A Research Focus in a Final Exam

Focusing on Research:

As a trained librarian, my primary focus is often research. I brought that perspective into my most recent challenge: teaching Individuals and Societies Year 3. Since November, I’ve been teaching two sections of the course, and I’ve learned more than I could ever put into words. The most recent success, though, was the final exam.

A few months ago, I participated in an MYP Chat about Assessment that expressed several questions about the Criterion B in I/S and how different teachers assess it. There were more questions than opinions, more uncertainty about this unfamiliar Criterion than ideas about it. With that in mind, I wanted to share my own recent success with an assessment about this Criterion.

When I gave the mid-term exam in December, I hadn’t been teaching long. My lack of familiarity with writing long exams for eighth graders led me to adapt a previously used exam, full of reading and writing tasks. While it covered the content of the course, it used only three of the four criteria, leaving out Criterion B completely, and focusing almost entirely on Criteria A and C. I noticed that many of the students became frustrated with this model, possibly because all of them are English as a Second Language learners. With almost 50 students, about half of them in Language Acquisition, I wasn’t certain that this was an accurate test of their abilities. They put in the effort, but the results weren’t favorable. I was determined to make an exam that tested the skills that we had covered, and one that would suit their language skills better.

The class focused on Migration and Human Rights in the spring, with an emphasis on interview skills, political cartoons/visual literacy, and research. During the human rights unit, students wrote their first academic research paper, presenting different arguments about a human rights topic of their choice. Many students chose women’s rights, or LGBT rights, or a historical look at the atomic bomb. It was a long process, focusing on several elements of the research cycle: writing a research question, citing, taking notes on sources, using library resources, and outlining their work. If I could do it again, I would also have focused more on evaluating sources, but we took time to focus on paraphrasing and plagiarism instead.

I worked with the Language Acquisition teacher, who was doing a similar unit, and we encouraged students to use the same topic (though rarely the same resources) in both classes to increase their comprehension and skills. This was extremely successful; the work that I received from the Language B students had more depth and critical thought than I had previously seen. With covering the material in more than one class, especially in a class that met twice as often as mine, they were able to dig deeper into the information and the concepts.

The final exam needed to be engaging, and needed to assess the different parts of the research process that we had covered. I didn’t want to rely completely on reading and writing, both for my students and for myself. I wanted to provide opportunities for them to utilize the skills they had practiced in class, using all four criteria. Plus, since the entire class never covered one topic, it couldn’t be based on content alone. We worked on inquiry projects throughout the semester, and while certain topics overlapped, there was never anything that we covered in depth as a class.

Here’s what I came up with:

The entire exam centered on protest. I chose the topic because it was an option for their human rights paper, which meant that many of them did preliminary research on it. The information I used was available equally to them all. Many of them knew about the Hong Kong protests because of our location, and our own country has had some recent turmoil that impacted their daily lives.

I created a packet of information about the topic for them to use throughout their exam. The information packet included two perspectives, a pro and con side to protest. I adapted the text from Issues and Controversies, a debate database that we subscribe to, using the ideas without the complex vocabulary and excess text. The teacher I worked with read it over as well, to ensure that there was nothing too challenging. There were descriptions of four protests: Women’s Suffrage, Vietnam Protests, Occupy Wall Street, and the Umbrella Revolution. The packet also included historical images and political cartoons about those same protests. I included the full list of Year 3 Criteria as well. The information packet was separate from the student answer sheet for ease.

The first part was comprehension from the text, marked on Criterion A: Knowledge and Understanding. There were six questions asking about what they read in the text. This is common in many tests, I find, and I asked them to add their own ideas throughout for comprehension.

The second part involved Research Questions, marked on Criterion B: Investigating. It followed a similar format to what we had done in class. They drafted a few research questions, then evaluated their best one with an explanation. They were also tasked with figuring out what criterion matched what they were doing, and how they could succeed, to allow the criteria to be part of their process.

