questions. The students would then come to class with these questions answered and ready to discuss them with small or large groups. IN CLASS TACTIC: On the opposite end of ability, my second deployment method, would be to provide sentence frames, helping my one low student respond to the questions. For example, in the question, ‘what words do you find most vivid?’ I would provide a frame for the response, ‘I find the word____________ most vivid because it reminds me of _______.’ Or, ‘List five words that you find to be important for the poem’ followed by a numbered list with blanks to fill in.

FOR AO2: Deeper Meanings

USE OF BLOOM’S TAXONOMY: The suggested activity asks pupils to ‘ask probing questions’. But, it lacks specificity. To support this activity, I would use Bloom’s Taxonomy. We would first identify factual elements of the poem. E.g. there are four quatrains and an A-B-A-B rhyme scheme. I would move to analysis questions. For example ‘what is the narrative content of the first quatrain, the second, third and fourth?’. Moving from identification and analysis, I would then ask them to make connections between the facts of the poem and the identified elements. I would use questions such as, ‘what is the importance…’, ‘what is the significance….’, ‘tell me why…’ and ‘tell me how…’. By identifying the elements that need to be connected, I can guide the pupils to make those connections. Students may respond orally or in writing. They may do the work individually or in groups. It could even be done as a presentation or interview (imagine students ‘pretending’ to be an expert on the poem and then answering the interview questions I identified earlier).

FOR AO3: Connecting to the text

PERFORMANCE AND DIRECTION: This activity suggests partners work together to identify elements such as enjambment, rhyme, and meter. I have used excellent speaking aloud work to do this. One student acts as a director and the other the performer. The performer stops when the director tells them to stop (e.g. at the end of the line), tells them to walk and helps them identify how fast to walk – in identification of the meter, and provides a gesture or movement to be symbolic of the rhyming elements (this works too with alliteration and assonance). The students trade positions and use a new or the same text. If using the same text, the students try to make new choices or pick a different element of focus.

GRAPHIC REPRESENTATION: The second part of the activity suggests that pupils comment on and identify devices – such as imagery, sound, and rhetorical devices. This too can work with a performative activity, as suggested above, or it can be effective graphically. Using class posters that include common elements such as: 1) The device, 2) a modern-language definition of the device, 3) examples from poems (and citations of which poem). Then groups can present on one element and identify all the devices. This can also be an effective tool to review and revise before a mock exam.

FOR AO1: Extension activity, peer-review

This activity suggests that students can essentially annotate the work of a peer and identify required or beneficial elements in a practice response. I would add to this with a reflective piece before the activity. REFLECTIVE PEER-REVIEW: For this activity I would start with the class by giving them the rubric with each band. I  would ask them to identify possible examples of what they may see in an essay, meeting each band. They may identify signpost language (e.g. key words such as ‘one key quote is…’), they may identify structure such as (PEEL), they may identify countable elements (such as one quote for each section of the poem). We would then create a shared annotation key (building from the one identified in the SOW). Students would peer-review, annotate, then talk back to their peer on their perspective of the work.

Reflection on PRESENTING in CLASS

I think presentation is essential. Therefore, I ask that my students do it frequently and the stress is lessened. All students are also rewarded with a single clap of respect from the entire class after every presentation, 1, 2, 3, *clap*. It’s just part of my expectations. However, I have provided accommodations for students gripped with fear. Accommodations have included, presentation in a seated position instead of standing in front of the class, written work read by another student on behalf of the shy student, small group instead of full class presentations, recorded at home and sent in presentations, and fully excused presentations as part of an identifiable medical disability. Any clearly seen accommodations like this are often accompanied with a class discussion about different abilities with fear and presenting – as well as why learning to talk in front of the group is important.

Assessment of Literature Ability

This one lesson activity is conceived of as being an INITIAL ASSESSMENT to analyze student ability at the start of an IGCSE literature course. It easily could be adapted to other subjects and grades in the upper school. 

