The Home Stretch

As of late I have been working towards getting my students ready for the end of the year.  This may seem easy enough, but there is a lot involved.  Primarily, I have been concentrating on specific skills that students have been developing since I started this longterm substitute assignment.  Some of these skills include organizing and writing essays, analyzing primary sources, reading for information and note taking.  Each of these skills are important not only because they will be utilized on the final exam, but they also can be used in any social studies class as well as in the “real world.”  Students who are able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information become well-informed, successful citizens in our democratic society.

Along with skills, I have been referencing course guidelines to ensure that content is introduced in a meaningful way.  I am trying to avoid a top-down march through dates, names and events, however I did give my US History class a PowerPoint presentation on the timeline of the Cold War from 1954-1970.  In this class activity, the students took notes on key events of the time period, some of which we had already discussed in the Vietnam Unit (e.g. My Lai Massacre, Tet Offensive).  Other material presented was important for students to know, but was not essential to their understanding of the course material.

Just this past weekend, I put together an outline for each final exam; three exams total.  This is my second time administering final exams.  For the most part, I think that the process of preparing for exams and administering exams are relatively easy.  The true challenge comes when it is time to grade.  Of course, there are those people out there that will say, “don’t make the test so hard to grade and you will be fine.”  Well, quite frankly, I don’t agree with that statement.  Finals are an important capstone to the semester.  The process is tedious not because of the length of time it takes to grade one paper, but all of the exams combined.

Overall, this is a time-honored tradition, but maybe it is time for a change.  The issue that I have with the typical final exam is the emphasis on memorization of facts.  Many of the finals that I have seen are a large portion multiple choice answers, identifying, matching, or true false.  I don’t see enough skills being tested/evaluated on these types of assessments.  One example of a different type of assessment would be an encompassing project looking at the themes covered in one year.  For instance, my US History class recently completed a project on the Vietnam War.  In this assignment the students had to analyze songs, political cartoons, or images and determine how they showcase a specific theme we have been studying, US democratic principles.  I haven’t graded the assignments yet, but I am already impressed by the amount of effort and creativity the students put into their work.  This assignment focused on higher order thinking, the crown jewel in education theory.  Wouldn’t you agree that would be nice to see some more evidence of higher order thinking on end of the year finals?

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