The third part was a paraphrasing exercise, marked on Criterion A: Knowledge and Understanding. They chose two paragraphs (very short paragraphs) from the pro and con side to paraphrase in their own words. I marked this on Criterion A because paraphrasing, to me, means understanding and explaining in a new way, to demonstrate your awareness by adding different information to someone else’s ideas. This was similar to exercises done in both English and Humanities classes.

The fourth part was an analysis of political cartoons. They had to choose one of the political cartoons to describe and analyze using their knowledge and the information from the text. There were short answer questions about the cartoon that they had to answer with specific details, graded with Criterion C: Communication. I marked their other political cartoon assignment with communication, so I wanted to keep it consistent.

The fifth part was arguments and critical thinking. They were asked to create an outline that took information from the text and photos to plan out three arguments for an essay. This was graded with Criterion D: Critical Thinking.

The sixth and final part was a research reflection, graded with Criterion B: Investigating. They reflected on the process of research with guidance from the questions, for the entire semester. Every assignment I gave required research, so they looked at different assignments and how they compared to one another.

As I gave the exam, and then graded the exam, I was quite happy with the results. There were some questions the students didn’t expect, especially with the outline. The style didn’t quite match what I had given them in class, even if it was a similar concept. The questions for the political cartoons gave them some trouble as well, again, because they weren’t expecting the style of the question. Overall, though, most students were able to successfully answer the questions and demonstrate their skills.

Upon reflection, though, there are a few things that I would change.

  1. The exam was almost too long, leaving some students just short of finishing. I would streamline some of the questions and make sure that the majority of students could finish on time, perhaps by clarifying the instructions.
  1. The political cartoon questions were too similar to one another, which created confusion. The task they did in class was annotating the cartoon, and I would go back to that. The instructions also needed to be clarified for more understanding.
  1. I would have liked to add a planning or interview piece in some way. Since they were working on protest, what other sources could they try? What would they look for? Or, if they had the opportunity, what interview questions would they ask? That would add a richer research feel and be able to assess both Criterion B and Criterion C.
  1. I gave too many choices. With the four different protests, there was too much information for them to sift through. Even though that was partially my intention, given the amount of information one has to sift through in every Google search, the time frame was too short for so many options.

Overall, I was content with the exam, and proud of the work that my students accomplished. I’m grateful for the opportunity to try something new, learn from it, and share from it. Hopefully, my experience will lead others to interesting reflections.

Article by Kelsey Hedrick
Image by: Kelsey Hedrick

Trialling an ‘e-Assessment’ and What We Learned

The MYP eAssessment is a logical next step for our school. We shifted to a conceptual curriculum three years ago, realizing that learning through a spiraling conceptual curriculum would allow our students to transfer knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes more easily across a range of open-ended problems to solve. The eAssessment requires this sort of transfer and allows the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes to manifest in its process toward successful completion.

Last December, half of our Year 4s piloted an eAssessment that we constructed in-house. We had viewed a video from the IB introducing the MYP eAssessments and observed how the platform might behave, how our students needed to behave, and thought about what it might take to successfully complete this innovative type of assessment. Then, we designed an approximation of an eAssessment, which would simulate the platform and require the sorts of behaviors needed for successful completion.

Observing the experience and obtaining feedback from students rounded out the pilot. Here is what we learned.

The eAssessment Platform

In considering the design of the platform for the assessment, we investigated a wiki, an HTML standalone site, or a Google Site. The wiki was crossed off immediately because it is linear to the user; the items inside it are added one after another, and a lot of scrolling would have to happen to move back and forth between stimulus materials and problems.

The Google Site would have been more preferable since it can be designed in frames; a frame could hold stimulus material, and we could add a window wherein students could write responses. In a Google-subscribed school, students can find their responses in a Google Doc if the Google Site is designed with a Google Form, and these are easily accessed through their Gmail accounts. The issues with the Google Site were that there were several steps to take to access each document and that it required an internet connection. First, when responses are written on the form, an extra click on Google Docs had to happen before the student could see what they had produced. The form responses and the site with the stimulus materials were also on different tabs, preventing real-time visual reference of both elements by the student. Second, the internet connection is not a facility in the MYP eAssessment since all stimulus materials are already in the platform; this was something we did not need to provide in the structure of the eAssessment.

