Shall We Dance?

I haven’t always given exam study guides, but I’d say more often than not I have done so. In addition, sometimes I’ve given credit for kids “completing” a study guide.  Usually that credit took the form of extra points on their earned exam grade.  But in recent years I’ve grown frustrated both by the study guide and the bonus points, and I set out this year to do something different.

I didn’t feel like I could go cold turkey and not give some kind of bonus opportunity.  It seems like many teachers around my school give study guides, and I can understand why. When the exam makes up 20% of the semester grade, you want to give a bit of cushion and wiggle room for a student. Also, many teachers see their study guides as just that – guides that help students prepare for the exam.  Since so many in my school do give some kind of bonus opportunity, I felt like it was kind of expected, even though I’m not forced to do so and some teachers do not.

While in chemistry and mathematics, you can give study guides where students practice solving problems, in history, this is a little more difficult to do.  Most history study guides I’ve seen amount to a list of terms and possible short answer or essay questions.  Students who define the terms and answer the questions may get points on their exam.  I always had problems with this method, but I admit to having used it in the past.  First, it forces students to study in a specific way that may or may not be the best method for him or her. They spend all this time completing a study guide, and since that’s not the best way for them to learn the material, they learn very little for all the time spent. Second, defining terms doesn’t require students to think deeply about the material.  And finally, in this day and age, there’s too many ways to copy and share work that is not one’s own.  So no more history study guides for me.*

I was left in a bind.  I wanted to provide a bonus opportunity.  I wanted to tie it closely in to what we were studying.  I wanted it to be authentic.  I didn’t want it to be too time-consuming or onerous since I wanted them to spend time studying in the ways that worked for them.  I also started to think that something active might be good since around exam time students spend so much time just sitting and staring at paper and screens. What to do?  Make them dance.

This semester my students learned and performed “The Charleston” as their exam bonus opportunity.  It seemed to fit all my requirements and then some.  They had to learn at least 3 different steps of the dance and film themselves performing those steps for a certain length of time.  The results were at times hilarious, at times endearing, at times surprising.  The truth of the matter is that the amount of bonus points given for this were minimal when calculating the semester average rather than just the exam grade.  I’m sure some of the students figured this out, but it didn’t stop most of them from giving it a go. I’m so glad they did.  Whether or not they remember what the Payne-Aldrich Tariff did, I think they will remember learning and dancing “The Charleston.

*This was not a popular decision amongst the students.  Even though we review after each unit throughout the semester, they wanted that darn list of terms.  By not giving this out though, I witnessed students getting themselves organized, talking about how they were going to tackle studying for the history exam, and coming up with their own study methods.  Even if this didn’t always work out for the students, they were learning how to study and how not to study throughout the process in a way that they would not have if I’d handed them a study guide.  In assessing their exams, I took into account the fact that I did not give a study guide and that they were on their own.

 

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