Monday, August 06, 2007

An accountablity worry

You know what worries me?

That I haven't written a test, or an exam, or many of the things I ask my undergraduate students to do, in many years. Many. years. Like, a dozen years for the tests and exams. More than that, actually. I don't even remember what it feels like, except that I remember once getting hives and a yeast infection at the end of my Theory Year, when I had the final exams in two difficult courses on the same day. Aced them and had my best year ever. And almost dropped out of university after that, because of my reaction to the stress.

That is an interesting thing, actually - that that is what I remember. Because many of my students feel the same way because of tests and exams that I give them. And yet I don't have a clue - not a clue - what the content of that feeling is.

It makes me feel bad. It makes me feel unaccountable, somehow.

But what am I going to do about it. I don't know. Make myself write an exam?

10 comments:

Bardiac said...

I've adopted exam formats that I saw when I was a student or grad student. When I'm doing a new class, I write the exam, and then sit down and write the exam as if I were a student. If I can't do a decent job in less time, then the exam's not good. Usually, it's fine. I also try to make sure that everything on the exam tests something that's important in the class, rather than side stuff.

I'm sure your colleagues would be happy to share some exam formats that they've had success with. Or if you email me and give me an idea of class level and such, I'll share some.

Good luck! You CAN do this!

Hilaire said...

Thanks, Bardiac. I think that the exam formats I've used while I've been teaching FT in the last couple of years are pretty good, actually...I never hear bad feedback about them, and get very acceptable grades. And people always finish in the allotted time. And they're pretty much just adapting what I remember writing, vaguely, as an undergrad, and what I remember students being given when I was a TA. Combos of short answers and an essay, usually, or just essays if it's a theory course.

But your suggestion of writing my own exam is an excellent one - one that I will try to adopt this year, to be extra-accountable.

I think it's just that I see how people react sometimes, and I feel their terror, but I feel so far away from it. You know what, though? The terror I felt as a student who always did well on exams, and in school in general, was a very particular kind of terror. It was the terror of the over-achiever. That's very different from the terror of the person with learning disabilities or a really serious "exam block." And as many practice exams as I write, I'm never going to be able to get inside those folks' heads. I need to just accept that!

What Now? said...

There's also something to be said for being a student every once in awhile. Auditing a course last fall was a really good experience for me as a teacher, because it meant that I was sitting on the opposite side of the table, on the opposite side of the power. Not that I'd necessarily change my exams (which I think, like yours, work pretty well), but it did keep me connected to what it feels like NOT to be an expert in a field.

Except, like you, I'm good at exams and felt the stress of adrenaline pushing me to ace things, which is not what many of my students feel.

Hilaire said...

WN, you're so right. Yes. I need to get back in touch with what it feels like to be a student. I wonder how to do that, though...? No time!

Sfrajett said...

Oh Jeez, I'll tell you all about it and then you won't have to suffer through it. Maybe that's the most important thing you can give your students--the sympathy that they deserve for having to write nasty things like exams. And pat yourself on the back for having them write papers instead. Give yourself two pats at least for taking the time to actually read their writing and help them become more literate. Hurray for the readers of student prose!

lil'rumpus said...

Call me more than kooky, but I actually thrived a bit on the stress of exams. I agree with auditing classes and/or taking classes outside of academe. I have to say that studying for things like fitness certifications and CPR certs and First aid certs reminded me of what it is like to take an exam....more importantly, for me, they reminded me what it was like to study for an exam...

Hilaire said...

Sfragett - ah, yes, the not giving exams. Yeah. They're evil. And I avoid them where I can - in upper-level classes and such. Or I give them the (essay) questions in advance, as I did in a Theory course in April. When a course is required, though - like an Intro to the Discipline - I feel as if I ought to give them an exam because it's one way of ensuring they do some of the work. Sigh - it's so coercive. And what's worse is that I'm going to be giving a couple of *quizzes* this year, in my Intro course. I've never done this - but I feel as if I have no choice...I need to be able to give quizzes in order to control marking...I have 90 students in this one class! I need something multiple-choice, the grading of which I can trust a TA with. UGh - there go my teaching ethics. Multiple choice!! (Hangs head.)

lil'rumpus - yes, that is *so* important! Studing for an exam...I've often thought of doing the CPR and first aid certifications - this is another reason why I should do so!

Adleen said...

Hey Hilaire,
It's nice that you care about your students' exam horror! Have you thought of taking a refresher language course somewhere? You know, just to keep your knowledge sharp (after all, it's nice to keep up whatever language(s) you needed in grad school) tho. you know that most of your colleagues prolly haven't. That'd be cool, and it wouldn't be too time consuming, say a few hours a week at the Alliance francaise or Instituto Cervantes, for example. If it wasn't too expensive, I guess...

Hilaire said...

Oh, yes, that's a good idea. My other language is French, though, and I am pretty much past the point of needing classes...I learned it as a child, and lived in France during my PhD.

The language I do so want to learn is German. I wish there were a Goethe Institut here - then I might just do it! As it is, I don't even think there's German in the language department at my uni! Japanese, French, and Spanish only, I think.

Hilaire said...

A quick look tells me that there are actually German courses - but only intermediate level this year!! Gah.