– Jon Bergmann –
Recently one of my students told me that she had never had a teacher do “that” for her.
First, some background. I’m not sure why it took me so long to notice, but this student was struggling with our Mastery tests. I had noticed how hard she had studied, and yet the results didn’t happen. During one of our debrief sessions this week, I made the comment, “You struggle with these tests, don’t you?”
Her response was humbling. She shared how her dyslexia especially jumbled the multiple-choice questions and how she was always second-guessing herself. I also noticed that on the open-ended questions (mini-essays), she showed remarkable insight.
I’ve always done it this way
My first response was to tell her to prepare more. But that night, things weren’t sitting well with me. I am a big believer in Universal Design for Learning that states:
- Students need multiple ways to learn topics (I often say: “I don’t care where you learn something, I just care that you learn it.”)
- Students need multiple ways to demonstrate mastery.
I’m the guy who has stood in front of thousands of teachers telling them what to do. And in this instance, here I am not taking my own advice. I was giving one type of Mastery assessment – only one way to demonstrate mastery. And you know what I told her? “Try harder.”
Argh — I can sometimes be such a hypocrite.
As I shared this with my wife Kris over dinner, I realized I needed to practice what I have been preaching. We brainstormed ideas about how to accommodate my struggling student when Kris said, “Why don’t you ask the student?”
Finding a better way
The next day I told my student that I had been thinking of her and asked her to see if she had an idea about how she could better demonstrate Mastery. When I said that, she seemed surprised and got quiet. I didn’t have time for follow-up, which left things hanging.
Later that day, during my planning time, she and a friend showed up. She said, “Mr. Bergmann, I’ve been thinking about how to prove to you that I know this stuff, but I’m not sure what this might look like. I can explain things, especially in writing or verbally. But this idea of the multiple-choice questions, they don’t work for me.” This led to a maybe ten-minute discussion about what an ideal assessment would look like to her.
Ultimately we came up with a straightforward solution. She needed to take a test that was all written, as in a test with no multiple-choice questions. The problem with that under most circumstances is that with a Mastery test, if a student sees the questions the first time, they often only memorize the questions and not truly learn. But my Mastery tests are very different. Every student gets a different test every time with the quizzing software built into my LMS (Brightspace).
The original test had 14 essay questions, and students had to answer only three of them. I realized that accommodating her was to have her take a test that was devoid of multiple-choice questions.
I then created an alternative test for her and had the program randomly choose eight of the 14 questions. I then set the permissions such that this test was only viewable by her. Doing this took all of about five minutes.
Reaching every student
She then took the test, and when we went over it together, we both had big smiles on our faces. She scored 90% on her first attempt. Boom!
In retrospect, I think her initial hesitation and quietness when I first broached the subject of a different way of doing tests was a shock because she then said, “I’ve never had a teacher change a test for me.”
And as elated as I was, her statement made me sad because this should not have been her first accommodation. My big takeaway is that I need to practice what I have been preaching continually. It’s easy to say that we need to practice UDL, but making it a daily reality is another thing.
I’d love to hear from you. How are you accommodating your students with different needs? How are you utilizing alternative assessments for different students?
Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.