OBJECTIVE: To identify literary elements within a text for further analysis

BELL RINGER: 1 minute: Name as many literary elements as possible (such as metaphor or simile)

PARTNER WORK: 10 minutes: – share your list with your partner. Define any common elements together. Define any unique elements on your own. Use your combined experience to craft a shared definition. Use a dictionary as needed.

(Informal teacher assessment here – observing the wealth of and accuracy of knowledge within the class)

GROUP ACTIVITY: 15 minutes: Share one element and the definition, aloud with the class (practice presentation of information). Individual students note any elements they did not have on their list, note definitions. Students should be left with a list of literary elements.

INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY: Formative assessment. 20 minutes:  Students are given one of four or five (depending on group size) short texts (a paragraph, a poem, for example – ideally from the syllabus for future scaffolding). Students, annotate their unique text in the following way. The teacher should provide a live demonstration of this – or at least an exemplar of annotation.

– Highlight any literary element

– Annotate a description of the element

– Make any connections, in writing to the text as a whole or to other literary elements

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: Students turn in work from the class. Count literary elements with correct definitions. Note current knowledge of students.

NEXT CLASS: SMALL GROUP WORK: Pass back formative assessments: Students connect in groups (based on text) and make note of their work and compare to others. They review their understanding in contrast to others. Students create one large annotated (collaborative poster) on their text. Students present their work to the class. Students can then craft an essay in response to their text. Use a past paper question to guide the in-class text. This becomes a second formative assessment looking for essay structure and response style.

  1. THE ASSESSMENT WILL HELP present the learners’ level of understanding with factual information (identification of literary elements in a text) and the application of that understanding (composing an essay).
  2. WITH THIS INFORMATION instructional decisions will be made to teach (or not) the identification of literary elements, textual annotation, essay composition.
  3. LEARNERS WITHOUT THE ABILITY will be identified from the first ten minutes of class. They could get, elements highlighted but not identified (or the reverse “look for a comparison”). Learners may need ESL accommodations (such as mother tongue translation). Learners may need to be referred to a learning support team. This two day assessment will identify a range of skills that can be scaffolded. It will also provide support to the student through the collaborative elements.

Reflecting on IGCSE Scope and Sequence

My students have the IGCSE Literature coursework over two years. They meet for 3 hours per week in four class periods. This gives them about just over the recommended 130 hours of guided learning (168 hours of seat time over 28 weeks of school, less time for special events and school-wide testing).

Each novel we have studied this year was done over about five weeks: four weeks to discuss, analyze, and synthesize the plot, themes, characters, important quotes and other literary elements. The remaining week is used to revise and take a mock exam on the one novel. For drama, I tended to take seven weeks to unpack the text in a similar way. Regarding short stories and poems, this was generally done with a two class series to study and revise. Followed by a mini-mock exam each week on the texts that were studied up to that point.

The class has been directed to paper one and paper two. With a small class and inexperienced IGCSE teaching staff, internal examination was not selected. Supplementary materials have ebbed with student needs. My current class found use in watching the full stage version of “A Raisin in the Sun”, excerpts from “A Separate Peace” and excerpts from multiple move and stage versions of “Romeo and Juliet”. The class last year, did none of these elements. We have also borrowed this year from the IBDP program assessment of the IOC as another method for textual examination – giving students the opportunity to speak about their understanding, rather than just writing about it. Our text sequence is aligned with the IGCSE History course. For example, during the Key-Study of South Africa, we are reading “Cry, Beloved Country” and during one of the WWII units, we read “A Separate Peace”.

The Cambridge scheme of work has been effective for student and class reference. We use it often as a formative and informal progress check. We do not follow a text book. The order of texts is in alignment with the content in other courses.

Command Words – Lesson Plan


LEARNING TARGET: To understand different levels of presenting information (fact,analysis, and synthesis) and apply them to command words in test questions.

