Writing tests is a hard process. First, there’s the problem of insuring that a test accurately addresses what was taught or emphasized in class over the course of a unit. Part of this validity issue is whether or not a one-shot test accurately demonstrates what students have learned. Second, it is sometimes difficult to get out of the habit of asking only recall questions and posing a variety of question types. Third, students can feel disenfranchised from a teacher-dictated test.
So, what’s the solution?
Having students write their own test questions is a strategy that can adequately address all of these issues, but specific steps must be taken to insure that this plan of action is effective. Students have to be taught or have some sort of model to follow when writing their questions. Otherwise, a student-written test won’t look any different than a teacher-created one.
When questioning students and planning in a way that gets them to think at higher levels, teachers have some models to inform instruction. There is Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK), and many other models and taxonomies we use to guide instruction. Why not share this information with students? Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK are probably the most useful in helping students as their are resources out there that provide insight into questioning that meets both model’s various levels.
To teach questioning to students, it’s typically best to begin by modeling how to question. Using question stems written specifically for Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s DOK can help insure that all levels are addressed. Then, the teacher can hand these stems over to the students in helping them to form their own questions.
This process provides for both formative and summative assessment. A teacher can observe the kinds of questions students write (and are able to answer) as well as help them revise their work. This part of the process can provide a sort of formative assessment that allows the teacher to reteach and redirect when necessary, developing students’ knowledge. The actual test created, of course, is the summative assessment.
The results of having students write their own test questions will make the extra time worth the effort. The time spent writing and answering questions will work as a review. Revisions will support attempts to reteach the content. Using a variety of question types will insure that higher level thinking is addressed. In the end, students will feel some ownership in the testing experience. Their grade will be looked as something they earned and less of something a teacher gave them.
What are you experiences with students writing their own tests and quizzes? How would you teach your students about questioning? What other benefits or challenges can you see in allowing students to write the test questions?
Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.