The Power of Exam Wrappers: Part One
In one of the first courses on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that Dr. Katie Novak taught in our district, she introduced us to exam wrappers. Since then, I’ve had the honor of teaching, co-teaching, and serving as a TA in multiple UDL courses and I’ve seen the practice of exam wrappers evolve throughout the district and in my own practice.
In my experience, the power of exam wrappers, when coupled with taking the time/having the time to follow up on them, is just about limitless. In fact, when I sat down to write this blog post, I found that I had 36 scans of student responses that then sorted themselves out into a five-part series, all from a single exam wrapper from one Module Assessment. So, fair warning, this is part one of five!
This first post is about how, depending on what students say in response to your question, you can end up partnering with them. This is a powerful experience for us as teachers because it gives us a window into what it feels like to experience our teaching, as intended or otherwise. It reminds me of all the statements about how we can intend to send one message in our speaking, but we have no control over how that message is actually received. The same is true when we teach. We intend the best…we intend to be clear…we intend to love all of our students….but the receiving experience is something we do not control. Therefore, when an opportunity comes along to have the recipients (our students) give us feedback about what they are experiencing, we should take advantage of it.
This year, we gave our first Module Assessment (Unit Test) on the Rational Numbers Module before September was even done. I then took advantage of the opportunity to have the students fill out Wrappers and I found that feedback fell into a few, key categories, which will drive this post and the ones that follow.
Improving Teacher Practice
One student wrote the following on her Wrapper:
When I met with this student to follow up on her comment, I told her she was 100% correct–her feedback aligned with a goal that my colleague and I have as well. I also pointed out that we are managing literally hundreds of sheets of papers and copies and resources, so the chances of one (or some) being missed are pretty high. I asked her to “partner” with us by making a list for me of missing answer keys. The next day, she handed me the following:
This is huge! Our shared practice will be improved for ALL students because we’ll be able to strengthen the quality of the materials we give out. For me as the individual teacher, it also shows me that I am building relationships with students where they are able to respectfully give feedback that will then be incorporated into our shared experience and that they feel that it’s safe to give cool feedback to me as their teacher. I had another student come ask me about a homework assignment during class and, thanks to his feedback and question, we realized that (1) the naming on the assignment was confusing and (2) we (the teachers) had forgotten to attach as answer key anywhere for the students. Being able to build relationships with students where they see themselves as partners in the content experience has become more and more critical for me as I’ve tried to live the practice of UDL each year.
Sometimes, student feedback just lets me know when I’m not supplying enough of a resource or enough variety. Even if I can’t always give students what they are requesting, such as if there aren’t any other high-quality math videos available for our curriculum, I can still sit with the student and acknowledge that I have heard his or her feedback.
Being my “Other Brain”
I often ask students to help me remember to do things–to watch the time, to give me a warning when class is almost over, etc. It’s partially self-preservation, especially with our dramatically different schedule this year, but it’s also a way to increase student engagement, since they are become a partner with the teacher. For example, on this first round of wrappers, I got similar comments from two students about writing the time remaining on the board.
I forget about giving time warnings, so having more than one student keeping an eye on this helps me, like with the answer keys, be better about doing my job better. In turn, I hope that it creates a slightly-less-stressful assessment experience for students, so it becomes win-win all the way around.