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I love when students argue with me

October 19, 2012

The tests in my class are short answer conceptual questions that often involve lend themselves to more than one correct answer. When the LAs grade the tests there inevitably are some student answers that fall outside the grading rubric. In these cases I generally tell the LAs to use their best judgement to determine how many points to award. For every test, I know that there are some answers that will receive slightly fewer points than they deserve. (i.e. The number of points on awarded to that answer will not reflect the student’s true level of understanding.) I encourage students to see me outside of class and to argue for more points if they feel like they have a good justification for an answer that was marked off. I love when students do this.

Sometimes a student will argue that thermal energy can be ignored because it’s so small and that the energy changes they included show all of the important effects. Sometimes a student will argue that he thought the question was asking something different and that his answer is correct for the scenario he was imagining*. Arguing with me gives me a better picture of the student’s level of understanding than a test question and it’s a more authentic scientific practice for the student than taking the test.

A great side effect of students feeling like they can argue for different answers on a test is that they also feel free to argue with me and with each other during class discussions. Twice in the past week I asked a student to share her answer for a question, told the class that I thought it was a good answer, and started to move on when a student spoke up to say “I sort of disagree with that answer…” Then we get into a discussion about whether there are multiple good answers, whether any of the answers is simpler or more general than the other answers, etc.  In the end students still want me to tell them if their answer is “correct” (i.e. would receive full points on a quiz) but I love that they feel empowered enough that after I call something a correct answer they will speak up to say that they think they have a better answer.

*One student was looking at his test during my office hours and asked why he got points marked off for one of his answers. After asking him to explain his answer, he told him that he was describing a different scenario (a tennis ball coming off the tennis racker rather than going into the racket). He then asked why he why didn’t just get a zero since he was answering the wrong question. I told him that his answer still showed up that he understood a lot of the concepts (not all of them, his answer wasn’t completely correct for  his scenario). I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that the goal of a test is simply for students to show me what they understand. We ask certain questions because we think that they will require students to utilize and display certain skills. Our interest isn’t in the answer to that specific question, it’s in the student’s ability to utilize certain skills. If the student’s answer shows evidence of those skills then I shouldn’t care what question they are answering (old news to SBG people, I know).

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