Bell Ringer/pre-assessment: Students respond in writing to question for one minute, then share out ideas: 

What is the difference between the presentation of facts, the development of analysis, and a synthesis of ideas?

(Gather learner friendly responses)

Practice one: Students Take ten minutes to answer the following questions, writing independently

Explore the ways… with three examples that the story of “The Three Pigs” tells the reader about theme of hard work.

How… does “The Three Pigs” tell the reader about the theme of hard work through the plot?

How far does… the story tell the reader that hard work is important? Cite evidence from the plot that is in favor and against.

In what ways… using three examples does “The Three Pigs” support the main idea of hard work through character development?

To what extent… do you agree that “The Three Pigs” is about the theme of hard work? Provide three pieces of evidence from the text that support one or both sides of your position.  

Supporting Activity- Small Groups: Student compare their responses with each other in a small group setting.  

Questions for conversation: What was different about your responses?

What was similar about your responses?

What was different about the questions?

What was similar about the questions?

Extension Activity- Individual / Full Group: Students respond to the following question, first in a “five-minute” quick write and then share their responses in a class conversation. 

If the question was not about hard work or “The Three Pigs” and instead about a different theme or story, what would be different or the same about your response? How do the command words (how, how far, In what ways, To what extent, Explore the ways) connect to the way you respond? Which questions are asking for facts? Which questions are asking for analysis? Which questions are asking for synthesis?

Extension Practice, Formative Assessment: 

Write five questions using the same command words for a book that you have already read.

Bell Ringers and Exit Tickets

The idea there is that the start of every class is the same with the Bell Ringer activity and the close of the class is always one of five activities. I leave it open because depending on the class, different closing activities may be appropriate. Tradition is important – and it creates closure that the students can expect and count on. The ‘shout out’ is nice because it teaches students to be complimentary of others and recognize their academic talents. I limit to it to academic activities in class: “I like the way Ali identified his personal connection to the metaphor in the poem.”

Lesson Plan – NBCT Style

After many years of teaching and four years of hard work, I became an NBCT this year. Upon reflecting – my lesson plan is really key to effective planning.

In my experience the most important sections of a lesson plan are as follows: 
– The standard(s) addressed by the lesson

– The language function or command word within the learning objective (e.g. analyze or identify)

– The syntax within the class provided for the student to complete the work (e.g. class notes, annotation of text, Venn Diagram)

– A logical sequence of events such as: 1) Introduction/Get Thinking/Bell Ringer quick activity 2) Instruction of content through lecture, group work, or individual work (this may connect to homework). 3) Extension and practice from the instruction. This may be solo or within a small group. 4) Demonstration and sharing of learning – students share out with class, teacher assesses and questions for development of work.

I rarely use my lesson plan in the actual class. I often review the plan in advance of the class, first thing for the day. I always start with the lesson objective following or as part of the introduction activity. When I am unable to get to the formative or summative component due to time constraints, I will either add this to the homework for the night or push out the plan for an extension into the next class.

Think – Pair – Share

An interesting and often useful strategy for teachers. 1) Students take time to think about their personal response to a question (I have found this works best with critical thinking); 2) Students share with another student – they share their response and their thinking process – they have an opportunity to refine and check their understanding; 3) Students or pairings share with the group their responses.

In my experience, TPS is enhanced when the pairing is not just with a random person. There are productive pairings within the Zone of Proximal Development. Two intermediate learners in the same group can support the information and understanding that they each bring to the conversation. A high level student and a low level student does not result in mutual learning – because the high level student draws little to no benefit from the low level student. The low level student will either frustrate the high level student with their lack of knowledge or the high level student will spend their time teaching the low level student and receive no parallel exchange of information. One critique of this is that it keeps low level students with low level students. However, the sharing is an essential part of the learning strategy. Here, students are exposed to the range of ideas. If the teacher solicits responses from a range of ability levels, all students get heard and the exchange of ideas is  supported across levels while allowing small pairings to support each other at the same point in development.