Ozzy Osbourne, the Beach Boys, and Ruminating on Leveling Up

I’m stuck in a twilight zone. Outside, snow is falling; inside, my office is being bombarded by my son’s delightful but mind-bending playlist of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and a random assortment of Beach Boys hits. I’m somehow supposed to be composing a blog on memory and learning. Here goes nothing.


Leveling up. I’ve led workshops and written about this in the past. You can find my thoughts on Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz’ article “Gamifying Online Tests to Promote Retrieval-Based Learning,” which, by the way, she wrote me to say “Thanks” for the post. That was a first, and I’m hoping not a last. It felt good. Noticed.


For today, however, I want to look at some of the practicalities I’ve learned in applying the leveling up principle to testing. The first is that there is a certain amount of educating that you’ll have to provide for your students. They’re so used to testing for a grade that testing to learn feels strange. The onboarding process doesn’t take much effort, but you should expect to spend some time saying things like, “Testing to learn assumes you’re going to take this test over and over. Even if you get a 100% on the first attempt, go ahead and take it a number of times to expose you to more material. Here is a place to make mistakes and learn from them penalty-free.” It’s not hard, not intense. Just expect it. To keep the experience fresh, perfect your “slow jam” voice with each time you repeat it.


Regarding Level 1 quizzes. Students will need to be shown that first level quizzes aim to expand the informational reserve so that they can more skillfully answer questions testing their abilities to apply, analyze, and assess. This is Bloom’s Taxonomy 101. Let them in on what keeps this process from “going off the rails on a crazy train.” (Yep. There’s the song again, seeping into my lines.) They understand how building a foundation works, that the foundation enables them to build meaningful knowledge structures. They also appreciate you providing a “Submission View” for them to check their work. Just make sure to tell them that they can take the quiz open-book, if they want, but they’ll be cheating themselves out of learning from mistakes. They’re supposed to be making mistakes so that they can learn from them. Life’s lessons are impossible unless we’re at peace with imperfection.


Regarding Level 2 quizzes. Printing out the HOT questions cheat sheet I created will also help you because you may find that creating a HOT question takes a lot more effort than a fact-based question. Seeing the three basic options of “scenario-based,” “analysis of visuals,” and “answer + reason why” enables you to lock into a type of question and compose it more easily. Also, if you’ve got a text you’re working with, composing a question that focuses on analyzing the text without lifting phrases directly from it is a fourth way to construct them.


What I will add as a final thought is that this type of testing, all of which can be automatically graded in our LMS, feels so much more purposeful than creating a fact-based quiz and then stressing over cheating. It’s a constant reminder, too, that our goal as educators is not simple info-transfers. We’re teaching students how to think as opposed to what to think. And this stance should, if we are vulnerable with students, allow them to see us learning alongside them instead of on some false, pretentious plane above them.

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