Why I Love (and Hate) Marking Tests

I just finished marking 100 biology tests for my Pre-Health Science (College-Path) students. I feel like I’ve done nothing but write in red pen for 3 days straight. Now I’m exhausted, and filled with conflicting feelings.

There is a part of me that actually enjoys marking. I get to share some success with my students when they do well. I can see some progression in their learning, and compare the detail of their scientific explanations over the duration of the course. Most importantly, though, is that I can collect feedback from most of the students I teach, and I can show my students that I value their opinions.

At the end of every first test, I award 1 bonus mark for answering 2 questions.

  1. Is there something about the course that you like? Maybe something that has been working well for your learning style?
  2. Is there something about the course that you dislike? Maybe something that hasn’t worked well for your learning style?

There are no wrong answers. I try to always encourage honesty, yet some students still leave the spaces blank.

I hate marking, not because of the time it takes, but because it hurts to share in students’ failures too. I know my students aren’t mind readers, so I try to stress the important topics every day we are together. If someone misses a 3-hour class, however, it can be challenging to cover an entire textbook chapter completely on ones own. I hate to see an entirely blank question, because I wonder if maybe I missed a vital learning opportunity.

If more than 80% of my class gets a multiple choice question wrong, I deduct that mark from the total. This way I can acknowledge the students who did get it correct (with another bonus mark) and not take away from the vast majority of my class. If 80% of my students didn’t understand, I can’t help but feel like that’s my fault.

I love hearing from other educators, especially about tests. Do you have anything special you do with your tests?

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CEDP Phase 2 Day 2 Reflection – The Learning Cafe

Today, I found something about this program that actually left me frustrated. Rather than praise the provocative and participatory sessions on Large Classrooms and the Role of the Coordinator, I’m going for a bit of a deeper dive today.

Really, I had no idea what the Learning Cafe would be like, but when I hear the word cafe, this image above is what comes to mind. Peaceful, tidy, and with a wide variety of pastries to stuff my face with. (Perhaps the CEDP cake analogy had something to do with it.)

I wanted to sink my teeth into the topics – to find new flavours for my classes that learners from any style might prefer – to sprinkle some small group learning activities into my larger lectures – to gather other participants’ crumbs of expertise on making multiple choice questions – and to serve it all up with unique uses for the textbook and homework assignments.

I left with an empty stomach and wanted so much more!

Twenty minutes per topic just wasn’t enough! My coffee was fast-food quality: too hot and rushed. I wanted to savour the moment, but was ushered out of the way for the next customers pushing through the door. I wanted to chat with fellow patrons and listen to all the great work they do in their own classrooms. I wanted to learn from them on a much deeper level.

No “drinking from the fire hydrant” for this girl. I’ll have to try to connect with them in another forum. Maybe we’ll continue the discussion online?

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CEDP Phase 2 Day 1 Reflection

You can read my reflections from CEDP Phase 1 here.

Want to learn more about the College Educator Development Program? Click here for their website to read their mission statement and access all sorts of free resources.

I was inspired by @giuliaforsythe  at the Connect 2014 conference to try taking Visual Notes. Unfortunately, I don’t own a tablet to doodle my notes electronically, so I will show you only one (poor quality) photo of my work today and simply type out some thoughts in this blog post.

My first visual note from the Games and Active Learning session by Sue Prestedge

  • This 3-day conference is a totally immersive environment. I’m surrounded by like-minded educators to learn from!
  • Everyone here has similar goals: to network, reflect, share challenges and success, and learn from experts in fields other than our own.


  • @courosa spoke rapid-fire about teaching and learning in a networked world:
    • Students should be allowed to use a variety of tools to capture the struggle and challenge of learning, not just the final products.
    • Whatever is shared on the internet is, to some degree, permanent. Where does privacy fit in? How do you decide on what to share? Everyone will have their own answer, and I still wrestle with web publishing my own notes.
    • We live in a participatory culture, where knowledge is socially constructed, but it is almost more important to consider the people who are creating the content. In an ideal situation, it is actually the student!
    • Tool I will certainly use: Socrative foran EASY student response system! It works on EVERY device that can connect to the web and students don’t need to waste time setting up another login/password they will never use.

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BeachBall.jpgWrite questions on the ball and toss into the crowd. Person who catches it says their name and answers the question written under their left thumb.

