Please Cheat

Something amazing happened the other day in my classroom. During our class’s online morning meeting two girls excitedly shared that they had worked on a quiz together during a Zoom meeting the previous day. Not only was I “Okay with that,” I enthusiastically celebrated–not their supposed “confession,” as you may imagine it to be–but, their tremendous success! 

I teach a hybrid third grade class of 22 kids in suburban Pennsylvania. In addition to having my students only half of the time, my district shortened our school days, so I have one less hour than I normally would. This has pros and cons. One difficulty to manage is administering assessments. I only see these kids 12 hours a week! It doesn’t make sense to sit them all down and have them bubble in answers on a test during diamond-valuable instructional time!

 So, I have been providing Google forms that contain comprehension questions on days that my students are not physically with me. These forms accompany texts that students read outside of school. I have struggled with what to call these questionnaires. With students taking them in who-knows-what setting with who-knows-how-much help, they aren’t true assessments.

Because I want my students to complete them, I’ve been tempted to call them “quizzes.” And, I confess that term may have left my lips once or twice. 

My favorite title for these text-accompaniments is “teaching tool.” Although this is exactly how I view them, the title has far less pizzaz than “Test.” What I most commonly do is use several different terms in reference to the same assignment. I will call a Google form a quiz, but then explain that it isn’t really a quiz. It is more like an assessment. Then I suggest that I want them to go back and read the feedback that I built into the form, because more than this testing you, it is a “teaching tool.” Does all of this sound confusing? It doesn’t seem to discombobulate my pupils. 

I’d like to write more and provide examples of how I put together and use these Google forms, but this blog is about students supposedly cheating!

…And, how I encourage it!

This past week, I cleared a couple of mental hurdles that I want to share with educators. The first occurred Wednesday, when a student showed me his use of Safari while taking a quiz on vocabulary words. He interrupted a guided reading lesson to show me how he had used split-screen to look up each vocabulary word, as he evaluated them to find which would best fill the blank in a sentence. 

I had to make a split-second decision. 

Do I point out that he ought to have worked harder to learn the meanings and uses of the vocabulary words the day before, so that he would not need Safari? Should I suggest that he didn’t do anything wrong, but ask that he not do that in the future? Can I just tell him to, “Stop interrupting me and my guided reading session,” to buy time and think about the most appropriate answer? Perhaps I should pretend I didn’t hear this news and sweep the idea under the cognitive carpet: “Where were we, students?” 

This is what I did: I stood up and told that student to screen-mirror his device through our classroom Apple TV. The student’s split-screen iPad filled the screen on the wall, so every pupil could view the potential misdemeanor. I then praised the student for this ingenious way of researching answers. I pointed out that vocabulary is a wonderful tool, but when used wrongly, it can wield unfortunate results. “You definitely want to know what you are saying. I love that this student made sure that he got each word just right, when filling the blanks in these sentences!”

I suggested that everyone open the slideshow, containing the definitions of these particular vocabulary words, and have that available in split-screen mode, along with the Google form. Many words are homonyms, and it would be helpful to have the definitions that I provided to accompany your decision-making for filling blanks in sentences. 

Mouths involuntarily fell open. Sighs could be heard. 

I also showed the class how they could simply press and hold down a word in their Google form and a menu containing “Lookup,” among other things, would appear. This would enable them to double-check the meaning of a word, while taking a quiz.

“Wait, hold on here,” you may be thinking. “Weren’t you assessing students’ knowledge of those vocabulary words that kids are now looking up???” 

“Why are you quoting yourself within your own blog?” Mr. Weimann asks himself. “These are not normal times,” he explains. “Stop pretending they are!”

“Yup,” is my answer. “And as long as I am speaking to you within this silly blog, I will explain that we, educators, MUST break out of traditional thinking!!!”

I am speaking as much to myself as anyone else. What I am sharing here are surprising realizations. They are not masterfully planned and researched pedagogies. I am sharing an idea… And, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. 

