Adding Joy to Assessments

I shared with you last week that I had to give an alternative assessment to my English III students because of pervasive low scores.  I knew that it was important to get an accurate representation of student understanding and clearly there were issues with the original assessment because the average score went from 65% to 85%.  I still sought out the same skill set: understanding theme, character development, the impact of author’s choices, and application of vocabulary; I simply changed the formatting.  Now that we have completed the novel, I wanted to ensure that my culminating assessment also captured their true understanding, and yet had something else that is often forgotten after six months of day-in and day-out of classroom gridlock: Joy.


I have been reading Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov for my Instructional Effectiveness Clinic, and after reading about Technique 46 – the Joy Factor, a technique that examines the joy that is found within a classroom because it is the driving force, the determinant of the classroom’s culture, and it also promotes participation and engagement in classroom activities.  There are five categories of the J-Factor: fun and games, Us (and them), Drama/song/dance, humor, and suspense and surprise.  Of the five categories, I have consistently implemented the humor and suspense & drama.  I believe that the J-Factor is not only important, but it is essential.  When students begin to view the classroom as simply a workroom where no joy or enjoyment can be found, they are going to grow resistant, apathetic, and be less likely to become lifelong learners because they will see school as work.  And all work and no play makes Billy and Susie dull children.

So how did I implement the J-Factor in our final assessment?  Instead of a paper-and-pencil test, my students participating in a game of, “Oh Bouy!” a title given by the student because of the Spongebob Squarepants ball that we used to identify who would be answering the questions.


In preparation for my class today, I created three series of questions:

  • Closed: questions used to check retention or to focus thinking on a particular point;
  • Open: questions used to promote discussion or student interaction;
  • Higher-Order: questions that require students to figure out answers rather than remember them. Requires generalizations related to facts in meaningful patterns

I ensured that I had one of each style of question for each student in the class period; each question format accounted for one round of the game.  Students would be randomly asked questions from each series for each of the three rounds.  Students would know that they were to be asked to respond because I would under-hand toss them the Spongebob ball.


The questions asked in round one, the closed questions, were worth ten points; round two, or open questions were worth twenty points, and the higher-order questions were worth 30 points.  Students also were given one lifeline, or the opportunity to ask another student to answer for them, and students could only be a lifeline two times to avoid the same kids answering for everyone.  I thought the lifeline idea was good because you never know when you might find yourself in a scary situation.


After getting over the initial hesitation due to uncertainty, my students really got into their new oral exam format.  Some students commented later that it was more stressful, not because they didn’t like answering in front of other people, but because they knew the answers but couldn’t respond.  They felt empathy for those who weren’t quite as confident in their answers.  The majority of students said they prefer this format of assessment, and while it may not completely replace my more traditional tests and quizzes, I see that I have definitely added joy where there once was only stress and avoidance.


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