Friday, March 4, 2011

Three things I have learned about community service learning exams

by Ann Abbott

This week I gave two exams.  One was a sit-down exam in my "Spanish in the Community" course.  And the other was the take-home midterm exam for my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students.

Although no student enjoys preparing for and taking exams, and no faculty member I know delights in writing and grading exams, I have learned a lot during this midterm exam week in my courses.

  1. Review sessions should be "study workshops." In the Spanish composition course that I coordinate, the week before a 4-5 page composition is due, the class is turned into a writing workshop. The class periods are semi-structured, and each day has a separate focus (e.g., content generation, organization, editing). Students do their own work, but the instructor and peers are more available than usual for support and advice.  Likewise, in my "Spanish in the Community" course, we used the day before the exam to break up into pairs, and each pair studied one or two "Lecciones" in Comunidades. They presented the results of their review to their classmates, including the most important concepts within each Leccion as well as the important grammar and vocabulary. In the end, students themselves had done the review, and I was just there to guide them if they gave too much importance to something I considered minor or vice versa.
  2. Students do not know what to expect on an exam for a community service-learning (CSL) class. Even students who have attended every class, participated actively, done their homework and devoted themselves to their work in the community ask what the exam is going to be like. The exam, I explain, is a way for them to demonstrate that they can fully integrated their community-based learning with their classroom-based learning. It's a bridge. So a successful exam shows that you have learned the concepts presented in the classroom and you can demonstrate that learning with specific examples from your work and observations in the community.
  3. Students do not know what to expect from a test in a course that uses communicative language teaching. When class time is mostly used to exchange information with other students and draw conclusions based on that information, students may feel like they haven't learned anything and that they have nothing to study for an exam. That is why the review time in class is helpful. Usually, based on previous courses, students mentally classify textbook information as "exam material!" when it is presented in the following typographical formats: vocabulary lists at the beginning or back of a chapter; charts and tables with grammatical paradigms; block text.  So, for example, students always correctly identify as "important" the definitions of ACTFL's 5 C's on page 19 in Comunidades and the vocabulary listed on page 15.  But conclusions they reach after exchanging information with each other, such as defining the similarities and differences between study abroad and CSL (p. 20) doesn't "look" like exam material. Or definitions presented in the format of an activity, such as a matching activity of terms associated with immigration status and their definitions (p. 63).
What have you learned about giving or taking exams in a CSL course?

1 comment:

  1. I only learned that these exams sucks ! I hate them so much!