The HTML site, although the best option, required the teacher designing the eAssessment to spend hours coding. At the time of our pilot, this was prohibitive.

So we designed a simple platform for the eAssessment using static, hyperlinked slides and Word documents. The slides held the instructions, embedded stimulus materials, and the open-ended problem. All materials were uploaded into the desktops in a single folder which included a folder for saving work. Students could then write responses on a Word document and save it directly into the eAssessment folder.

Stimulus materials and the student's responses could be simultaneously visible on screen.

Stimulus materials and the student’s responses could be simultaneously visible on screen.

It was important for students to be able to see stimulus materials and problem in the slides and their work in progress simultaneously, so we used 21″ iMacs for the eAssessment. The students could place the exam materials and their response document side by side on the large screen. We also froze the internet connection for the machines used as connectivity was not important. With individual headphones connected to each iMac, students could access material and record responses on an eAssessment that was as close we could get to the platform we had observed in the IB eAssessment introduction video.

Approaches to Learning

ATL skills students have internalized are key in any performance assessment, including an eAssessment. In a paper-based assessment, at least four categories of ATL skills are drawn from as the student progresses through their problem solving.

In an electronic format, students need to recognize the need for and use a wide range of ATL skills from the skills categories, including thinking critically about previously unseen stimulus materials, thinking creatively to form solutions to the open-ended problem; research skills from citing a video versus citing a print text from the materials to keeping organized notes on what they are learning from the materials to reference as they responded; self-management skills were in high demand during the two hour assessment, as students had to keep organized and manage time and tasks, as well as manage their affect, for instance, through practicing focus and concentration and avoiding distraction.

Students' range of ATL skills were essential to the tasks.

Students’ range of ATL skills were essential to the tasks.

Observations and Feedback

Most students were comfortable with the electronic platform. Most students concurred with a student’s opinion that “I’m used to typing and do that faster than writing with a pen.” (Only one student found “typing a challenge. I didn’t type a lot in my previous school, so I felt slow with my typing skills.”) Accessing information was “easier with the video and visuals,” and “the extracts were easy to read.” All students reported having their own headphone set was “good for focusing, I didn’t have to pay attention to anything else.”

The challenges expressed in the student interviews highlighted the ATL skills that students need to have internalized to use during this independent performance in a controlled environment. One student had difficulty following instructions in written format without teacher support. Two students found it challenging to keep track of their time and tasks independently.

It was clear to us how important an articulated focus on approaches to learning presented so that in Year 5 our students might easily evaluate the need for approaches to use and easily perform the skills necessary to persist through a problem-solving situation. In this trial, our essential understanding was that ATL skills needed to be internalized so that students could just get to the heart of problem-solving in their culminating assessment.

Examples of travel writing

These are some examples of the types of travel writing from our menu.

Personal Essays:
Where the Roads Diverged by Catherine Watson
Why We Travel by Pico Iyer

Restaurant Reviews:
Restaurant Reviews by Gourmet Traveller

Hotel Reviews:
A Killer Vacation by James Parker
Delano Hotel in Miami by Oyster Reviews

Social Commentary:
An Unkindness of Ravensby Imagine That
Small Streets
by Imagine That
Why Travel Doesn’t Fix Everything
by Legalnomads

Destination Essay
Uruguay is a Land of Contrasts by Brian Kevin

Read the examples of your chosen text type and cross-reference against the task specific clarifications of each text type.

Your assignment is to spend some time during the Chinese New Year break to experience local or overseas travel, take notes, and draft your chosen text type.
You can experience the following without having to spend a lot of money:

  • Go to a restaurant and eat there
  • Recall a hotel you stayed in recently
  • Recall a trip (you can even use our Weeks without walls – Dali and Luang Prabang)

Whatever content you choose, it may be used to develop an effective written piece that shows global interactions, audience imperative and intertextuality. It must also give a sense of place and time.
Criteria and task specific clarifications are on Managebac under the task “Travel Writing Long Piece.”