  • I can actually use games in the classroom to cover course content! Even to learn material for the first time (rather than just to review).
    • Games help create a classroom climate where students are safe to play with material and even – gasp – get things wrong without consequence!
    • Always debrief the game, so students can see why it is a valuable activity.
    • Be thoughtful when integrating games with the lessons: are the students tired or hungry? are they comfortable with each other? with you?
    • Possible new orientation day icebreaker: a beachball with questions written on it in permanent marker. Whichever question is under your left thumb, say your name and answer the question aloud, then toss the ball into the air for the next person.
    • Be sure to include questions that anyone can answer, and not just with a yes or no response.
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My Big Ideas from Connect 2014

This year I returned to Connect 2014: Canada’s Learning and Technology Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario (if you would like to join us next year). It seems that there were lots of common threads discussed in the sessions I attended, so I thought I would share some of the highlights (copied from Evernote on my smartphone – last link, I promise.)

Thoughts from the conference, no particular order:

  • Instead of trying to be a facilitator, I should practice being an activator!
  • You don’t have to know everything to be a good leader.
  • You are allowed to make mistakes, we will learn together, there are no judges.
  • If the student doesn’t directly benefit rom it – don’t do it!
  • There should be transparency in growth. Don’t be afraid to share your progress, not just the final product.
  • Drawing helps to encode memories, but every brain is different. There is no wrong way to remember!
  • Take more time to review and summarize, but have the students do it too.
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First Class Activity: The Best and Worst Class Ever

(I haven’t actually done this activity with my students yet, but we do come to some similar ground rules with our own guided discussion questions on expectations.)

From in Teaching Professor Blog

Best and Worst Classes I love this quick and easy activity. On one section of the blackboard I write: “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it “What the teacher did” and below that “What the students did.” On another section I write “The worst class I’ve ever had” (well, actually I write, “The class from hell”) and then the same two items beneath. I ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department or teacher, and I begin filling in the grid based on what they call out…”

On Day 1 in my classes, I put up 3 sheets of chart paper:

  1. On the first, I have written “What do I expect from you?”
  2. On the second, I have written “What do you expect from me?”
  3. On the third, “What do you expect from each other?”

My expectations are already typed out in a document that I post online for my students, but we summarize the list into a few basic themes. 1. I expect my students to come, on time and prepared, for every lecture and lab session that term. 2. I also expect my students to learn more about their scholastic strengths. This includes: getting the most out of the textbook, organizing their school/work/personal schedules, discovering their personal note-taking style (often with guiding handouts provided for each lecture), and developing efficient study habits to help with the rest of their academic journey.

Finally, 3. I expect my students to ask questions about the material, and I explain that this is the best way to learn anything. I also ask my students to promise that they will never say “this might be a stupid question…” before they ask anything. Like an after-school television special, I truly believe that there is no such thing as a stupid question. How else are you going to learn? I even ask them to sign their name next to this rule as a contract (written on their Teaching and Learning Plan).

My students’ expectations of me usually include:

  • Respect
  • Smile and be approachable
  • Make classes as fun as possible
  • Answer questions directly (not with “what do you think?”)
  • Provide clear instructions/expectations
  • Suggest study tips or provide reviews before a test
  • Return tests/assignment marks as quickly as possible

I also sign this piece of paper and promise that I will do my best to live up to their expectations (so long as they all promise to do their best as well).

My students’ expectations of each other almost always starts off with “be quiet while the teacher is talking”. At the start of the term, this is usually not a problem. In the last few weeks, however, I find that this guideline gets forgotten. I try to break up my 3-hour lecture blocks with a variety of teaching styles, videos, handouts, practice questions (often including partner/group activities throughout the session), but in an introductory class I occasionally have to “chalk and talk” with projector slides as an added feature. When students get chatty, it drags out the lecture and, unfortunately, often means there is less time for active learning activities. This certainly doesn’t help to keep those students engaged…

Students also suggest that their classmates should: be patient with questions, be willing to help, and share equally with group work.

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Goal Change: Updating Schedule

Well, it is obvious now that I am not meeting my updating goal.

I’ll settle for twice a term.

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3 Goals for the Fall 2013 Term

During this fall semester, I would like to accomplish 3 things:

  1. Get more social activities on the student Co-Curricular Record.
  2. Implement ideas from CEDP Phase 1 into my lesson planning.
  3. Maintain this blog as a tool for reflective practice.

1. I plan to host a monthly movie night and show health-related documentaries and docu-dramas. Next week, we will invite our textbook publisher reps to show our students how to take full advantage of their electronic resources. In December, we will collect toys for the children’s floor of the new local hospital.

2. I will lecture less. I will use more learning activities that promote social learning and hands-on manipulation. I will show more videos in class, rather than having students watch them after the class is over.

3. I will post something to this blog at least twice a month, so I can review and revisit my progress.

What are your goals for the next 4 months?

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