Reviewing for an assessment

I am curious about the effectiveness of group or team tests given (maybe a week) before the actual, summative test. I am just beginning my student teaching, and think a group test might be a great way for students to share the responsibility of reviewing and would give the students who are less comfortable with the material a chance to hear it from other students. I know a group test cannot completely replace assessing individual students for comprehension of the material, but I’m wondering if students were given the opportunity to work together on a test reflecting the unit’s material as preparation for the day they take an individual test, would that be a helpful indication of where students are before they take the test?
–Reid from Eugene, Oregon

It’s been my experience that periodic, formative assessments during a unit of instruction are more helpful to both students and teachers compared to a single review at the end of the unit. The students get ongoing feedback on their learning and the teacher can address questions, misunderstandings, and incomplete understandings in a timely manner.

But you have an interesting question about the benefits of a summative review or study session. Since you’ve just started student teaching, you could discuss this with your cooperating teacher and observe how he or she handles this. As you observe or try different strategies, keep a log describing the activity and the results of the subsequent assessment. At some point, this could be an opportunity for a more structured action research project in the classroom—if not during student teaching then perhaps in your future classes.

Action research is inquiry or research focused on efforts to improve student learning. It is typically designed and conducted by teachers who analyze data from their own classrooms to improve their practice. Action research gives teachers opportunities to reflect on their teaching, explore and test new strategies, assess the effectiveness of these strategies, and make decisions about which ones to use. Action research models generally have several components, which I’ve annotated with some thoughts about your question:

Identify a focus area or research question. Your question actually raises other questions:

  1. What is the purpose of a review? To connect content from several lessons? To apply learning to new situations? To help students become familiar with the assessment format and rubric? To practice skills? To practice retrieval of factual information?
  2. When are the best times to review for a test? Periodic assessment opportunities during instruction? A summative activity just prior to the test? Both?
  3. What is the value of group vs. individual review? Do students understand the purpose? Do students know how to review material? Are students familiar with protocols for working collaboratively? Do students benefit from different strategies?
  4. What is the format of the review? A practice test? Summarization? Revisiting class notes? A game-like activity or contest?
  5. What is the teacher’s role? To use the results to re-teach a concept that students are still struggling with? To ensure that all students are participating?

Implement a strategy and collect data. If you have more than one section, you could use a different form of review in each section. Debrief the students about their understanding of the purpose of a review. Observe the ways students do (or do not) participate. You could use photographs or videos to document the process. Examine what they are writing in their lab notebooks based on the review. Administer the test and score the results.

Analyze and interpret the data. How did the students perform on the test? Compare the test results to previous tests. If you tried different strategies, how did the results differ? Share your findings with students. Discuss any frustrations or other feedback from students.

Develop an action plan. You may need to try a strategy several times. Depending on your results, begin to assemble a “toolbox” of effective review strategies.

Action research is a systematic way to apply inquiry to your own teaching practices. The results of action research are often published in the NSTA journals. I hope that you will share your findings with us!

Action Research
Action Research for Teachers
Action Research (NSTA’s Science Scope September 2010)


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One Comment

  1. L. Allemang
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve used “group (groups of 4 students) tests” for a couple of years now when reviewing for summatives in the middle school science classroom. Two days before the students participate in the group test they are given a review sheet with a list of content related questions for them to complete as homework. They are expected to have it complete so to use it during the group test.

    The “group test” format is as follows:
    Groups reveal question(printed and taped onto index card); Students have 2 minutes to discuss the question format, thinking process to answer, and the answer; students get 1 minute to use review sheet from homework to check answers; I reveal answer; students have 1 minute to ask questions.

    I found the group test to be very effective for a couple of different reasons:
    1. Students become familiar with formatting of the summative assessment
    2. Students can practice processing skills with each other (I have found this needed for many students do not know where to start or have trouble pulling all their thoughts together)
    3. Students get to ask the teacher questions about the test (this is after they have already collaborated with their groupmates)
    4. My role is to monitor the active participation and guide any lost groups

    I do not use this review activity to tell me if they are ready for the test. I use formative assessments during the teaching of the unit to monitor their learning. Ideally i believe this type of review activity should be done for the students’ benefit.

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