As revolutionary as this seemed to me at the time and now, my students sort of shrugged the suggestion off. Some will use the split-screen to make sure that they choose the very best word to fill in blanks, and others will just guess at which ones are “right.” There will always be students who want to succeed, some who want to finish so they can bother me with, “I’m done; What do I do now?” There will be kids who need to get assignments completed as perfectly as humanly possible, and others who only care about what is for lunch or “How long ‘til recess?” 

Allowing students to use the tools that they already found and craftily accessed to complete my “teaching-tool-quiz” validated that first kid’s genius and points to the development of 21st century skills. I almost titled this blog, “Another Brick in the Wall,” referencing one of my favorite songs and diatrib-ing against traditional assessment.

I know teachers who are trying to figure out ways to administer the same paper tests that are years-old to students who are wearing masks, sanitizing their hands every ten minutes, sitting 6 feet from one another in a half-full room, and have been teaching themselves through self-guided, unmonitored learning sessions at daycare centers, in bedrooms, at doctor’s offices, etc. This is not traditional. Stop trying to be traditional. Stop attempting to forge “bricks of kids” for a wall that should never be built. Factories are not the future. 

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. I still have the story of two girls sharing all of their answers over a Zoom call to discuss.  

It was the same exact quiz that my in-class student had used split-screen to complete. This was a longer questionnaire, with 24 questions. In all transparency, and what makes this whole story more meaningful, I had actually planned to use the results of this Google form to measure how my students were doing. So, it was honestly a shock when two of my students excitedly shared that they had figured out a way to use split-screen to participate in a Zoom call, while simultaneously filling in answers on a quiz. 

I laughed when they told me. They were so innocent. Again, do I reprimand them? Do I deflect attention from this seeming “abuse of technology?” Should I tell them that I won’t count their “scores?” 

Educators, how sad are you that our students cannot “pair-share” in the classroom? My heart breaks that I cannot partner kids up to help one another and work together! 

These two girls found a way around COVID-19. They snuck under the pandemic wire to escape the confines of their isolation. 

Did I get an accurate measure of their ability to answer questions correctly on their own? 

I cannot even put to text the negative answer to that question. My mind makes the cognitive noise of wagging a metaphorical mental tongue, pedagogical spit flying everywhere. WHO CARES? 

Sure, I want to have data to see how well my kiddos are reading and understanding… but, why? What is that data good for? I would like to know what my students need to grow. Don’t they need to socialize, learn how to work together, figure out ways to problem solve??? 

Let me stop here. I love the fact that my students cheated on their quiz. I’m thrilled that they told me. I rejoice that they found each other. They were not friends before this year, and now they are Zooming. I am ecstatic about the possibility of my students communicating with each other about academics. 

I know I said I would stop, but let me leave you with one more thought: Do NOT force yourselves or your students into regimented, controlling, synchronous instructional sessions at the peril of this kind of organic, collaborative learning opportunity. Don’t do it. Say “no” to building bricks out of kids who ought to be astronauts.

Published by

Matt Weimann

Classy to the core, I teach the whole #3rdGrade child @EPSDWillowLane. I have eclectic tastes with interests in chess, cuisine, art, good literature, strong coffee and other drinks, jazz, and fashion... Mostly bowties;)

2 thoughts on “Please Cheat”

  1. Matt, This is an awesome “confession”!!! Thank you! To be honest, this is how I do most of my teaching with my special needs students all the time. But I have often watched my own children (ages 12-19) at test-time as they crunch numbers and memorize material just to regurgitate it on the test, and questioned what it is that they are actually learning. The answer never has anything to do with the information or with life skills that will accompany them after the school years have passed. Nope. They are learning to perform in such a way as to achieve a number. \ They are learning to panic. They are learning to ‘play school’. But they are not learning life skills that will help them beyond school or information that will help them move forward in the given subject. An assessment given as a test or quiz measures the knowledge at that moment in time. An assessment given as a tool measures inquiry, inquisitiveness, social interaction and ability to problem solve. Yay, Matt!!! Thank you for being one of the awesome ones!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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