Saturday, January 19, 2013

Exam Time

Creative Commons Image: Zelda Was Kicking My Butt
By: couragextoxlive
I've written before about how I enjoy exam time. Somehow this year feels very different. Over the course of the past week I've had a number of situations that worry me a great deal.

1. Last week on Wednesday and Thursday my grade nines wrote their standardized test (EQAO). A few days before they wrote the test I went over everything that we covered in the course and worked through sample questions from each unit. Students spent a few days reviewing and then wrote the test. Once students write the test I go through and mark them so a portion of their final grade can come from the test and then the tests get mailed off to the big bureaucracy in Toronto. As I marked I noticed just how terrible the results were. The next day I asked my students how many of them had spent any time studying outside of class. It turns out 5/18 had.

Failure #1

2. The day after the test one of my grade nines asked what we were doing for the last few days of the semester. I told him that everyone should use the time to prepare for exams. He then proceeded to ask if  I could provide the class with a list of topics that they should study. Luckily, some students replied that we had already done that, before the sarcasm came gushing out of my mouth.

Failure #2

3. When I gave my grade elevens some review work to prepare for the exam, just about everyone in the class put up their hand to ask me how to do question 1. I refused to tell them how to do the question and referred them to their notes. When some students told me that they didn't have any notes I told them to check the textbook or to work with a friend. I then explained to the class that all of this work was review and that it would be impossible for me to walk each and every one of them through every question. The lack of independence was frightening.

Failure #3 

This year more than ever I believe that I have failed my students. I don't really care that my grade nines didn't do well on their standardized test. It doesn't really matter that some of my grade elevens will end up with a mark in the 50s rather than in the 60s (where they should be) since for most of them this is the last math class they have to take. Where I think I have failed my students this semester is in stressing the importance of good listening skills and good study habits (see Failures 1 and 2). Probably more important than learning the content of my course is for my students to become good learners. Some have, but I'm guessing that most have not (see Failures 1-3). The other big failure I had this semester was in developing independence, another crucial trait of successful learners. Clearly my students are not willing to be independent when, arguably, it matters most. I need to do some serious reflecting over the next couple of weeks to find out how to fix these issues for semester two. 


  1. I would say your students are to blame for their lack of success, not you. If they don't make the effort to learn the coursework, they shouldn't expect you to hold their hand through the exam.

    I was in 5 of your classes in high school (3 math, 2 engineering), and was one of your first students. It may be almost a decade since I've been one of your students, but I remember your classes being to be easy to follow and you were approachable when there were questions.

  2. Thanks for the comment Steve. I don't blame myself entirely but I do wonder what else I can do to help my students become better learners. It's possible that this semester is just a fluke or maybe it's the courses I'm teaching. Who knows. There could be a whole bunch of reasons for this semester to seem different. I made note of it here, in part, so that I can refer back later and since if anything is different.

    It's great to hear from you.