Our class of 2012 was our first IB Diploma Programme cohort. Students and teachers both felt unprepared for the onslaught of the DP External Assessments. We’ve never had a school-wide exam period with exams lasting more than 53 minutes. Some teachers have given final exams over a period of multiple days, but students have yet to experience hour-plus exams on days that are dedicated solely to exams. The habit of independent review isn’t yet a strong one in our school culture.
I focused a lot in the junior year on the Internal Assessment, thinking “we’ll get to the External Assessment when the time comes.” In the senior year, we went to four days a week for classes, so I focused a lot on figuring out how to cover material before May given this new constraint. When April rolled around, I realized that it was time to prep for the exam…but it was like telling a high school track team to go run a marathon in two weeks. They’d been practicing for quizzes (sprints) but never had experience with unit tests that looked like the IB External Assessment (distance runs in preparation for the marathon). I retrieved old exams from our school’s network drive and gave them a different paper each day to practice. This was ineffective. A few students stayed on task for the duration of the class, working hard at the problems and asking me for feedback on their work. Others didn’t even open the practice tests.
This year, I wanted to prepare my students better. Studying a little bit more often pays off so much more than cramming. Each unit test is now comprised of past IB exam questions. Students complain bitterly about the difficulty of these problems, but I always say “better to see it now and tackle it than to have easy tests all year and get blindsided by the real thing.” I have also started doing partner Teacher for a Day projects using Tom DeRosa’s project structure. Students chose their own partners to develop their own quiz or test questions in preparation for the unit test. They also provide a full answer key. I included a screenshot of the pertinent area of the IB syllabus and encouraged them to use their notes and past quizzes (so they would get in the habit of reviewing). The partners worked out well, but they are also 12th graders and have gotten used to my rotating their seating groups each week. Choosing partners may be better for younger students or for those who need more group work experience. In the first iteration (with the financial math unit), some students made the mistakes of doing too many of the same type of problem or forgetting to include an answer key will all work shown. I offered them an opportunity to revise, but only a few took advantage of this offer.
*Yup, that’s Unhelpful High School Teacher. She’s on the Microsoft clip art site.