Here is the link to the Rubric. Here is the link to the Task Specific Clarifications.

Let your Year of the Horse begin with positivity and energy!

Final Assessment for 2011-2012

Final exam Study Guide: Language A English
MYP Year 3

 A. Content
Elements of Literature:
Character (static, dynamic, flat, round)

  1. Merchant of Venice (concepts): form, function, choices, quality
  2. Poetry (concepts): form, function, choices, quality
  3. I Am the Cheese (concepts): perspective, power, identity
  4. Rice without Rain (concepts): perspective, power, social identity, change and causation
  5. Evaluating evidence for claims made

 B. Organization

  1. Outlining and graphic organizers
  2. Organizing an essay around a thesis statement, topic sentences, and evidence for claims
  3. Introduction, body, conclusion

C.  Language Use and Style

For language, you will need to:

  • Know how to write clear, fluent sentences in an essay. Revise and edit the best way you know how.
  • Know how to explain author’s choices. Many of the quiz questions have recently been asking you about the author’s choices, why they chose to say something in a particular way or their commentary on issues presented in the literature. Be able to explain these choices.

Oral Task for Unit Assessment

inquiry in MYP, Language A

Thanks for the work you have done on the relationships between choice and quality. I will post the work in a future blogpost along with our joint reflection.

This is the oral task we will be performing next Monday and Tuesday.

Your task is to present a 7-10 minute presentation on the specific statement “How I learned (a choice you made) changed the (quality) of (assessment task in any subject this year).”

You may use any subject to illustrate this relationship between choice and quality. You will need to use visual artifacts including drafts of the same work, criteria, and rubrics to illustrate your points. The key to this task is your explanation of the process you used as you made a choice or choices toward a specific quality in the task you picked.

This oral task will be evaluated using Criteria A Content,  B Organization, and C Style and Language Mechanics. 

First Semester Exam Guide

The first semester exam will ask you to demonstrate skills in three Criteria: Content, Organization and Language Use and Style.


1. Using text features and knowledge about author’s choices to build an essay around an idea
2. Using examples from text to support ideas
3. How to Cite using MLA
4. Organizing an essay around a thesis statement and topic sentences
5. Writing a Deductive introduction
6. Writing an Inductive conclusion
7.  Using transitions, conjunctions, etc for fluent writing
8. Knowledge and application of Literary elements: character, motivation, conflict, setting, theme, plot, resolution/denouement

The exam is two full hours in the afternoon on Tuesday, December 13th. YOU MUST USE BLUE OR BLACK INK PEN.

Essay choices for Dicey’s Song

Here are the essay choices for Dicey’s Song. Please choose ONE and develop it into your five-paragraph essay.

Criteria addressed are A Content, B Organization and C Language Use and Style.

  1. Dicey is rebuilding a boat that she found in Gram’s house. The boat is broken and not able to sail. She is fixing it to make it sail-worthy again. Discuss how this image in the text applies to Dicey’s character and life.
  2. Dicey experiences conflict regarding her Momma. Discuss how this conflict began, how it developed, and how it was resolved in the text.
  3. How do Dicey’s conflicts affect her relationships? Choose three relationships in the text and discuss how they are each affected by Dicey’s internal conflicts.
  4. How has poverty affect Dicey’s conflicts? How does Dicey learn to overcome her poverty? Discuss this idea and how Miss Eversleigh, Gram, and Millie help Dicey to deal with her poverty.
  5. How similar are Gram and Dicey in how they deal with conflict? Discuss their similarities, emotionally and as characters, and their responses to the obstacles of their lives.
  6. How similar or different do Sammy, James and Dicey deal with their conflict regarding Momma? Discuss each character’s ways of dealing with being ‘abandoned’ by their mother and how each one resolved their conflict in the end.